Lightning P-38


The Lightning P-38 is the classic racing recumbent bicycle.  30+ years in products, options including, streamliner, reclined seat, suitcase and heavy duty.

Out of stock


bicycle mechanics in the sky

No reason given for this picture

No, not the World War 2 airplane, that was a P-38 Lightning.  This is the Lightning P-38.  Any questions?  Clearly Lightning likes to name their bikes after airplanes.  We’re waiting for them to produce the Lightning C-130, but no sign of it yet.


Lightning’s original design was one of the first widely produced short-wheelbase recumbents. It hasn’t changed very much since it appeared in the 1980’s because it didn’t need to. The P-38 is light and stiff for great power transfer.  It climbs remarkably well, which is a plus here in the “Texas Hill Country.”  It isn’t hyperbole to say that this is the classic recumbent road bike.  All P-38s are made in the USA under the supervision of the original designer, who owns the company.  They always have been.

Built to order

We don’t really stock the P-38, but we stock some demonstrators. P-38s are made to order based on several measurements we take on the customer. These bikes are hand-built for the intended user and there is a wide variety frame sizes, seat sizes, boom lengths, riser lengths, and color choices. It just doesn’t make sense to stock a showroom model for sale when that much is done to order.

Since P-38s are built to order you can equip it however you want, but Lightning offers a few standard component packages. The basic “Sport” package has what you need to roll with all good parts and mountain bike brakes. The “Performance” package is the Sport package with road bike brakes, a lighter fork, and 130mm rear spacing (for road bike wheels). The “XT” package better mountain bike parts and disk brakes.  The “Velocity” package upgrades to Lightning’s proprietary all-carbon crankset and Velocity wheels.

P-38 Voyager

For only a few gazillion dollars extra you can get the “Voyager” frame modifications, which allow you to pack your P-38 into the Voyager suitcase.  Actually it is not that much for this kit, which includes the suitcase.  Three S&S couplers join the frame, and the seat splits in two.

roxROX heavy duty option

The ROX upgrade adds 40# to the weight capacity, shown below.  The ROX upgrade can be made into a Voyager (with couplers) but generally cannot pack in the Voyager suitcase.  The ROX frame will accommodate tires up to 2″ in width.

Midracer with reclined seat

The P-38 is notable in part for its upright seat.  No one else does it that way, mainly because Lightning saw the benefits clearly enough to patent it.  But the frame lends its benefits to a reclined seat as well.  Enjoy both the aerodynamic advantage of a shell seat and the stiffness of the P-38 frame.  You have to use a slightly smaller 650c wheel to accommodate the more reclined seat

F-40 Streamliner

This is the only production 2-wheeled recumbent streamliner.  Piloting one is like flying an airplane in your management of side winds.  This is the closest thing to HPV racing than you can buy “off the rack.”  Under the full fairing is a P-38 with a special boom installed on the frame.  The nose cone attaches to that, then the tapered tail attaches to the seat and rear frame.  A Lycra sock connects them.  These things are not for everyone.

R-84 Carbon frame

The Lightning R-84 is an ultra-light carbon racing frame.  It includes an elegant integrated rear suspension standard and has an optional carbon suspension fork.  The F-90 is a carbon F-40 with more advanced materials in aerodynamic shell.

Our price (subject to change): 

  • P-38:  $3700 Sport and Performance, add $560 for XT spec, add $960 for Velocity wheelset spec.  Voyager mods adds $2300.  Midracer adds $300.  ROX adds $150.  Lightning front suspension fork adds $400.
  • F-40:  $6700, or around $2500 to upgrade an existing P-38.
  • R-84:  $5300 Performance, add $1000 Velocity wheelset spec, add $3650 for ultralight XT Di2 spec.
  • F-90, fully faired streamliner, carbon frame, Kevlar nose and tail, Mylar body:  $14,000 and yes you read that right.  No, wait, for you, $13,995!

Shown with aero panniers, fairing, and hunky athletic guy

Lightning says:

The legendary Lightning P-38. With the efficient and unique, patented space type frame that is very stiff in the direction of pedaling forces, but at the same time very light and strong. Unconventional in design, yes. But also, comfort, safety, and speed many times greater than conventional bikes. Experience what thousands of Lightning riders have already discovered, the pure cycling enjoyment and exhilaration of the P-38.

The P-38 is Lightning’s flagship bicycle and it’s not hard to see why. Only the P-38 has had nearly 30 years of refinements and record-setting experience to bring it to its current state of development. The P-38 is one of the lightest recumbents made, at just 22–26 pounds (depending on size and components), and only its cousin the R-84 climbs better. If you’re ready for the best, the P-38 is ready for you.

Forget what you’ve heard about recumbents not being good climbers. Bicycling magazine dubbed its latest review of the P-38 “A recumbent that can climb!” After about a month of acclimation, a P-38 rider will normally match or exceed his previous performance on an upright. The key is training, as a recumbent uses slightly different muscles than an upright bike, especially during climbing.

