I've been lurking around the boards for a while, but I'm brand new to posting.
Prior to moving to relatively flat Florida, I used to be an avid mountain urban commuter biker (and a lot thinner). I gave up mountain biking almost 6 years ago when I left Atlanta for flat, tourist central Orlando. You have to be nearly insane to bike on tourist filled roads near Disney (I live less than 5 miles from Epcot's parking lot, and all nearby roads are 6 lanes minimum with a median) and at the time, I didn't really know of any areas with decent trails nearby. Since then I have put on a not so modest 150#!!!
Since then I have learned of plenty of places with bike friendly trails nearby. Some are paved, and some are dirt. None are too crazy to call true mountain trails, but they are a little much out of my comfort level for a hybrid. Since its Florida, grades aren't too crazy either.
I've been researching bikes recently and I'm needing some advice. My favorite bike was a Trek 800 and it was practically indestructible until it met its match when I was hit by a bus years ago (long story). Because of this, I was convinced that getting a Trek 820 with some mods soon afterwards (Thompson post, Brooks saddle, better platform pedals, and some better rims not sure of which ones yet) would be the bike for me. I was hoping for $400 for the initial purchase, and hopefully another 300 or 400 over the next 4 months or so for the upgrades. This bike will be strictly for recreation & exercise, so it will most likely not see any serious riding on roads, however, due to my relatively unusual schedule I will be able to ride almost every day.
Today was visit #1 to my LBS (ok, not so local as I live in tourist-town but the closest I could find) to see the 820 a little more in detail. The LBS believes the drive components will not survive the everyday use of my size and will be a little fidgety under my weight. He believes a Trek 4300 or a Gary Fisher Wahoo would suit my needs due to the upgraded components and double walled rims on both.
The weight of the bike really isn't an issue provided I can carry it upstairs and across the apartment to the patio outside for storage, so either of these will be fine, although I will admit the Wahoo is noticably lighter than the 820. I was really hoping to stay under $400 to get rolling for the initial purchase, but if buying an upgraded bike now will save me from having to upgrade a few components later I'm willing to do it. I tried asking about the difference between the Wahoo and the 4300, but the LBS states they're identical outside of the geometry. The LBS did not have a 4300 in stock that came anywhere near fitting my height so I'm not sure what to compare it to.
My questions are:
1. Will buying the more expensive 4300 or Wahoo save me money from having to upgrade components in the near future (within 6 months) that will break due to my size? Are the other upgrades worth the money? Remember weight for the most part isn't a concern. What are the other bikes weak links which will need to be replaced in the near future due to my weight? If costs will wash in the end, is there one bike which stands out performance more than the others, other than fit issues?
2. Frame durability issues? I have read a lot about steel vs. aluminum and the jury seems out as to which one is better. I know given all else equal steel is stronger, but consider it in terms of the bikes' configurations. If one is better for dampening bumps and giving a smoother ride without suddenly breaking that would be a huge plus. If my size comes into play with this question, I'm 6'4". In the long run, I would ideally like to keep the frame and upgrade all the components as they eventually wear out and I lose weight.
3. Forks. Yes I'm heavy and these things aren't made for my weight. However, does one stock fork seem to fare better than others? Suspension forks were a very new thing the last time I bought a bike and I've never had one. I can't seem to find an bike without one so I guess I should consider this.
I know this is a long post and I apologize for being a bit wordy, but I appreciate any words of wisdom anyone might have.