Frequently Asked Questions about Lightning recumbent bikes

1. How does it climb?

According to Bicycling magazine, Lightning defies the idea that recumbents are dogs uphill and stands alone as being undaunted by steep climbs. The efficient Lightning frame/seat designs and powerful position deliver excellent climbing performance … equal to or better than a comparable upright bike on 90% of the hills you encounter.

For example, on grades up to 12%, an average rider on the 19 lb. carbon fiber Lightning R-84 will climb the same or faster than a road bike. Hard to believe? This Lightning video features an R-84 passing numerous upright riders on a long 8% grade during the Solvang Century.

Climbing well on a Lightning recumbent (or any bike) requires training the muscles that are used. Climbing on a Lightning uses the gluteus (buttock) muscles more than an upright, and thus upright riders will require some training before they equal their climbing performance. With equal training, climbing will be just as fast or faster on the Lightning. For real world climbing experiences, check out our articles on climbing and the reviews.

Good climbing is basically a matter of having a high power to weight ratio, plus developing lots of power efficiently, so that you don’t blow up trying to stay with the upright bikes.

These things help Lightning riders to climb better:

  1. Lift weights. Do both upper and lower body exercises.
  2. Practice pedaling with one leg at a time. This helps develop the backstroke muscles. If you can do this for one minute at a time, you are doing pretty good. Keep doing this until, when pedaling with both legs, you can easily go down the road only by pulling on the pedals, and not pushing.
  3. If your legs get tired, push on your knee with one hand. When one arm gets tired, use the other one.

Notes on climbing from Tim Brummer, Lightning designer:

“I climb best at about 70 to 80 rpm. It is also important for Lightning riders to shift down BEFORE your cadence drops below 50 or 60. On an upright, that is not too important but on a Lightning it is.

Also remember that you have a climbing advantage on longer rides. On long rides with the local bike club, at first the upright riders beat me up the climbs, but then around 50 miles, I was easily beating them. This is because I used less energy on the flats and descents than they did. The lower wind resistance of the Lightning is the main reason behind this. Not having to expend energy holding myself up on the seat also helps, especially on longer climbs!

2. Does that thing have a motor?

No, only superior aerodynamics. As a result, the Lightning F-40, which is based on the P-38 frame, holds many records including:

These speeds are up to 20% faster than the best times of upright UCI (official racing) bicycles. Even more incredible, the Lightning F-40 is a production bike, used for daily commuting by riders worldwide.

3. Is that weird seat comfortable?

Very. To find out just how comfortable, Bicycling Fitness Advisory member Randy Ice conducted a survey of upright cyclists and Lightning recumbent riders. The upright riders reported having three times more overuse injuries and pain than the Lightning riders. For example, neck pain was reported in 48.8% of upright riders and only 7.3% of Lightning riders.

4. I notice all your bikes have upright handlebars as opposed to under-the-seat steering. What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?

Above seat advantages:

  • Higher speeds
  • Better and safer handling
  • Ease of attaching fairings and speedometers
  • Easy to maneuver, or pick up the bike, when you are not riding it
  • Not as wide, for getting through tight areas

We have never experienced any advantage to underseat steering; if there were, we would offer it on our bikes.

The Lightning above-seat steering position yields a very comfortable, higher performance bike for several reasons:

  • It is more aerodynamic because the arms are in front of the body instead of out to the sides
  • Our heavy duty steering columns make it possible to pull back somewhat on the handlebars for aggressive riding/climbing, although too much pulling is simply a waste of energy.
  • Most persons feel that above-seat steering yields more precise control of steering.
  • Our exclusive drop handlebars allow a hand position that is as natural and as comfortable as USS.
  • Above-seat steering lets you use all standard bicycle accessories, like computers, lights, small bags, etc. without special mounting.
  • Above-seat steering also gives you a convenient place for maps and a camera when touring.

5. What gear range should I have?

Most of our owners say that the 125″ high gear on the P-38, and the 145″ on the F-40 (113-120 is the usual high on a road bike) is enough. They also like the 23″ low, especially tourists. At first some riders say they want a higher high gear — probably this is before becoming acclimated to the Lightning position, riders are comfortable with lower cadences of about 60 to 75 rpm. However, normal riding and training will increase the comfortable cadence range to 90 or higher, thus the stock gearing will then be fine.

We have found that, with the higher power position and efficient frame of the Lightning, 23″ is a low enough gear for the average rider, however an optional 26-tooth granny chainring can be used for heavy and steep touring, this gives a low gear of 20″. Check out climbing and reviews for confirmation of this. Of course, bikes slower than a Lightning might need lower gears.

6. Why don’t the pros use them?

If the Lightning is so great, why don’t Olympic and professional bike racers use it? The UCI (International Cycling Federation) banned recumbents from competition because of their inherent speed advantage, as the Lightning U-2 proved in USCF time trials. Because of the UCI restrictions, the standard bicycle most people ride today has changed very little since its inception more than 130 years ago.