Thanks, and will do John!
The only major components left now are the wheelset and headset and honestly...they are holding up extremely well. The wheels are perfectly in true still after 380 miles and everything is fluid and well lubricated. There's also the freewheel which is showing no signs of abnormal wear.
Out of curiousity, let's do a part breakdown to compare this bike's price with that of other entry level Sora-equipped bikes:
Original price: $157
Kool-Stop pads: $20
Dura-Ace Crankset: $36
Sora FD: $9
Sora RD: $10
Suntour Friction shifters w/cables: $10
"Optional" Extras (things that are more personal/not necessary for every Denali):
Shimano UN54 BB: $20
Serfas Dual Density Saddle: $40
KMC Z-Chain w/master link: $15
When you consider that many Sora-equipped bikes start at $350-$400 and can go up to $700 or so new, the Denali isn't such a bad deal if you don't mind doing a little wrenching, at a base build price of $242. Granted, many of my parts are based on pretty great deals, but if you shop around a little you can find them too! For example, I saw a Dura-Ace 7402 (vintage 7-speed) RD for sale on ebay in great working condition for $60, if I hadn't already gotten the Sora I'd be all over that. It pays to browse around.
Alternatively, for $40 (another deal I found) I could have used a Tiagra RD and brought the total build price with optional extras up to $337.
If you don't like stem shifters, you can use bar-end index or friction shifters for shifting. From what I've found, these can cost between $30-$100 depending on what you like. This would bring your total cost minus optional extras up to $262-$332. Still a pretty fair price for a full Sora bike.
The only negative I can see is the issue with brifters, if you don't like friction shifters or bar-end. You can easily budget in a set of brifters on top of the $242 price and come out well, but the problem is that the bike is a 7 speed whereas most brifters are going to be adjusted for 9 speed drivetrains (you can use a 9 speed RD on a 7 speed drivetrain btw, the RD doesn't care, the shifters do!). Budgeting in a 9 speed freewheel at about $35 (there aren't many, but there are some out there) and a 9 speed chain ($15) brings the base cost up to $292. Allowing $150 for the Sora brifters (or $129 for the Nashbar variety) brings the total cost for the build up to $420-$440.
I have also found that some Sora shifters are tuned for 8 speed drivetrains, meaning you can keep your original chain and drop your price down to $405-$425 w/brifters, and allowing for the cost of an 8 speed freewheel.
Of course, there's still the issue with weight, but your cost savings has to come from somewhere. Swapping out to a road crank should save you a couple of pounds, and the derailleurs might weigh a little less as well. Likely when all is said and done though, it is probably still a 25lb bike at the bare minimum. Changing the wheelset, tires, seatpost, and fork could get this bike under 20 lbs but then it's no longer a budget build.
Anyway, for today's bike related update: I went 22 miles on a group ride today without a single problem. Ride was great, not even a dropped chain from lack of an FD. I did wish that I could have use of the inner chainring on a couple of occasions though.
Additionally, I literally just now noticed this on my original crankset. It seems that there was some uneven and excessive wear on a few teeth on the outer chainring (only one I used):
This may or may not have developed into a problem, personally having seen the testimony of others I don't think the wear would have been a problem anytime in the near future but it's still there, and something to note.