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Thinking of a P-38 as my only bicycle

I have previously owned an USS recumbent but sold it since it was a bit heavy and I live in a very hilly area. That left me with a nice DF traveling bicycle. Now I realize that a recumbent is the best way to go so I am seriously looking at the P-38. I will visit Lompoc this Summer for a first hand look. I have seen a few, but never in my size. I have also ridden a slightly too small Phantom around the block and wanted to buy a larger model, but none was available before I left the states.

From what I have read, though it's main reputation is for speed, the P-38 is a very good all round recumbent. If anyone has any links of long tours done on the P-38 could you please post the links for me.

My initial intended usage would be long day rides, but I do want a bicycle that I can do loaded touring once my job here finishes.

I am 250 lbs, which is the rider weight limit on the P-38. Is anyone on this forum near that weight? I am also 6'5" and would most likely need an extended boom. Anyone else out there with a bicycle setup like this? I would be interested in any advice you have prior to my Lompoc visit.

Based on your answers I would consider buying the bicycle for pickup in Lompoc based on the Phantom seat and the overall reputation of the bicycle.


1) If you look on the links page of this site, there are articles by Paul Gracey and Bill Vaglienti about cross-USA tours. Paul used a P-38 with a full fairing, and Bill's ride was a Phantom. Other riders have used the P-38 without a fairing for long distance touring too. So it can be done.

2) I agree that the P-38 is adaptable to many different kinds of riding: distance touring with panniers, mix-it-up-with-the-roadies mode with skinny tires and light weight components, commuting to work, and the like. One of my P-38 bikes is set up in urban assault vehicle style, with front and rear suspension and fat tires. Good for the awful streets of Chicago. Not so good for steep hill climbing.

I think the more upright seating position of the P-38 (and Phantom too) make it particularly good for city riding.

3) I have a variety of bikes: 3 Lightnings, a Rotator Pursuit, a home-brew low racer, a beater mountain bike, etc. But if I could only keep a single machine, it would be one of the P-38s.

4) You will want to ride an extra-large frame, possibly with the longer boom. Tim can advise you.

5) If you go ahead a get a P-38, I think you will be favorably impressed. Of course, there is no way to be sure without putting in some real miles. The bike obviously is not for everyone. If you suffer buyer's remorse, you can probably sell the bike on relatively favorable terms. The Lightning P-38 has an intensely loyal following, and resale value is high. It is a classic recumbent design with some history behind it.

Hopefully you will join the Lightning cult though, and want to keep it.

Let us know how your trip to Lompoc CA goes, and what you decide to do.

Safe riding,

Thanks for the fast reply. I am sitting on the fence as far as purchasing a P-38 before I get to the states. If I don't do it on this trip I have to wait another 6 months to get one on my next trip back. A trip I wouldn't make otherwise and I will miss the Autumn riding. I have seen P-38s and Phantoms before but never in my size and at the time I wasn't looking for another recumbent.

Hopefully the trip to Lompoc in July will veriy that I can fit on a Lightning P-38, though I wish I could pick one up during the visit. But since I am at the extreme of bicycle fit I best wait. I am hoping there are others out there with my build and I can ask them more specific questions. So I will keep my eye on this forum for a few weeks.

Also thanks for the links, I did read the Phantom tour link before but not the other you mentioned.


Hello Joseph,
I recently bought a P-38 on reviews alone. I live in an area with no access to recumbents. This is my first bent and I had only test ridden one previously, a HPV speed machine. I have put about 500 miles on the P-38 in the 5 weeks I have had it. I am loving it and have not ridden my DF(bianchi volpe) since. I have a rear rack on it with full size panniers, I feel no added aero drag as the panniers are behind the seat, also the large seat back provides added storage. Handling on dirt and gravel is good, though definately takes some rider skill.

I bought mine From Bryan Ball at bentrideronline, it had very few miles and some upgrades saving me a bit of $
I would definately consider buying used. I had seen one used XL P-38 for sale in the short time I had been looking.

Organic Joe
Osage, MN
"We must be the change we wish to see in the world"


I'm 6'3" and did weigh 250 lbs. After riding several styles of recumbents I wanted to buy a P-38 and noticed the weight limit. I bought the bike anyway and through riding and watching what I ate I got my weight down to 210 lbs. I've been riding my XL fame P-38 for going on 6 years and I've kept my weight around 210-215 lbs while averaging around 3000-3500 miles per year. I can't ride as much as I'd like to because of the snow and I have to carpool a long distance to get to work. So, most of my riding is after work and on weekends. I didn't buy my P-38 for touring, I wanted something that I would enjoy riding as fast as I was capable of riding. I wanted to keep up with my friends on their road bikes.

