There are any number of forums this question could be asked in, but since both my wife and I are in our mid-50s, and there is much common sense and wisdom in this group, here goes.
We live in a hilly area with gravel and paved roads. My wife likes to walk and cross country ski for exercise. I really think she's like cycling if she had the right bike. Like the huge majority of bike owners around here, she has a mountain bike. She bought this on her own from a reputable bike shop a few years ago, and it is a pretty decent bike - a Gary Fischer, aluminum frame with front suspension. I think the seat is OK because it is a woman's seat and the LBS went through options with her.
She's never liked riding this bike. It is a fairly aggressive MTB - low handlebars, particularly. I would like some advice or words of wisdom on what to do to get her at least comfortable on a bike. Her use is very typical for a hybrid or even a comfort bike: rolling hills and flats, pavement and gravel, with the occasional non-technical, smooth trail. She is OK fitness-wise, but not strong, so she (we) will be planning rides for moderate hills and avoiding the tough stuff. I am considering two options:
Option 1: modify this MTB. I already have a long adjustable stem off another bike I have in the garage that I can swap for the low (threadless) stem now on the bike. This stem will easily get the handlebars even or a couple inches above the seat. My second step would be to replace the knobby MTB tires with a slick/road type tire. Beleve me, she will never be riding this bike on a trail that requires serious tire tread. Other than the tires, the only other change I might consider is some more "curved" handle bars to replace the flat bars now on the bike. I don't know if that change would help, except psychologically I think she thinks those flat bars are uncomfortable and too "racy". I don't know, what do you think.
The other option is to buy a new hybrid type bike. What I'm talking about here is a non-suspension bike with 700 wheels, but nice fat, mildly treaded tires. As far as I can tell, the gearing is similar to MTB. I am not thinking of spending a lot of money for the bike, on the magnitude of $300-$500.
So, does anyone have experience "converting" a MTB for more "hybrid" type use by changing the stem and tires? Obviously, the cost of this would be less, just the cost of the tires pretty much. On the other hand, I really have no problem with spending $500 if it would get her rolling. Is there any reason to think either frame is inherently more comfortable... Assuming I can make the necessary adjustments in the stem, bars and seat of the MTB?
Would a cheap(ish) (read kind of heavy) 700 wheel'd hybrid serve any real advantage to a MTB frame with suitable tires? The MTB will have a suspension, but won't be a huge amount heavier since it is a pretty decent, light frame to begin with.
Thanks for any advice and insight you can give.