Well, I just sold my bike tonight (low-end Trek), and am stepping it up a bit. I don't have a huge budget, but this is the next step for me (budget $700).
I've narrowed it down to two choices, the Trek Fitness (FX) 7.3 for $550 bucks, and the Trek Soho 1.0 for $650.
First, let me explain my ride: I have an eight-mile commute, round trip. The way there is uphill most of the way, and the way back is downhill most of the way. On the way back, before hitting the last hill, I like to stop at this little rest spot made by the local jogging club. I'm going to build a bench there in memory of my mother. Great spot.
Anyway, I ride on paved bike paths all the way there, only crossing residential roads occasionally (no state or federal highways). Very safe. Only golf carts are a threat, and they aren't any faster than a bike in most situations. The paths are smooth about 80% of the way, and a little bumpy from tree roots underneath the pavement in some spots. It's a nice ride that takes me about 20-25 minutes (depending on if my momentum is broken by golfcart traffic, the occasional car on a crossing street, etc.
The Trek 7.3 fitness bike is light (compared to my previous bike, a Trek 7100), is faster than my previous bike, and has pretty good components. It's an upper-level bike for average Joes, a mid-bike for newbies into biking, and a lower end for those guys who are roadies and really know their rides. The 7.3 is designed mostly for the road and is made light for guys who want to get out and get fit or commute short distances. Like I said, I'm only going four miles each way, with three relatively steep hills along the way there, and two on the way back.
The other bike, a Trek Soho 1.0 has the same components as the 7.3, but better rims and tires, and has disc brakes and handlebars more conduscive to accessories. The bike also has the internal cable system and sealed hubs, etc. so that you can cut through a puddle or two and not worry as much. It's designed more for commuting, accessories, and it built a lot more rugged.
Again, the 7.3 is $550 bucks at the LBS and the Soho 1.0 is a hundred bucks more. Both fit my budget.
So, what do you think? I suppose, since I can top out at 700 bucks, that with the 7.3 I can add a few accessories (I already have a good helmet) with the extra money, and the Soho will top out at 700 with tax.
I have to say (from my point of view) that I love the idea of light and quick (7.3), but the ruggedness and looks of the Soho are very appealing to me as well.
Thanks for those who give consideration and advice.