I've just used the Lightning seat bag to carry what I need for my everyday rides. I have taken my bike on several multi-day supported tours in the summer without panniers because I was concerned about the added weight. I've never ridden with a trailer, but I'd go that route if I was going on a self-supported ride rather than loading down my bike with panniers. That's just my opinion. Others may not think the added weight would be a problem.

While I haven't had any problems with the frame because of my size or weight, I have cracked the seat frame near both bolts that are used to hold the seat to the frame. And, I've broken spokes in the rear wheel. This was probably because of a combination of my weight, potholes in the road, skinny tires, and I inclined my seat a little too much. I took the seat to the local welder, had it fixed, I repainted and re-laced the seat, and I was riding the next weekend. I replaced my stock wheelset last winter with Velocity rims and opted for better hubs and more spokes than the stock wheels had. My new rear wheel has 36 spokes.

Other weight-related issues had to do with the seat lacing and the size of the rear tire. The seat lacing kept breaking. My solution was to double lace the seat using parachute cord and use heavy-duty zip ties every 4-5 grommets. That's worked real well. I haven't broken the lacing since. I switched to to tandem tire for my rear wheel and I haven't regretted it. I was trying to use a 23C tire like my roadbike friends. The ride was very hard. I kept increasing the tire size until I settled on a 32C tandem tire. I'm sure there may be a little bit more rolling resistance, but I can still pass the wedgies on our Saturday morning breakfast rides with this "fat" tire on my bike.

Rick Mandle

I have many happy miles on my P-38. I've ridden across the United States, down the Mississippi, and other places far and near. I love being able to pack my Voyager in its suitcase and check it with me on the plane. Last summer I road from St. Petersburg, Russia to Istanbul, Turkey. I had no problems with my bicycle --- not even a flat! The roads were mostly terrible and the terrain and weather challenging. I was the only one out of 24 on a recumbent. I was one of 4 that rode all 2500 miles. You can read my blog and see lots of Lightning pictures at

Hello Elizabeth,

I went to your blog... looks like a great trip. I have a P38 that I would like to tour on, but may need to have different wheels. Can you tell me a little bit about our bike, i.e. from the pictures looks like you might have 40 spoke wheels. Are using a 700x32 on rear and 16x1 3/8 on front. Also interest in shifters and it looks like you were using the seat bag. Do you also use the lightening paniers?



I own a large frame Phantom and just purchased a medium P-38 Voyager. I can now setup the Phantom with rack, panniers, fenders and large tires. I'll use the P-38 with lighter wheels for group rides and the Phantom for shopping trips and load carrying.

I also have a Paul rear brake and 700c rear wheel for the Phantom, but may not use it too much now with the P-38 available.

I think you'll be able to fit on an extra-large Phantom or P-38. I really like the Phantom, but either bike may fit your needs.

First of all, I hope respect exists on this board, so that my comments on an ebay seller and link to ad aren't twisted or pasted to that seller. I will try not to flame the guy, but there have been more ups and downs than Pikes Peak on this one (pls. cut and paste link to ebay item):

