Hey everyone! I am new to the forums. I was looking at bikes and realized I am in over my head and decided to post here hoping for advice.
My wife and I are needing to start exercising regularly and we have pushed around the idea of buying bicycles. We live in Louisville, KY and there is a 100 mile paved bike trail less than a mile from our house. We really aren't sure what kind of bikes we have been looking at. I am overweight, 5' 9" 300 pounds. I have no idea what would be comfortable for me. I know the seat makes a huge difference, does anyone know where I should start as far as the seat goes? Another issue is I am guessing that at my weight I am going to need something very well built and possibly some kind of special tires to hold my weight. We really are not sure where to start! We may also need some sort of bike rack for our SUV. We drive a 1998 Chevy Blazer. Not sure if it would be best to get a roof rack or rack for the back. Ofcourse we will only be driving a mile each way to the trail so that isn't such a huge concern.
There's a "clydesdales and athenas" forum on this site specifically for larger riders. Lots of good info and friendly people in there.
As for a rack, if your Blazer has a trailer hitch, you can get a hitch mounted rack. Easy to get the bikes on and off, easy to get the rack on and off. But if the trail's only a mile away, why not ride to the trail?
A lot depends upon what you can afford to spend on a pair of bikes. If you want bikes that work well from the get-go, do your shopping at a regular bike shop. There are a bunch of clubs in your area and club members will have a good idea of which shops cater to the casual rider versus the racing crowd who usually spend $$$$$ for the bikes. Here's a link to bike clubs and activities in the Louisville area: Local Bicycling Organizations - LouisvilleKy.gov It looks as though the "Broke Down Bike Club" which lists itself as a casual riders club might be good for beginners like yourselves. You are likely to find someone there who can advise you on what to start out with. I'd suggest you carefully consider bike weight. Lighter bikes are always easier to pedal and they are not substantially more fragile than the heavier ones. You are already at a disadvantage with your own weight and a heavier bike will make riding more difficult. Good bikes are not going to fall apart under your weight if you ride them carefully and don't jump curbs on them. It would probably be a good idea to stay away from the really narrow tires - 23 and 25 mm if you end up with bikes that have 700C road tires. BTW, there is a lot of hype out there in bike model names. Things like "comfort bikes" that may come with wide seats, a heavy frame, just a few speeds, and fat tires may well be misnamed if you wish to ride the long trail you mentioned in your post.
Don't get discouraged too easily. When you start out riding (no matter what you weigh) it isn't easy. You have to build up endurance. You will probably be slow and may not be able to ride very far before getting tired. That's normal. It is a shame when people give up too soon and park the bikes.
It's hard to make specific recommendations without at least knowing your ballpark budget.
I definitely think the hitch mounted rack is the way to go. They all sit at a good height for loading and unloading and many can carry more than just two bikes (you didn't mention kids, but you are in the rec and family forum). Yakima and Thule are two of the top brands out there. I personally have the Yakima HoldUp 2". It's a bit pricey but can be found for quite a bit less than MSRP. One nice thing about it is that it doesn't rely on the top tube of the frame (or the frame at all) for carrying the bike. You can also buy their 2+ expansion to increase the carrying capacity to four bikes. I've owned a TON of racks over the years, and this is the best rack I've ever owned.
As far as bikes go, I'm a big guy too (6', 295lbs), but I've put a huge number of miles on my Specialized Crosstrail Disc including some moderate off-roading without any breakage or issues. I replaced the cheek-spreader seat with a gel one that fit me a bit better but other than that my bike is stock.
I'd recommend looking at hybrid bikes. Most all manufacturers offer them at a fairly reasonable price for entry level models but the sky's the limit as you go up the model line. They can do most anything (road, trail, mountain biking, touring) and I find them extremely comfortable. Their capabilities sit right in the middle of the more specialized bike types and they will fill most any role you want. Once you get more and more into cycling, you'll probably buy something else more targeted to the kind of riding you're interested in, but for a first bike you can't beat it.
I do recommend staying away from bikes with reduced spoke numbers. Stay with standard rims and 30+ spoke counts. I also find front suspension is nice and like the ability to lock mine when I'm riding purely on the road. Front suspension talk around here tends to start religious battles, so form your own opinion on that.