Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Northern Nevada
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Normally I feel competent to address questions like this, but you've got 100 pounds on me at my heaviest, so be skeptical...
First, good for you for making a move. I've lost 50 pounds, and the difference in what I'm able to do, as well as my self-image, is astonishing. Try to focus on the goal, not the day to day annoyances and temptations, and just accept that this is a life change, not a temporary diet. You'll slip, you'll fall back, but keep plugging. It's worth it.
As for equipment, I THINK (but don't know) you'll be OK on a decent mountain bike if you bear your weight in mind. You want wheels with at least 36 spokes (about the most you'll find without having them built for you, and that's expensive) and big tires, 26 x2.0 or larger on a mountain bike, 700x35 or 38mm at least on a hybrid or road bike. Don't try to get by with skinny (23 or 25mm) road tires.
Most bike shop employees are wiry little effers, and it's rare to find one who actually understands what a 200+ pounder needs or wants on a bike. One of our local shops is owned by a guy who was a mechanic for the U.S. Cycling Team, a world-class pro wrench, and it took him three tries to build me a rear wheel that would stand up. Partly my fault--I didn't know enough to dodge the potholes. But he swore the first two would work, and they failed in a few hundred miles. Now that I'm down to 230, I ride standard 32-spoke wheels with no trouble.
When you're on the bike, watch where you're going. Don't run on, off, or into anything you can avoid. Don't go up or down curbs. Go around potholes, and pick the smooth road over the torn-up one. Aim for longish, not-too-fast rides at first (how long is long? How fast is fast? Depends on you. My first "real" ride was 12 miles, took an hour and a half and wiped me out for two days. Today I do the same route in less than 40 minutes as part of a 40-mile loop I ride a few times a week). Stick to it, but don't burn yourself out. Rest days are important, too.
Don't make every ride an effort, a "training ride." There's nothing wrong with hoping on the bike just to ride around, or to head out for coffee, or to explore a park, back road or the rich people's neighborhood up the hill. Time on the bike is time on the bike, and especially at first, it all counts. When you're down to 210 and looking for a challenge, you can pick up speed.
Learn a little about basic repairs before you go. You WILL have flat tires--everybody does--so carry a patch kit, spare tube and pump, and know how to use them. You will regret it if you ignore this advice. You may break spokes, so learn how to true a wheel and/or adjust your brakes so you can ride with a wobbly wheel (it's not a catastrophe--you can replace spokes yourself, or any bike shop can do it in a few minutes). If you break spokes often, consider asking a good shop to "true" the wheel--most wheels are machine-built these days, and a good hand-built or hand-trued wheel will be stronger.
I can't recommend a specific bike, but I think you should expect to spend somewhere in the range of $450 to infinity--there's no top limit, but there's a significant upturn in quality around $450. If you have a bike shop within a couple of hours' drive, it's definitely worth the trip. Tell them what you want to do and ask what they recommend. They may show you something a little more expensive than $450, and that's OK. If they try to put you on a $1500 bike, or if they roll out some skinny-tired race bike with the seat four inches higher than the handlebars, go somewhere else. For your purposes now, there's nothing wrong with a "comfort bike" or a hybrid. They can be set up to work for you, you won't be in pain while you're riding and if you get serious and move up, you'll have a spare bike.
Stick with it, dude. It's worth it in the end.