I am a recent college graduate now into my professional career and I am looking for a quality bike with a reasonable price point. I will use this bike to 95% commute during the winter and 65/35 commute during the other seasons. My commute isn't quite as long, but the many errands I will be running on this bike make it worth the extra cost to have something versatile, durable and fun. Just to throw in, I will be riding rail trails and compacted dirt trails in the summer months.
So, about me: I am rookie cyclist (as you will soon find out), but I am tired of owning box store bikes that weigh 50 lbs and that improperly shift in the most inconvenient times. I am a bit of a bigger guy (I mean, I could drop 20-30 lbs, so we aren't talking hundreds here...) and I absolutely require being in a somewhat upright position.
I have spoken to some bike shops and I am about 90% certain that I want either the Specialized Crossroads Sport or Specialized Crossroads Elite model. The shop is offering me 10% off either with an all cash purchase, Making the Bikes around 460 or 594. (links to the bikes at the bottom of the post). But before I buy, I have several questions:
1)Is the Elite model really worth the extra $134? Why?
2)What are the benefits of having a 9 speed cassette compared to an 8 speed?
3)Are there any other bikes within a $650 or below (new only) price range, in similar or better quality from other brands I should check out?