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suggestions for upgrade of an older p-38

I have been looking at P-38s for a couple of years now and really like the bike. Right now have a Volae expedition and USS Vision R40 and like them both but still like the P-38 as well. Have ridden 2011 Large p-38 with performance wheels and it fit well and was a very nice ride but I didn't have 3000+ to put into bike. I recently purchased this older P -38 seen in pictures for a reasonable price. It rides fine but the brakes are not that stable and the idler and brakes hit each other when a Sharp R turn made; Also, I am not fond of the tilt steering/stem and the shifters. Can anyone estimate model year as I can't find serial number. Seller thought around 2000 model year. He purchased at an estate sale

There are several things I would like to ? do with bike if not too expensive and able to perform:

1. change back to original stem and bar end shifters and brake levers usually on P-38
2. ? add new new brakes as the idler hits the brakes on a sharp R turn; see in pics;
3. REnew cables and tubing/housing on all connections
4. Get new seat pad for seat or possibly change to the more recent seat model that is on the 2011 P-38 that seems more comfortable to me.
5. Extend the boom slightly and will most likely add a new chain
6. If anyone has any other suggestions or notices anything that would be important to refurbishing the bike, I am open to them

My son in law has built several bikes from frame set up and he has offered to help me with this project. My goal is to become better at working on my recumbents and this should be a nice project. I suspect I will need to order many of items from Lightning and as many of you have mentioned in other posts, it sounds like Tim and the Lightning staff would be willing to assist me. Thanks in advance for any advice or suggestions and am looking forward to adding the P-38 to the bikes I ride. John

Hi John,

Your bike has the little cross brace tube between the twin top tubes, close to the front of the seat. That means the bike can't be older than 1996. That is good, because the pre-'96 frames are not as robust as the later ones. If you eyeball the right rear dropout, you may find a serial number, unless it is covered over with paint. Find the serial number and a phone call to Lightning will get you an accurate manufacture date.

The bike also has nice components: Shimano Ultegra, XT, Dura Ace, etc.

The bad news about your bike is that a previous owner has done some serious surgery on the front end, probably in an attempt to fit a too-large frame to his too-small body. The tube that the crankset boom slides inside of has been cut down, and the diagonal brace extending from the bottom of the head tube up to the main tube has also been removed. This is a shame. The bike's owner should have just sold the bike to someone else, and purchased another bike in the correct size. The front end cannot be as stiff as it was before the modifications.

If you ride the bike and the front end does not seem like a noodle when you crank really hard, you can just leave things the way they are now. Any problem with insufficient stiffness will be made worse by extending the crankset boom outward. If you are not happy with the way the bike feels, you could contact Lightning and ask how much money it would cost to return the frame to the original state.

A new Lightning riser, handlebar, Shimano shifters, and brake levers may be costly. Likewise a new Lightning seat. Changing out the cables, housings, and chain will not be much money though. You could probably sell the pivoting handlebar (RANS?) and components you did not like to defray part of the cost of the new stuff. Only you can decide if these changes are worth the money. My advice: try riding the bike for awhile with the existing pivoting handlebar and the Shimano Rapidfire shifters. Just raise the handlebar enough so that the underside of the shifters do not brush the tops of your knees when pedaling. You might decide the existing components and the pivoting handlebar are just fine.

The interference problem between your front V-brake and the idler wheel might be corrected by moving the idler outward a little with a washer on the spindle. Move the idler too far out and the chain line will suffer.

I hope you did not spend a huge amount of money on the bike. The person responsible for altering the front of the frame should be whipped with a bike chain and then boiled in Boeshield lubricant.

