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Getting Bent

I have a 1994 Trek 5200 with a Dura-Ace Triple (bad knees), Rolf Prima Elan wheels, and Speedplay X-1 pedals. With other weight weenie bling, it weighs 17.5 pounds, ready to ride, with bottle cages, tools, the works. But I haven't been able to ride it for nearly a year.

I have pudendal neuralgia, or PN. Damage to the nerves around my sit bones. It's like carpal tunnel syndrome, but the tunnels go through where the gluteus maximus muscle is attached to the pelvis. I will spare you the medical details - this post is for people like me who can no longer sit on a wedgie saddle, and who don't want to give up bicycling. If you want details go to

What I found is that after treatment I can sit on a mesh sling type seat - basically a lawn chair on wheels. In other words, a Lightning. The Lightning posture also looked good, head up for traffic, butt down to lessen the chance of hip fracture when you crash, and feet up to get me off my pressure points. It even accommodates my cut-out foam cushion.

So, I contacted a dealer and test rode a P-38 and a Phantom. It took me 20 minutes of pushing myself around with my feet on the ground before I could get them up on the pedals without crashing. But then it was ok. Rolling under my own power again and no pain!

The dealer agreed to let me borrow his personal Phantom for a week. (The guy is great. If I get his permission, I'll give his name in this thread.) I rode it as hard as I could for being 10 months out of shape and not having developed the glutes and hamstrings to power a recumbent. Yes there was muscle soreness, but no nerve, joint, or back pain.

The main difference between the recumbent and an upright bike was the handling. The Trek is famous for its no-nonsense, go where you point it, hands off if you want to, ride. You can let your mind wander without wandering all over the road. Not so the Lightning. It's very quick. You think about going a certain direction, and you're going there. It's a stable bike at all speeds (even in cross-winds), but only as stable as the rider. It will be a long time before I can think about anything but riding when I'm riding a Lightning. But that's a good thing - a mental break as well as physical exercise.

So I ordered a P-38 with Starlight Red paint. My cycling buddies do brisk paced hilly rides almost every day, and are competitive in a good natured way with each other. I spec-ed it with Dura-Ace and XTR components, and I'm moving the Elan rear wheel from my Trek to the P-38. I'm using my Speedplay Frog pedals, because I couldn't get my X-1's to disengage easily in the bent posture. Terracycle idlers for durability. Hollowpin chain, etc, etc. I hope this will be a lightweight build so I have some hope of keeping up with my upright buddies.

I would have ordered an R-84 but I felt that my joints and ligaments couldn't handle the lower seat position, and I didn't want the hassle of suspension and a chain tube running through the seat stay.

Anyway, I hope to get the thing in the next few weeks and begin putting some serious miles on it. Another great thing my dealer is doing is that he is loaning me some 165 mm cranks. I rode 170's on the Trek, but they felt long on the Phantom. Once we get the crank length dialed in, I plan to order the Lightning compact crankset.

Wish me luck, gang.

Hey Pitaman,

Best of luck with the new red bike! I think you will continue to enjoy riding minus the various forms of pain caused by being in a traditional road bike position. The only pain I ever get is in my legs, and that is just when I crank particularly hard.

That is the good news. The bad news is that even if you trick out your new ride with the lightest parts, you are still going to be at a disadvantage on steep and/or long hills when riding with your friends. You can go faster on the flats and downhills, and they can go faster on the climbs. Even if all the bikes are the same weight.

There are some recumbent riders who maintain that they can climb hills just as well on a 'bent as they can on a "wedgie". Even if they are correct, these people are a statistical anomaly. The vast majority of recumbent riders will find themselves spinning up steep hills more slowly than riding partners of similar fitness on traditional road bikes.

There is controversy about exactly why this happens. I'm no exercise physiologist, but at least part of the answer is that recumbent riders cannot recruit upper body muscle groups as well, and cannot vary riding position as well as upright riders.

Some recumbent people go into a state of denial when this issue is mentioned. I prefer a more unvarnished presentation of the strengths and weaknesses of the two types of bike.

In Illinois we have some hills that are small and closely spaced together, called "rollers". A recumbent rider with a full fairing - such as a Lightning F40 - can go much faster than a similar rider on a road bike on these hills. You can get going so fast on the downhills that your momentum carries you uphill! Doing rollers on a F40 is like an amusement park ride. Though rollers are the exception to the recumbent hill-climbing rule.

Maybe you will be able to hang with your riding partners on the climbs, maybe not. You could always organize a recumbent riders group to level the playing field.

Safe (and pain-free) riding,
Joel Dickman

I see you guessed what the PITA in pitaman stands for. Yes, I am aware of the disadvantage recumbents have on climbing, which is practically all we do around here. However, the P-38 seems like it will strike about as good a balance between my buddies waiting for me and me at the tops of the hills and me waiting for them at the bottoms as can be struck. The rest is up to training, conditioning, and biomechanics.

