Lightning Thunderbolt A-10
(sometime prior to November 2003)
When Lightning introduced the Thunderbolt, they made some pretty lofty claims. This was the California-based manufacturer’s first attempt at producing a bike in the entry-level range and they wanted to make a big impression. Their claims of performance were much higher than the bike’s $850 asking price. The bike was supposed to offer $2,000 worth of bang for less than half that price. The base level Thunderbolt pretty much lived up to most of those lofty claims.
The original T-Bolt was indeed a very comfortable ride with a lot of performance potential. Trust me, I learned this first hand. My most vivid memories of the lowliest Lightning come from a ride I had with Peter Stull of The Bicycle Man. It was the first time I had even seen the Thunderbolt and I was unimpressed by the low-end components and the weight of the bike.
I was sure that I would smoke him and this tank on the shiny new V-Rex that I was borrowing. Well, after about 30 miles of huffing and puffing, Peter was still smiling and chatting right beside me.
Peter and I ride together often and are very evenly matched. This was his first ride on any Lightning, not to mention a Thunderbolt. It was probably my fourth or fifth spin on a V-Rex, so experience was definitely not a factor. There was no reason why this heavy bike should have been faster than me, but it definitely was.
NOT TOTALLY WON OVER
Despite its surprising performance, I’ve always had one major problem with the T-Bolt. While it has the speed of a bike costing hundreds of dollars more, it has the component list of a Wal-Mart Mongoose.
Last year, Lightning addressed that nit pick with the Thunderbolt A-10. The new A-10 model has the same spec sheet as the $1,350 Lightning Phantom (then called the Stealth). This gave the T-Bolt a quieter, more reliable Shimano Alivio drivetrain with 24 speeds and improved braking. The A-10 also sheds the base model’s chain tubes in favor of a two-idler system that seems much more efficient. All of these improvements only added $145 to the T-Bolt’s MSRP.
For 2001, Lightning has upped the ante even more. The high-tensile steel main tube has been replaced with a chromoly one, greatly reducing the bike’s substantial heft. Weld quality also seems to be improved. The 2001 T-Bolt frame is both better looking and lighter than the 2000 model.
THE GOOD STILL REMAINS
The new A-10 still has the same great ride of the previous Thunderbolts. The T-bolt has always felt a little more subdued than other bikes in the Lightning stable. While the P-38 and the Stealth are stable rides, they are always begging to be pushed. While a little more edgy than some other mainstream SWBs, the A-10 is a little more leisurely than its cousins and is perfectly happy at more mundane speeds.
The A-10 was also surprisingly competent on gravel and dirt roads. Its optional suspension fork more than compensated for the bike’s narrow Schwalbe City Jet front tire. I never hesitated to turn off the blacktop when riding our suspended Thunderbolt. I probably wouldn’t be too apprehensive doing the same on the unsuspended version, but I may prefer a wider front tire for the rigid bike. The Thunderbolt has always seemed more capable of navigating less-than-perfect roads than its stable mates.
The Thunderbolt is also a very competent tourer. Lightning owner/designer Tim Brummer himself actually uses the T-Bolt that his wife LeQuan designed for touring in favor of the P-38 or Phantom that he penned himself.
Much of the Thunderbolt’s versatility is most likely due to the bike’s slightly less aggressive seating position. The T-Bolt seat has extensions attached to the base that raise it a good 2 inches more that it needs to be. This lessens the seat height/bottom bracket ratio considerably and has a lot to do with the T-Bolt’s more subdued handling characteristics.
However, the T-Bolt is still capable of much more aggressive road riding. On the flats I am able to maintain the same speeds on the A-10 that I was on the much more expensive Stealth B-2 that I used to own. The only place where I was significantly slower was on the hills. This was almost certainly due to the T-Bolt’s heavier frame and our optional suspension fork. Bear in mind that I only said it was slower than the other Lightnings that I’ve owned and ridden. These bikes are among the top of the heap when it comes to climbing ability. The Thunderbolt would still hold its own against most other SWBs.
The Thunderbolt is a little different from its brethren in one other major area. It has a wider seat than other Lightning bikes. The stock Thunderbolt seat is closer in size to the XL seat on the other Lightning models. Many larger riders find the T-bolt seat to be the most comfortable one that Lightning makes. My 5′11″ 155 lb frame had a ton of room. I found the seat to be quite comfortable.
Unfortunately, the Thunderbolt’s seat does not offer a high degree of adjustability. The seat is very upright, even when laid back as far as it will go. This is one of the reasons that Lightnings climb so well, but I’ve always thought that a more laid back seat would make the bike a little faster on the flats and make it more comfortable for some. A few Lightning owners have complained that the bike’s very closed riding position has hindered their breathing at times. I’ve never experienced that myself.
EXTENSIVE OPTION LIST
If you’re into it, the Thunderbolt is available with quite an assortment of options. The most popular is probably the $200 Ballistic suspension fork. ‘BentRider tested the A-10 with this option.
The Ballistic fork did a great job of soaking up the bumps on the front of our T-Bolt. However, we had the same complaints about the Ballistic on the A-10 that we’ve had when it was mounted on other bikes. Namely, its weak springs. Even at 155 lbs, I would prefer the stiffer elastomers that are obtainable from Ballistic.
Other options include a very nice seat bag and a Shockster rear suspension unit. A few Thunderbolts have been used, with both suspension options, as mountain bikes. The A-10 is also available in a small size with a 16″ front wheel.
’BentRider also opted for a tilt steering unit on our test bike. This is perhaps the best option that Lightning has ever offered on their bikes. Lightning’s tilt steering is unique in that it locks into place with a quick release. This system was very easy to use and gave me a very secure feeling while riding the Thunderbolt. Lightning’s system also allows the handlebars to rotate independently of the stem and makes it fairly easy to achieve an ergonomically perfect hand position.
Overall, I feel that the new A-10 is going to be a very good bike. This bike is certainly one of the fastest available below $1,000, and is a very versatile machine. Like many Lightning products, the Thunderbolt does not look as “polished” as some of its more mass-produced competitors, but its getting closer. Its carbon steel frame pieces also make it heavier than most of the competition. However, anyone looking at an R-40, RANS Rocket or RANS V-Rex should try to get a test ride on the A-10 before they make their decision to buy. At $995, the bike is also an attractive option to its own more expensive cousin, the Lightning Phantom. Its added value is also causing a few dealers to stock the A-10 in favor of the base Thunderbolt. This decision is more than understandable. The A-10’s added value and performance is well worth the extra $145.
Lightning Thunderbolt A-10
Highs — Great performance for under $1000, versatile SWB
Lows — Heavy, still a little behind some in refinement
Price — $995 ($1,295 as tested with optional suspension fork and tilt steering)
Seat Height — 21-23″
Length — 61-71″
Weight — 30 lbs (manufacturer claim)
Reprinted by permission