Safe riding,

thank you so much for your input and keen observations, Joel. I have been reading your comments for a couple of years now about the P-38 and have been wanting to get one for several yrs. The 2011 I test rode was a Large and the boom was almost all the way in just like this one and fit me pretty well. The front end extension tube was about 8 cm and that was consistent with a Large frame. I didn't measure the seat back distance but just did today after your comments and was closer to 27 than 25 in suggesting the seat was an extra large. From what you have observed, This was probably an Extra large frame that was cut down. Shame on me for not recognizing the surgery. I looked the bike over looking for any major dings/defects/irregularities, etc and the bike looked intact and in pretty good shape. when I rode the bike it seemed fast, responsive,stable and fine other than the need to recline the seat a little and extend the boom a little as the pedals were just a little close and I figured I had plenty of room to extend the boom. I did not really crank it up the hill. While I was very careful about my heel hitting the front wheel on turns when I was test riding the bike, I just noted after your comments, that the end of the 170cm cranks hit the front tire when turning and this is probably due to surgery performed on the front end. I also looked over the bike and I honestly cannot detect any irregularities on the frame that suggest prior work done on the frame. I don't think the seller knew about this when I asked if there were any issues with the bike. I consider him to be a reputable person.
Anyway, this will be a project for me but I am going to follow your recommendations and change the easy things and see how I like it. due to the frame modification, it does not make good sense to put a ton of money into the bike. Fortunately, I did not spend a huge amount of money for the bike. I will keep you posted on how things go and/or may ask more questions if they arise. Life continues to teach me good lessons. Thank you,John

Where did you get the info that 1996 was the cut in date for the P-38 oval frame tube sections that go in front of the seat?

Before this site existed, and before there was the WISIL/ site, and before Bryan Ball's Bentrider Online site, there was the HPV listserv.

There was a discussion there about the reliability of P-38 frames, and Tim Brummer contributed to it. He described changes made in the P-38 frame - a variety of them - to make it more robust. The easiest thing to notice when looking at a frame is the presence or absence of the little ovalized cross brace.

However, the cross brace was only used on the large and extra-large frames. The medium and small frames do not have it.

I remember that the changes to beef up the frame began in 1996. I think the discussion on the listserv happened the same year. There have probably been a variety of additional tweeks and refinements over the years in order to make a really excellent bike design still better. If you wanted butted tubes in the early nineties, you had to pay extra. Now I think the butted tubeset is standard. Likewise the aluminum crankset boom.

Safe riding,

I know this is an old thread but the photos of this P-38 caught my attention. I am particularly interested in the handlebars used on the bike. Would I be correct in assuming they are mountain bike style bars with maybe a bit of a bend in them?

I like the idea of being able to use trigger shifters and Avid SD-7 levers.

Do we think it would work okay?

Oh I am here as a bit of an impostor, but I hope that is okay :) I am likely to purchase a locally made one-off copy of the Lightening P-38 (it has some variations but is basically a clone); just finalising the buying terms with the seller.

One thing with it is the handlebar setup which is basically a straight bar with bar ends pointing down. The bar end shifters are mounted on the end of the handlebar. Not ergonomic at all.

I can get a Lightening handlebar but I am also exploring other options.


Hi again Andrew-

That yellow P-38 clone looks interesting. If it feels good to you when test riding, and the price is right, why not? Just do not expect it to sell easily if you change your mind later and decide it is not for you. Most home-brew bikes, even carefully made ones, are very tough to sell.

The Lightning handlebar you use is subject to two constraints: 1) it has to be high enough to clear your knees as you go through the pedal stroke, and 2) it has to be low enough so that it is not directly in your line of sight and blocks your forward visibility. As long as you can pedal without interference, and you can see where you are going, you can pretty much do whatever you like regarding handlebar shape, placement, shifters, and the like.

Trigger shifters are nice, but they usually extend somewhat below the handlebar. This means the handlebar has to be placed higher up so that you do not hit your knees on the shifters. Some riders like the original Lightning style drop handlebars with bar-end shifters pointing downward from the ends. Some people prefer a more straight mountain bike type handlebar with grip shifters. Some people like a pivoting stem, and some a fixed position stem.

There is no right or wrong here. It is just a matter of trying different things and finding out in practice what feels best to you personally.

Good luck, and safe riding,


Just a quick update. I ended up purchasing the clone for AU$1500 and it came with a spare 20" rim (I want to build a dynamo wheel), BB7 brake set (it has Tektro brakes on it now) and a set of Avid brake levers.

As Martin built the bike it was an easy task for him to switch out the stem to give me a bit more height and a better fit. He also switched out the crankset to a 170 mm one but it is a MTB crankset so I may not have enough top end. I will see how that goes before making any decisions on changes.

The cost to me of just a frameset is approximately AU$3,474 delivered so it is quite a price difference. Who knows I may one day use it as a donor bike to build up a genuine frame.

Anyway I do need to sort a couple of things out other than the normal adding of accessories. These are the handlebars and I need to get a seat squab made (local upholstery bloke will do that for me I believe) and I then should have a good ride.



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