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My cycling background

I bought my first "real" bike in 1981. It was a Raleigh Super Grand Prix with non-indexed bar end shifters, a Brooks saddle, and Weinman rims. That's all I remember because Campy, SunTour, etc. was not a part of my vocabulary at that time. I rode it on and off over the next four years until it was stolen from my garage in Las Vegas. I used the insurance money to buy some new running shoes and a racquetball racquet. Those were my main sporting activities by then--not cycling. But after a tough summer of trying to maintain a 35-45 mile a week running schedule in the desert heat, I decided to buy another bicycle. This time it was a Centurion, a Japanese steel framed bike from the same manufacturer who made the Panasonic bikes. I put a bunch of miles on that bike, and typically did 60 to 90 miles rides on Sundays. But when fall or spring came around, my emphasis always went back to running. I did notice that the cross training definitely helped my performance went I switched from Duegis to Asics!

In 1989 I went back to Berlin for my second tour of duty with the U. S. Air Force. A few months after arriving, I developed a chronic foot ailment that made me quit running. My interest in cycling, however, really took off. On weekends it was quite common to see a pack of 20 or more riders in a double pace line wearing their club jerseys. Berlin, despite being walled off, was a great place for cycling. There were specific parts of the city that were designated for cycling which meant not having to stick to a designated path. The Gruenewald, a huge forested park in the city, offered miles and miles of great mountain biking. All in all, that experience cemented my interest in cycling. I did a couple of road races, and participated in a mountain bike racing series.

I bought two bicycles while in Berlin. One was a Peugot with a Reynolds 531 frame, a Campy Chorus gruppo with the original Synchro levers (garbage IMHO), and Mavic GL330 rims with Wolber sew-ups. I ended up putting Dura Ace on it, and traded my wheels for a good set of Mavic clincher rims. The frame of that bike is currently hanging in my store room. The other bike I purchased was a mountain bike from the Supergo mail order folks. It had Columbus tubing, and the first Deore II gruppo. I still have that bike although I haven't been on it in ages. I trashed all the brakes when I was building up my P-38 and have never put it back together.

In 1991 I transferred from Berlin to San Angelo, Texas. I went to a meeting of the San Angelo Bicycling Association with the intention of volunteering to publish the club newsletter. They saw a sucker ripe for the taking--I left as the club president and held the position for two years. It was an interesting experience and I made some great friends. I purchased a Cannondale R900 while there, and rode it to my all time best in a century of 4:58 and change. Of course, I benefited from the fact that it was a one way ride from San Angelo to Abilene with a 25-30 mph tailwind most of the way. San Angelo is one of the best areas there is for road riding--miles and miles of highways with light traffic and huge shoulders. I miss being there very much.

That takes me up to my present location of Corpus Christi, Texas. I'll leave that for my "why I switched" answer.

What the heck is that?

I came to learn of recumbents in an unusual way. Shortly after arriving in San Angelo, I subscribed to the Prodigy on-line service. I spent a couple hours a night on the cycling bulletin board. One of the other regular posters was Tom Howe, who's .sig included an ascii drawing that I didn't recognize. That's when I found out what an F-40 was (a fully faired bike from Lightning). That began my journey towards laid back cycling!

Why the P-38?

I tried several times to answer this question in a brief statement, but it never worked out that way. The process was rather long and in some ways kind of scary. I ended up spending a pretty good chunk of cash on the bike, and it was done as a "leap of faith" -- that is to say that I purchased one without every seeing one in person much less test riding.

As I stated earlier, my introduction to recumbents came while participating on the cycling bulletin board on Prodigy. I started pumping Tom Howe for information on the P-38. Soon afterwards, I moved over to GEnie where the "recumbent forum" was one of the hottest areas in the whole Sports section of GEnie. Bob Bryant, aka Dr. Recumbent, was present along with other folks who currently participate on the HPV mailing list. For over a year I kept reading about recumbents with interest but didn't really contemplate buying one. But then I purchased a copy of Recumbent Cyclist News, and my interest peaked.

I liked the idea of being more comfortable on the bike, but I was also interested in going fast. My bike at the time was a Cannondale R900 that came in a little under 20 lbs. So that narrowed down the search somewhat. But I also wanted to keep the cost reasonable since I knew I was going to either have to keep the Cannondale or probably take a pretty good loss trying to sell it. Around this time, word of ATP's Vision R-4x series was out, and that sounded like a reasonable option. The consensus of those who had an opinion was that the Vision probably represented a drop in performance compared to the P-38. The price point, however, was definitely a selling point. I was really having a hard time making a decision--I was firmly perched on top of the proverbial fence.

One day I received an e-mail that pushed me off the fence. I had mentioned in an e-mail that I had some parts laying on a bench including a Dura Ace group that had been on my Peugot. Well, I received a reply from Tom Mahood that I saved for a couple of years until I lost it in a hard drive cash. I can't remember the exact quote, but it was something like: If you care about performance (and with Dura Ace parts on the bench I think you do) then the P-38 is your choice. I wish I had the whole message because it was more comprehensive than my paraphrase. I called Lightning soon afterwards and ordered my bike.

One thing that must be noted is that when I was making my decision, several of the bikes that recumbent enthusiast are now familiar with did not exist. The Rans V-Rex is one bike that immediately comes to mind. One could definitely make a case that when the V-Rex first came out that it offered more "bang for the buck" than the P-38. Would I have chosen it over the Lightning? I don't know for sure, but I think not.

One thing that went into my decision was some recent experience with "upgrading" purchases where I first thought to save money. I had spent a lot more money on two diamond frames upgrading them than I would have spent if I had just bought the top of the line in the first place. I had done the same thing with my first computer purchase. So this time I just decided to "go for it." I bought the Lightning frame set, an XTR group, and used my Dura Ace bottom bracket and caliper brake for the rear. I managed to avoid spending any more money on the bike until my recent foray into getting faired. I've never regretted my decision.

A last couple of thoughts on Lightning Cycle Dynamics. There have been some grumblings about the quality of the workmanship or the response in the way of customer service. I just have to say that hasn't been my experience. When I had some problems getting some things adjusted while assembling the bike, and when the Lightning decals started to peel, I received immediate, courteous help from Lightning. Of course, that help came from Zach Kaplan who is now in business for himself. The bike itself is still in excellent shape despite being used in the corrosive salt air environment of Corpus Christi Texas. While there have been no signs of rust on the bike, I am now on my third muffler and tailpipe on the Ford Ranger!

Bottom line -- I love my P-38 and have absolutely no regrets about buying it.

Another recumbent?

This was the subject of a recent thread on the HPV mailing list. My choice for a second bike falls in line with the replies of some other P-38 owners. I'd love to try a Gold Rush Replica from Easy Racers. This the the bike which served as the basis for a speed setting machine that now sits in the Smithsonian Institute. Owners rave about the machine -- almost as much as P-38 owners do!

By Dave Clary, dclary@gte.net.
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