Hi all. I've spent the last couple of weeks reading over articles and threads here on bike purchases for big guys. I'm still relatively new to this site, so I apologize if I've overlooked something. I apologize for putting up yet another "help me choose a bike" thread, but it didn't feel appropriate tacking my questions on to someone else's thread.
I'm a big guy like many others around here. At my last weigh-in a few months ago I was 389 lbs. A year ago I was around 450-460. I'm taking off anywhere from 5 to 10 lbs a month from my current level of physical activity by the walking I do at work (2-5 miles a day) and by making much smarter choices in the type and quantity of food I eat. I've mostly switched to a vegetarian lifestyle. When I do eat meat it's chicken and fish.
This weekend I stopped in at several local bike shops and got to test ride a few bikes so I can get on the road and keep the weight loss happening.
My first stop was at Paradise Garage. The salesperson I talked to there showed me to a Kona Steely. Sadly, he didn't seem to keen on taking time to talk to me about the bike and what I needed to look for even after I told him my level of experience with today's bikes (novice.) I didn't get a chance to test ride the bike as the store was pretty busy, the seat looked painful, and I wasn't sure if they would swap out a seat just to accommodate a test ride. Slightly frustrated, I moved on.
I then moved on to a local Bike Source where I talked to a very knowledgeable salesman who was willing to take the time to lay out my options for me. He discussed things like bike geometry, wheel/rim strength, etc. He showed me three bikes. The first was an Electra Townie which felt great to ride but I've seen some mixed feedback on these boards on this bike. The other two were Specialized bikes. I think both were Crossroads models. They felt good, but not as good as the Townie. Given the models shown, the salesman recommended I consider upgrading the wheels to stronger rims with higher spoke counts. He gave me a quote of between $400 to $500 to move up to beefier rims (I believe this is 36 spokes or more.) I need to know if this is considered normal, outrageous, necessary, or not. (EDIT: I just now caught the "spend $250-$400 on rims you don't have to worry about it" comment in the check here first thread. Disregard this question.) Based on other threads I've read (specifically on the Giant Sedona) this might not be the case.
I stopped at Handy Bikes on my way home. They had a Cannondale "Comfort" bike which was nice to ride, but I've not seen much in the way of reviews on Cannondales and I'm unsure of the quality of the brand.
I was trying to keep my budget around or under $500, but if I have to buy beefier rims/wheels that may push me closer to $1000.
I'm also trying to find a Giant Sedona so I can take a test ride on it. I hear in a couple of threads that it might be the sweet spot of durability and price that I'm looking for.
Based on the available data, I'd appreciate some advice/guidance. Thanks much.