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Lightning P-38 frame evolution, timeline?

What year did Lightning start putting a cross brace between the top tubes ahead of the seat?

Are there other evolutionary features that can be used to definitively check the age of a frame, if you can’t easily confirm the serial # (eg, Craigslist & other online bike shopping)?

Hi Lee -

Lightning beefed up the P-38 frames in 1996. The LARGE and EXTRA LARGE frames from '96 forward have a little ovalized cross brace fitted between the twin top tubes just in front of the seat frame. A variety of other parts of the frame were also made more robust: the head tube, the seat frame tubes, and the like. The earliest bikes are not quite as reliable as the 1996 and later ones. If I went shopping for a used P-38, I would prefer a later frame. If I purchased a pre-96 bike, I would insist on a very low price. Steel bike frames can last an extremely long time, but nothing lasts forever.

The very earliest bikes have the seat frame permanently integrated into the rest of the bike frame. You cannot remove the seat. These bikes date from the middle 1980s, and I would not buy one unless it was dirt cheap. Later bikes have a seat that can be detached. At some point the rear dropouts changed too. The earliest ones had little screws to fine-tune the rear wheel location, like older fancy road racing bikes. I do not know when Lightning changed the dropout design.

The serial number should appear on the outside of the drive-side rear dropout. If a frame has been repainted, the original serial number might be hard to read. But if you get a flashlight and aim it at various angles, you usually should be able to make out the four digit serial number. There is no harm in asking prospective used bike sellers to do this before making a long trip to inspect a bike.

Safe riding,
Joel

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