I'd like to get into semi-serious cycling, and right now I'm considering mainly $400/$500 hybrids, as I'd like something that can move pretty well. I love speed. I also want something that isn't too delicate for around town riding; it will be my only bike for now. Shocks aren't a must, but a plus.
However, I've also seen some good deals on used bikes, mostly through Ebay and Craigslist, but mostly road bikes (it seems people like to hold on to hybrids), which also interest me, but are generally too expensive new.
I want something that's relatively inexpensive, has good speed on average city road conditions as well as on trails and maybe a little light off-road, has good components (gears/shifters are a priority), and doesn't look too shabby.
So far I've ridden a Marin Larkspur and Muirwoods, a Trek 7300fx, and a Specialized Sirrus and Crossroads Elite. I didn't like the feeling of the ride on the Trek as much as the two Marins, but I liked its drivetrain/shifting/gearing system the best, as it felt more solid and less likely to need maintanence.
The extra cost ($500 range vs. $400) was apparent in the ride of the specialized bikes, plus the fact that they had shocks, which may or may not be prefferable. Overall, the Specialized bikes seemed to climb better and coast faster. I loved those bikes, but I'd rather not spend that much, I'm on a budget.
Sooo, my question is, how do I find an affordable bike with all of these qualities? The less I spend the better, and I'd really like tips on specific models or methods of buying/researching, plus suggestions for which type of bike I should get. Is there any kind of all-encompassing database of bike models/reviews out there?
If you have any particularly useful piece of advice or know someone who does, you can email it to email@example.com.