Boring technical specs from Lightning follow, along with our interesting comments


Sport 3×10XT 3×10Performance
Wheels 3×10
SizesS, M, L, XLS, M, L, XLM, L, XLM, L, XL
Rider height range4′9″ – 6′8″4′9″ – 6′8″5′2″ – 6′8″5′2″ – 6′8″
Rider weight limit160 lbs. (S), 200 lbs. (M), 220 lbs. (L), 250 lbs. (XL)
ColorsAzure Blue, Metallic Blue, Yellow, Metallic Green, Jet Black, Starlight Silver, Golden Gage, Crimson Red, White, Starlight Red. See the full color chart.
Weight23–26 lbs.24–27 lbs.23–25 lbs.22–24 lbs.
Wheelbase41 to 45.5 inches The distance between the wheel hubs
Overall length60 to 74 inches Depends on rider leg length
BB height24 to 26 inches The height of the pedaling assembly. Relative to the seat height these are "high cranks"
Seat height18 to 20 inches Ergomesh; 17 to 19 inches Midracer Ergospeed carbon This depends mainly on degree of recline, but also on frame size. Front wheel size contributes to this. Small frames only use a 16" wheel, Large and XL only use 20". Medium uses either.
Seat angle50 to 65 degrees Ergomesh; 35 to 40 degrees Midracer Ergospeed carbon These are overall upright positions. Even the reclined Midracer seat only hits 35 degrees, nearly twice as upright as a Catrike 700.
Ergomesh seatErgofit bend, 7005 Aluminum frame. Nylon mesh back with fitted foam cushion. These seats lace up with long pieces of utility cord. Very lightweight, kind of quaint in a way. Some people ditch this elegant hassle and use a zillion zip-ties, then throw away a lot of spare plastic. Somehow we picture "Lightning engineers" nostalgically thinking that this is how Tullio Campagnolo would have laced up his recumbent seat.
Midracer Ergospeed carbon seatHand laid up woven carbon fabric/epoxy resin seat with integrated aluminum bar frame attachment fittings. Ventilated plastic honeycomb type seat pad with fitted aerodynamic cover.
Use of this seat requires frame modifications (shorter seat stays) and a 650C rear wheel.
Rigid forkBrazed 4130, Custom True Temper Taperlite Blades
This is a slim, supple all steel fork. You'll need a beefed up Lightning fork for disk brakes.
Braze-onsWater bottle (2), pump peg (for Zefal HP pump), drop-out eyelets, cable guides We find the peg for the HP pump kind of quaint too.
FrameNickel Silver brazed Multigauge CrMo, 7005 Aluminum B-B Extension Top quality steel with an aluminum boom (the adjustable piece that holds the crankset).
StemLCD Customlite Aluminum Four different sizes for fitting purposes, with or without top bend. These are chunkier than other brands risers, since Lightning expects you be yanking on the bars for leverage.
HandlebarsAluminum, Customlite LCD Drop Bars The standard Lightning handlebar isn't the only option. This bar is optimized to fit under the F-40 fairing. Other bar options are available allowing for a wide range of component choices. We'll discuss all that.
Gear range19–118″19–118″19–118″26–123″
BrakesAvid SD7 V typeAvid BB7 DiscTektro Quartz Dual PivotTektro Quartz Dual Pivot
Brake leversTektro SR These aren't anything special as levers go. They are custom bent to fit the P-38 handlebars.
Bottom bracketShimano XT, tube spindleShimano XT, tube spindleShimano XT, tube spindleLightning carbon integrated, ABEC5 sealed bearings
CranksetShimano XT Hollowtech 26×36×48Shimano XT Hollowtech 26×36×48Shimano XT Hollowtech 26×36×48Lightning carbon integrated 30×50, 160 to 180 mm
ChainKMC X10
CassetteShimano LX 11–36, 10 speedShimano XT 11–36, 10 speedShimano LX 11–36, 10 speedShimano XT 11–36, 10 speed
Front derailleurShimano LX tripleShimano XT TripleShimano LX tripleShimano XT Triple
Rear derailleurShimano DeoreShimano XTShimano DeoreShimano XT
HeadsetDiatech threadless
HubsDeore LXShimano XTShimano 105Velocity Race
ShiftersShimano Dura Ace bar end This kind is the only shifters compatible with the stock P-38 handlebars. Other handlebar and shifter options are available.
Front rim 16″Sun CR18, 349 mm (16×1⅜), 28 stainless spokes, S And MN/A
Front tire 16″Schwalbe Marathon 37-349 (16×1⅜), 100 psiN/A
Front rim 20″Sun Alloy CR18 406mm, 36 stainless spokes, L and XLVelocity A23, 406 mm, 20 spokes, M, L, XL
Front tire 20″Panaracer Minits Tough 32-406 (20×1.25) 100 psiSchwalbe Durano 28-406 (20×1.1), 110 psi The front fork on this model will not support a wider tire.
Rear rim 700cSun Alloy CR18 700C, 36 stainless spokes, L and XLShimano 105 Aero, 20 stainless spokes, M, L, XL Mesh seatVelocity A23 OC, 28 spokes, M, L, XL Mesh seat
Rear tire 700cPanaracer Ribmo 700×28, 105 psiSchwalbe Durano, 700×25, 120 psi
Rear rim 26″Sun CR18 26×1.5, 36 stainless spokes, S and MMavic Aero, 28 stainless spokes, M, L, XL carbon seatVelocity A23 OC, 28 spokes, M, L, XL carbon seat
Rear tire 26″Panaracer Ribmo 32-559, 100psiContinental 650×23, 120 psi

For specs on the standard F-40 or R-84 models, please contact us.

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