Anyway, I thought I'd post what I spec'ed on the P-38:

Size: Medium, with long crank boom
Color: Starlight Red
Brake Calipers: Camillo Zero-Gravity
Brake Levers: Dia-Compe PC-7
Bottom Bracket: Lightning Carbon Integrated with ceramic bearings
Crankset: Lightning Carbon Compact 50-34 teeth when length decided
Chain: KMC X9SL-Ti Hollow Pin
Cassette: Shimano XTR 11-34 teeth
Front Derailleur: Shimano Dura-Ace Triple
Rear Derailleur: Shimano XTR
Headset: Chris King
Front Hub: Dura-Ace
Front Rim: Velocity Aerohead 20"
Front Spokes: 14 bladed
Front Tire: Schwalbe Durano HS 399 28-406 120 psi
Rear Wheel: Rolf Prima Elan 700c from my Trek
Rear Tire: Hutchinson, because it was on hand
Pedals: Speedplay Frog Ti
Idlers: Terracycle Elite Series kit for P-38 with Ti cog
Shifters: Dura-Ace 9-speed Bar End
Options: Lightning Seat Bag (Yellow)
Cyclometer: Cateye Strada Cadence from my Trek
Bottle Cages: Douglas carbon, 2 x 16 grams from my Trek

I'm guessing it will be in the low 20's in poundage. I went all out on the components (or at least I think I did) because, I wanted to get the bike I eventually want to have now rather than later. I'm 54 and I don't know how many strong years I'll have to enjoy riding the bike. Besides, its only the second bike I've bought since 1994.

Anyway, if anyone out there has better (lighter, stronger, whatever) suggestions, now is the time.

I do almost all my riding in a very flat area, so I am not preoccupied with light weight bike stuff. Can't offer any useful advice about this. You say you do lots of hill climbing where you ride, so your concern with bike weight makes sense.

The only thoughts that strike me are two: at some time in the future, you just might be riding in a more flat area. If that comes to pass, you just might want to add an F40 fairing to your P-38. If you order your frame with the little fairing-mounting stub brazed on to the crankset boom, it will save you some expense later on. This would only add an ounce or two to the bike.

The F40 fairing transforms the bike from merely very fast to outrageously fast. (At least on the flats and downhills.)

Another possible modification: a disc brake mount on the rear. Many people have used the Avid BB7 disc brake with good results, and further refinements in disc brakes are likely in the future. A disc brake also makes it easy to experiment with different sized rear wheels - say, a 650C or a mountain bike rear wheel. Like the fairing stub, this would keep your future options open, and not add much weight in the here and now.

These ideas go against the grain of minimizing weight, so maybe you should ignore them. Just thought I would throw them out for your consideration.

Safe riding,


Thanks for the suggestions! However, I just can't see myself using the F40 fairing. That much speed I don't need. Besides, all we have around here are hills and crosswinds. As for the 650c wheels, mountain bike tires, etc., I'll save those for my next recumbent. If it isn't good for your body to wear just one pair of shoes all the time, then maybe it isn't good for your body to ride just one bike. You seem to have followed that philosophy (grin). So, if the P-38 works out well for me, then I might just have to get another bent for rougher roads or off-road riding. This bike is intended to be my noontime exercise, club ride, and century bike in a land of wind power turbines. I am getting the usual eyelets and lugs for the low-drag panniers in case I want to try touring on it, though.

In the meantime, my local bike dealer told me he uses Jagwire cables on the bikes he builds. I think that completes the list of what can be specified.

Around the time I passed the 400 mile mark, in slightly less than two months of riding, the P-38 suddenly got more stable. It went from being a little bit wobbly to riding more like a lawn chair on rails. It's those little micro-reflexes kicking in, and it's really nice. I keep liking the P-38 more and more. Especially since I became able to drop one of my DF buddies on the hills. The others are more of a challenge. One of them I may have to content myself with making him work as hard going downhill as he makes me work going up.

On the recommendation of one of my 'bent buddies, and after a second on BROL, I got a set of Rotor chainrings and put them on my P-38. Wow. I don't yet know if they make me any faster, but I certainly feel more comfortable and more powerful going up hill. I'll post an update when I get a chance to really put them to the test.

First, however, it looks like surgery to fix the rotator cuff I tore when I fell over sideways at a stop. Point of advice for the over 50 crowd when switching to recumbents: take BOTH feet out of the pedals at every stop.

Hello Pitaman,

Hope you recover quickly and fully from the torn rotator cuff accident. Maybe you could give us a detailed account of what happened, so that other riders can try to avoid the same thing.

About the Rotator chainrings: way back in the late eighties / early nineties, Shimano sold oval-ish rings to mountain bikers. They were called Biopace. Do you have any idea how the Rotor rings compare to the Biopace ones of yesteryear?

The Biopace rings never really caught on. I think the late Sheldon Brown has some good things to say about them on his website though.

Safe riding, and good luck with the surgery,

I did "the stupid crash." Came to a stop and unclipped one foot, but fell over on the other side. Reflexively put out my hand, and not only tore the rotator cuff, but chipped some bone off the shoulder socket.

It's all fixed now. But sitting too much during my recuperation set off prostatitis. Got that settled down, then had surgery on that. Trans-Urethral Needle Ablation or TUNA for short. It's done as an office procedure, requires only local anesthesia, and works very well. The doc said I could return to normal activity in 2 days, which I did. But cycling isn't considered normal. That took a month.

