huge bike purchase indecision problem! advice?
I am looking to buy a new bike.To start off I mainly use my bike for commuting and sometimes the local paved bike trails. I haven't been off of pavement for more than a minute in 7 years, and I do not see that changing.
My current bike isn't a year old yet. Its a 2013 Giant Escape 3. Flat bars, 700x35 wheels, less that stellar brakes and an 8 speed cassette. Typical hybrid but it does the job. Realistically there is nothing wrong with the bike except maybe the fit(5'11 on an xl frame).
I want a bike with drop bars. I love the feel of riding on the hoods, I love the way they look on other riders' bikes and the idea of extra hand positions sounds great! I have several choices I can make, and here is the problem. Ideal price:$700 / Max price not to exceed: $1200
1: the cheapest and possibly the most time consuming and difficult. I could just put drop bars on my escape. I could get a pair of sora STI shifters that would work with my Alivio RD and be set. kindof. I would need a new FD and some travel agents for my brakes. I would also need to purchase the drop bar and possibly a new stem. I think it could all be done for around $300, but is a big pain tracking down compatible parts then putting it all together.
2: Scattante CX-350 By far the 'safest option. Same basic tire size and width as my escape. Disc brakes are a must and of course drop bars. Performance bikes return policy would let me return if if I did not like it so I have nothing to lose except time.
The problems: Reviews on the bike are sketchy at best. Most say the frame 'feels' off, some use the word squishy and unresponsive. I would also need to buy better brakes(tektro-no, avid-yes plz) Currently out of stock in my size but should be restocking soon. $700 all said and done plus $50 in performance points back to me sounds sweet.
3:Gravity Zilla XX Another solid choice. Components look great so I wouldn't need to upgrade too much, reviews are awesome and its $799 with free shipping.
The bad: I am daunted by the task of swapping out bars on my escape. Constructing a bike and actually having it work is fairly impossible for me, so I would need to pay my LBS $120 to assemble the bike for me. It is also an online only bike so there is no way to check fit.
4: 29er with a drop bar conversion. The idea of this sounds great. Some of the roads I commute on are down right horrible. Potholes filled in using chip-seal(loose gravel deathtrap) huge upraised cracks that are not fun in the slightest to go over. A frost suspension 29er would tackle anything I threw at it. Same basic circumference as my 700c wheels, I could opt for thinner knobby tires and be set. I could do a drop bar conversion and have everything I want in that bike.
The problem: Price vs quality. Most $600 29ers I've seen have horrible components. no name shifters and drivetrain, cruddy brake systems and suspension forks walmart would be proud of. Factor in that I would still need to buy shifters and drop bars and that's a pretty chunk of money on my perfect bike.
What are your takes on my options. Any votes? Anyone taken these routes? Does someone know of a different option I have not considered?