Ok, so I impulsively best off'd this bike. I asked him five times if it had rust, whether the bike shop he claimed (in ad) would stand behind the repair AND restoration (of the seat, which was all I thought it needed OEM). He tried to offer me leftover pieces, his crappy bag, ONE rear racing tire. I wrote a list Sunday, telling him I expected (and knew I'd be paying) for a 32c tandem tire, since I weigh over 220lb (5'10"). He, and another smart a-- bike dealer in NYS told me get a different bike, the seats will break..oh jeesh thanks! I read how a 250lb rider did double loops with parachute cord and twist ties.
Anyways...on Sunday eve., around 11.20 PM EST., the seller calls me and starts telling me how "I have to pay him"...essentially meaning "now", b/c he says he's going to China for 6 weeks. I told him I can't pay until I know exactly what the final repair/restore/ship charges are, and I would contact the shop (name and number in ebay ad) in the AM. He continued to want to take my money and run-or I hung up. My wife told me thereafter that he'd called earlier in the day, wouldn't say what he wanted, who he was, just hung up on her when he realized I wasn't there. Needless to say, all this stuff didn't make me run for the PayPal "pay for item" button.
Well, you can bet I tried e mailing and calling that bike shop woman, and she never replied. I caught her once on the phone, and she basically said the shop wouldn't back the condition of the bike in anyway, they're just holding it for a guy who wants tires, deralieur, brake cables and pads. How encouraging!! My next steps were to e mail Lightning bikes with the ebay ad and ask about it and parts avail. They told me this was a 15 year old bike which used Suntour parts, some of which would not be available anymore as they don't make/use em'! He suggested having the bike sent to the Massachusetts shop, which I called next. The tech there said that the bottom left photo shows rust, there are some omissions in what the person photographed-can't see the shifter arms, etc(?)...and bracingly, he told me if the rust was inside the bike, it'd take two others to get a frame and new componentry...or essentially pay around $2-4K to get this bike up to better than average, aka totally junk as it is (AND NOT 'FAIR' CONDITION, AS DESCRIBED IN THE AD).
Well, seems like the seller IS in China. I have complained to ebay that this is a possible substantial misrepresentation of the bike's actual condition, that his pestering for immed. payment was a arm twist on my wallet so he could get the money-defrauding me, and the bike shop that is supposed to stand behind this bike will have absolutely nothing to do with that. I have ten days before I can list this as a seller refusing to perform or as item significantly different from original description.
I guess I've two questions: being that I was an idiot, ok novice, and bought this thinking that maybe his repair/restore estimates bet 500-1K were alright...isn't that still a bad deal, given that there are a few excellent cond. P38's being advertised-problem is, I don't wanna have to go half way around the country to see/drive/buy it or find it's a fraud too...I liked the protection of Ebay, but hey, if I'm getting scammed on a weenie little recumbent bike, at least you folks should know it happens too!
Umm, on question one above, cont'd, is there anyone who, for 1,500-2KUSD, would find this a worthy bike for touring, non-competition, or is the sum of its parts looking as risky as the pics and my experience/description make it an altogether junk/avoid like a tricycle proposition?
The 2nd question is...since I will still look around, I am wondering how accurate it is that P38 riders over 200lb break their seats? The Lightning website shows up to 250, but then, they've a chequered customer service history. Umm, only I can tell if it's the wrong bike for me, but there's a Dr. who reviewed this bike in Ultegra form and said it bends backs sideways and will make you likely candidate for back surgery eventually>...really?!?!?
More importantly, I don't want to buying a bike that may be rust through to the core like pixie sticks on a deal which no bike shop would back fixing and sending (gee, what do they know I don't) and a seller who wanted them for middlemen and to get paid a day before he left for China? How sadly intriguing.

Hey John / buggeroff,

Regarding your two questions:

1) Is the particular used P-38 you bid on a good deal? It is hard to say, just by looking at the photos that were posted on eBay. Clearly the bike in the pictures is a beater, and needs plenty of TLC and $ to get up to speed. You asked the seller "Is it rusty?" The seller replied "I don't think so." That answer does not instill confidence, and the overall filthy condition of the bike makes me wonder.

IF the bike was rust-free, it might be a nice winter project for a person with bike repair skills, tools, and stash of surplus bike components. But probably not cost-effective for a mechanical newb who would have to pay a bike shop for parts and labor.

Should you pay up? You obviously do not want to. But you did make an offer. I agree with you that the bike is not in "fair" condition. But that is easy to see just by scoping out the pictures! So you are wrong to accuse the seller of fraud. Puffery maybe. But not fraud.

My Solomonic take on this: Do not pay for the bike. But offer to pay the seller's eBay listing fees and apologize to him for your impulsive bidding. And stay away from used bike auctions on eBay until you graduate from newby status to novitiate level. If you try buying another used Lightning bike, make sure you do it in person. That way you can actually RIDE the thing, which will tell you plenty. Carefully eyeball everything, especially the area around the headtube and seat. P-38 bikes made since 1996 are a safer bet than the older ones.

2) Do Lightning seats break under the weight of heavier riders? The aluminum bike seats made before 1996 or so sometimes do break when used by gravity-challenged riders who put in very big miles. The more recently made seats are much more reliable. We do not know the vintage of the eBay beater.

The "doctor" who claims that Lightning seats will make you a candidate for back surgery is completely full of beans.

Safe riding,
Joel Dickman


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