All told, I now have only about 2.5 months on the P-38 this year, but now I hope to ride consistently for the forseeable future. And, I've passed my first 1000 miles! I can now ride pretty well up the local hills. I can't quite keep up with the fastest of my DF cycling buddies, but I can drop the slower ones. And I can make them all work hard going downhill.

Rotor Q-Rings: The big change from BioPace is adjustability. There enough mounting holes in the Rotors to allow you to position the sweet spot exactly where your biomechanics needs it to be. You should definitely give them a try if you get a chance.

I like the 165 mm crank length, so I bought the Lightning Cranks. That took about 1 1/4 pounds off the bike! So the build has come in at 22.3 pounds.

My shoulder and neck pain issues are resolving. I am rolling my back on a 6" diameter, 36" long foam roller and doing resistance band stretches with my arms daily. I'm also getting used to the bike and not tensing up so much when I ride.

Some of my speed has come back. Overall, it just keeps getting better!

The Douglas carbon cages were a bust. The P-38 manual suggests Specialized Rib cages. I now have 2 Rib Cage Pro's and they work just fine.

You're not going to be disappointed. It did take me a couple of years but my uphill speed is now equal to the average DF riders and a bit slower than the fastest.

I have bought and sold both a high racer and a low racer in a quest to find a significantly faster bike and I've failed. The more aero bikes are maybe 3 kph faster down hill but a lot slower up hill AND they're a lot less comfortable.

The most significant 'go faster' items fitted to my P-38 are a HED front wheel, a deep aero (and now covered) rear wheel, Rotor Q rings and an Aerotrunk. I do have the small zzipper fairing, which is nice for wind protection, but the speed gain is almost negligible. I've just fitted a Windwrap GX fairing with a view to fitting a full sock, but I haven't tested it yet. The one ride I've had seemed faster, but I never trust perception! It was during gale force winds and I was pleasantly surprised at the bikes handling - very little 'off line action' in extreme gusts.

I've added a 2 inch webbing strap across the lumbar region to stiffen the seat. It is held by 4 large zip ties each side and is drum tight - you can't get the standard seat mesh that tight.

I've given up trying to find a 'better' recumbent. I honestly don't think there is one in terms of speed combined with comfort combined with handling. Sure a NoCom is faster, but very low angle seats don't suit my neck! My Raptor (carbon Baron) was slow up hills compared to the P-38 and not noticeably faster anywhere else. The Seiran SL couldn't climb either and was less than 1 mph faster on a regular loop.

Paul W
Optima Lynx


Is it possible for you to post a picture of your lumbar strap modification?


Hi Paul - I'm thinking of using a Mueller GX this Fall and winter. Both for weather protection and improved aerodynamics. I have a large size P-38. I have several questions about the GX-
1. Which mount did you use - the One Point or traditional?
2. How tricky was the installation? I'm concerned that the boom support strut on the P-38 may interfere with the installation.
3. Does the fairing interfere with your view of the road?
4. Does it protect your whole body and hands from the wind?
5. Did you notice any aerodynamic improvement?
Cheers- Bob

I got my P-38 with 165 mm loaner cranks two weeks ago. Since then, I've put about 100 miles on it, mostly noontime rides. Considering that I haven't ridden at all for almost a year, and that I don't have glutes and hamstrings trained for recumbent riding, I figured it would take a month or two before I could climb significant hills.

I'm surprised and pleased to tell you that I've already climbed all but one of the hills we used for noontime training last year. I only left out the one because it's a great place for a mountain lion to ambush a cyclist, so I'm waiting for my cycling partners to come back from various travels.

I'm not saying that climbing on a new P-38 is easy. But it is possible. The P-38 is fairly stable down to about 4 mph, and that's about my speed up the steeper grades. It's 40 mph going down the same grades.

The other thing I had to work out was the angle of the handlebar. At first I had it angled about 45 degrees forward (toward the front of the bike) off the vertical. That seemed like it would be best for my wrists. But then my neck and shoulders started to hurt, not on the bike, but off the bike. It was subtle enough to keep me from figuring out what was going on for a few rides. I was reaching too far, and with my arms under the bar, I was holding my arms up because I was tensed up trying not do PIOs (pilot induced oscillations) on the very quick P-38 steering.

So, I tried putting the bar vertical, but got no relief. Today I tried positioning the bar 45 degrees off the vertical toward the back of the bike, with my hands resting on top of the bar ends, and pressing lightly down. That brought my arms in much closer to my body, and got my shoulders to relax. The shoulders are much better this evening.

I also re-inforced the lumbar region by cinching the seat mesh to that part of the seat frame with 70-lb zip ties.

Anyway, I've ordered the uber-expensive Lightning Carbon compact crankset with the ceramic bearings (but not the Extralite chainrings - some grams are the wrong ones to shave off IMO). I also ordered a Lightning cycling short just to see if its better than my Performance short for riding bents.

I must also comment that I really like the bar-end shifters. They are quick, light, and give you a good visual, audible and tactile sense of which gear you are in.


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