It seems a fair amount of people that end up here are looking for advice on purchasing a bike for a large rider. So I am going to start writing a series of posts on choosing a bike.
The most important thing to consider is what type of riding you will be doing.
If your running simple errands around your home and just want a fun way to get a bit of exercise I would recommend something with a more relaxed riding position. These bikes could take several forms. I am a big fan of Dutch and Dutch-style city bikes. They are simple to maintain, stylish and very comfortable to ride. The down side to a Dutch bike is the expense, Making it more of a commitment but what better to commit to than a life time of fun on your bike.
A good bike is an investment; if you treat it well you could have it for a lifetime. Buying a cheap bike can cost you more to maintenance in the long run if not giving out completely.
Other bikes would include a cute vintage cruiser. These are fun but aren’t built for speed if that’s something you desire. The other downside of these bikes is that they don’t always include a big range of gears so getting up a hill may be more of a challenge than it would on bikes with more speeds. Some of these bikes are equipped with a very low gear, which is nice for climbing. So if you want one find out about gearing options.
A note on step-trough or “girl bikes”:
If you want to ride in a dress or skirt and don’t want to wear bike shorts underneath you will want a step through bike. The downside to these bikes is the loss of some of there structural integrity in other words; they can break easier than a “mans” frame. There are a couple ways to get around this. Mixte frames! They are cute and tough (tougher than some “men’s” frames) unfortunately there aren’t many on the new market but plenty for sale used (see note on buying used). Some step-though bikes are tougher because of design and manufacture than others. This is again a time when paying more can save you some stress in the future.
Buying a used bike can be a great way to go! There are plenty of old bikes to be had in most parts of the country and you can something good. The problem with buying used is you can also get a bike in bad shape without knowing it. If you already know a lot about bikes you’ll know what to look for If you don’t it’s hard to know if important things are striped or the last time the bike was given a good lube. So for the beginner I would only buy a used bike from a shop. The shop should have already given the bike a good once over.
Lastly a hybrid or “commuter bike”. These bikes are often similar to mountain bikes in the gearing and braking system. The uprightness will depend on the bike. Basically a hybrid is a very utilitarian bike, lots of gears fairly upright and can be easily modified depending on your purpose. You could also modify a mountain bike for this purpose.
Other people have found that recumbent bikes do the trick for them. I have never ridden a recumbent and really don’t have much knowledge about them. If they seem like what you might be interested in I would go to your shop and check it out.
The second major consideration is what the frame is made out of. Mr. Sheldon brown has a good guide about this but roughly here are the goods. You want a strong bike. There is nothing wrong with a good steel frame. Chromoly or “CroMo” is a great choice in my opinion because it can carry a load but it’s much lighter than traditional steel. The material I would most caution against is carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is very brittle and can break without warning and is usually not recommended for people over 200lbs. This is usually used in Road bikes that are intended more for racing than the kind of basic use and travel you would be doing as a beginner starting out. If you want to start training to race more power to you just be advised that along with the added performance of carbon fiber there are problems.
If you want a road bike but you want it tough I would say look for a Touring bike. There are built and designed to carry heavy loads long distances. It’s a small part of the road bike market but they build them tough often with more forgiving gearing than a racing bike. A Cyclocross bike is as strong as a Touring bike but without the storage rack. With the popularity of cyclocross racing more bike are available and at lower prices than the few touring bikes on the market.
As far as specific bikes Electra makes a Dutch-style bike as well as several cruisers. If your in the Portland, Oregon Clever Cycles has a wonderful collecting of Dutch bikes and is one of the only places in the US to get some of the wonderful bikes they carry. As far as a hybrid goes most major manufacturers like Trek and Specialized make them. Surly also makes some great bikes; The Long haul Trucker being a bike I own and would highly recommend to anyone. Bianchi also makes some great bikes, A touring bike the Velpe, the Milano a cute city bike as well as some hybrids.
Next wheels and saddles.