From Sarasota, FL sitting in front of a computer spewing random thoughts!
Intense Uzzi SL, Masi Speciale, Trek 3700 Nashbar Single Speed, Old Cilo Road frame
The best bike is the one that fits you!!!! Each manufacturer has a different idea of what is the best overall design. A couple degrees of head angle, seat angle, top tube length, bottom bracket height...etc., makes a big difference in how a bike handles or "feels". Since no two people are exactly the same, not too many bikes are built exactly the same. The hard part is finding the bike that fits YOU!!! Test ride everything! Bikes that are $100 over and ALSO under your budget. No bike shop can afford to have 1 of each size in each model available to test ride, so ride as many different bikes that you can, in as many bike shops as you can. Each bike will ride a little differently, and each bike shop salesperson will have a different opinion as to what will work best for you. Find out what you like. Remember, if you're not comfortable, you won't ride it! Also, don't buy a bike because it's last years model and too good a price to pass up. If it doesn't fit, IT Doesn't fit regardless of price. The most wise place to spend money is on a good frame. Get the best frame you can afford, and don't worry so much about the components. The frame is the heart of the bike and is usually what you keep long after the other parts wear out, and are replaced. And, if you race, you will replace parts. The second thing to look for is a good suspension fork. These cost a lot and you'll want to keep it as long as possible. Then decide if you're going to get Disc Brakes. Aftermaket brakes are expensive and a complete bike with disc already on them are cheaper in the long run. WARNING! Don't compromise on the frame to get a bike with discs. It's tempting, but remember the frame is the key.
I agree with Big Vic,
You need a stable frame! As far as who makes the best, well that is always a matter of opinion. IMHO I would suggest that for racing go no less than shimaNO LX component group on whatever frame you decide. That is my opinion. Fit is crucially important! However not spending a fortune is too. Don't get caught up in the whole "coolness factor" of bikes. Remember it is you that is riding it. If it is cool to you and it fits and handles like you want it too then get it. The people who are caught in the "cool" factor are not riding your bike.