Hello, to start off with, I'm just plain big, 6' 5" 440 lbs. I'm on my way down the scale again with a good diet and better habits. I've reads many threads here on the forum about people my size ranging from people buying a Kona Hoss, to a $50 frame with overbuilt wheels. I'd really like to get the bike setup for under $500, but I can pay more if it would be worth it.
I'm looking to get into biking, a little background, I had one kmart bike during my childhood, rode it everyday... it was a mountain bike that had the tires worn down into pretty much slicks. Oh memories... Now I want to get back into bikes as an alternative to walking and swimming. I'm fortunate to live in a 'planned city' with dozens of easily accessible paved bike paths. I'm really excited, to the point I spent every evening last week visiting bike shops after work, then reading these forums until like 2am. During the test rides it felt so fun to be back on a bike, and I really feel I can make a positive difference in my life. I'm even entertaining the idea of setting a goal to commute to work(7 miles) by next year.
So far I've received mixed signals from my LBS, and REI. I'm once again in a great situation where REI is 5 minutes away and my LBS is 3 minutes away. I think it would be easier to go through my trips one at a time to explain the mixed signals I've gotten from the various people I've worked with.
I was originally looking for a Giant Sedona which I've heard a lot about, the first bike shop(15 minutes away) I walked into said they didn't have any Sedonas in stock, and said they could order one and I had to pay up front. I asked if they had any similar bikes to try and the guy said no. I ran the other way. This almost discouraged me because I was afraid I'd have to buy sight unseen, that this would be a horrible hobby.
I then tried the LBS closest to me. It was like night and day. This place I walked into and after explaining my situation the guy pulled a Trek 7.2 off the shelf and offered me a test ride. I showed some concern about popping some spokes during the test ride but he insisted that if anything like that happened he would take care of it, it's more important to get me riding. I tried about half a dozen bikes with him, so far the one I liked the best was an '08 Kona Dew 58cm He seemed very confident that the Trek 7.2FX 22.5in and the Kona Dew would hold up with a tandem back wheel (Both use 700cc tires).
I then went over to REI over the weekend. The guy I spoke with was actually a clydesdale class(215) mountain biker. He suggested getting a 26" mountain bike switching out for slicks and getting a new back wheel. I test rode a few of the mountain bikes, though I didn't catch which Novara models they were. He also said that they have the full online catalog since they don't keep a huge stock, and they would have no problem getting specific models in for test rides. He really pushed for a good set of wheels, and he said they have a very good wheel builder at another location that he can get to do the work.
I then went to another location of the second LBS. Once again, very encouraging of test rides, each one the guy seemed very knowledgeable. He suggested that I go with the Dew since I liked it and they can retension the wheels, he also suggested that I look at the Kona Smoke which might be a bit more strudy and would accept wider tires. He also offered to take me out on a ride to show me some tips on preserving the wheels (Stand when taking bumps and use your knees as shocks)
I was then looking around and started chatting with one of the mechanics. He expressed alot of concern with buying something like the Dew, or an 820 with new wheels because at that price point the components would start failing left and right. His opinion was that I should really be looking at between $700 and $1000, but that the components are the most durable at that price and the bike would last a long time, and components wouldn't fall apart. He pulled a Kona Hoss, which I really didn't like, I really like the feel of 29' wheels even though a strong set may be more expensive. He said a great option would be a Mamba with a new back wheel. He didn't seem to be upselling me, he just was very concerned about selling me a bike then seeing me back every week with some new broken.
So I've got a few bikes I'm interested in, and have gotten very different advice from 4 different sources who seem to know what they are doing. I've read a lot of the other threads about large riders, and many of them suggest going to the LBS. I'm glad I have such a good LBS as well as an REI I've always loved. I'd love to get some opinions about these bikes. I tried to link to as many as I could find. I've also sent emails to Kona and Trek to see if their customer service has anything to add to the conversation.
Thanks everyone, and I really appreciate all the great info you have been providing on this forum.