Knee probs, could mean a bkie
A lot will depend on how sporty you want to be about it. As long as it can take sensibbly wide tyres just about any bike can do that, if you're not in a hurry.
So a bit more about what you're wanting, and budget...
Definitely agree with the comment on saddle height, probably the most common mistake.
As you haven't given much info here's a general guide:
Do you want to go over rocks/bumps much (especially going uphill as this is where it's hardest to lift your rear wheel over stuff), if so a full suspension helps but you need to spend double to get the same quality (roughly). A cheaper way of making a ride softer (if you're worried about that) is a suspension seat post, especially the cane creek models but it doesn't help lift your rear tyre over rocks.
Do you plan on jumping lots and doing technical stuff? If so get 26" wheels (you'll need the shorter distance from pedals to middle of rear wheel (chainstay length)) to allow you to lift the front wheel. If not, get 29" as it smooths things out making for a softer ride but also helps maintain speed over potholes etc. better.
For normal riding about 100mm of front suspension does most things, if you need more then you probably already know what kind of bike you want and the above isn't very helpful.
As to what model or brand, there's very little difference (especially without rear suspension), get whatever fits and is most discounted. I'd recommend spending 500pounds plus on a front suspension only (hardtail) as you start getting decent equipment at that price, I've never been happy with cheaper bikes (and I don't think I push them that hard).
Most importantly, try the bikes for size (or to do this cheaply hire a bike and then buy the same frame size online).
For normal riding about 100mm of front suspension does most things
As does 0mm of front suspension, for that matter...
I couldn't ride with 0mm suspension
So you wouldn't have ridden a bike before the 1990s? Those of us who've been at it long enough had no choice at at least some point! Maybe not as fast as you can do it now, but you could do it.
Try the CTC forum.
Probably the biggest with masses of non racing stuff.
More to the point I am in a similar situation. Too much running and hill going has secrewed my knees despite surgery. However I can ride all day with no knee pain.
The main advice will be not to push to big a gear. Probably sound although thats counter productive for me.
Asking what bike is like asking what boots.
You are really going to be so so specific about your intentions. Equally any forum will be full of experts with their own point of view ( as here). Mostly good but a lot there. Thats why I suggest the CTC. A braoder experience than most.
I have knee problems at times. Several physios have said biking is really good for knees - toughens the muscles, tendons and ligaments of the knee joint. I have biked a bit on rough-ish stuff but now have a tourer and love it. You can cover so much distance at a decent speed - slow enough to take it in, fast enough to cover the miles. Cycling in Brittany is a favourite, flattish roads and extremely courteous drivers.
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