After much research and help from you guys, i'm closer to purchase.
[EDIT - i'm updating this as I learn]
I'm between two bikes: Jamis Allegro 2 and Trek 7.5FX, wondering if anyone has any immediate feelings about them. They are similarly spec'd.
Allegro2 has Shimano Tiagra components - 2-gear in front, and the Trek uses Deore - 3 gear up front.
Allegro2 comes with Vittoria Randonneur Tires
7.5FX comes with Bontrager Race Lite Hardcase Tires
Allegro2 is $810 with lifetime service, located 20 min from my home, friend works at the store
Trek2 is $810, located approx. 50 miles from my house.
Then you have the looks: (i like the trek better so far; i haven't seen the allegro in person.)