I know variations of this question have come up over and over again on these forums, and I've spent the last two days breezing through the archives before starting a new thread, but I'm sure some people aren't tired of putting in their two.
I'm in the market for a new bike (thanks to some sticky-fingered individuals), purely for commute and recreation. My last was a hybrid (Raleigh Detour 4.0) but really wasn't a fan of the upright feel of it. When I borrowed a road from a friend (some fixed-up fixie) I instantly loved how efficient it felt: head down, weight over the pedals, much more natural. Thus, I'm looking for something more in the realm of a road, touring, or cyclocross in terms of design and geometry. (I've read up on some debates among those three styles, so no worries there).
The issue, as usual, is my budget, which is that of a graduate student. I'm not going to race, so it doesn't need to be ultra light. I'm not going to punish it on trails, so it doesn't need to be ultra durable. Nothing fancy, just quality, something I can upgrade over the years, certainly fittable with a rear rack. I could go either geared or fixed, but I'd of course expect to pay less on a fixie. I'm looking for used (mostly on Craigslist), as I think even a deal on an outdate model at an LBS might still be out of my price range if it's any good. Most of all, since I know I'm being picky--and maybe unreasonably picky and cheap (lets call 600 an uncomfortable limit)--I'm willing to wait for a steal.
Bottom line, these things considered, what do you wise ones think I should look out for specifically while I'm browsing the pricey pages of LA's craigslist or cruising Pasadena LBSs for a good deal? (I don't suppose I'd be better off building a fixie over time, would I?). I need guidance!
Thank you, all,