I don't want to hear a load of negatives about bikes you've never ridden, or even been up close to. Please no bashing of Discount Outlet Bikes. Mainly, I want to keep the discussion friendly, prejudice-free, and the answers, strictly based on a rider's DIRECT AND PERSONAL RIDING EXPERIENCE. If you've had experience riding different makes at and near entry level, your comments comparing and contrasting what each has to offer, will be most valuable. No experience? Don't discuss it! Fair enough?
It seems that the road bikes of today, would have more in common than those of yesteryear. I'd like to know where one is likely to get the most for one's money. In the beginner market, just how much bike can $300.00 buy? Is it always preferable to buy a new bike at the LBS, versus on-line? What about big retailers like Big5, REI, Sports Chalet, etc, etc? If you've heard from a lot of your cyclist friends, which on-line bike retailers have the best overall reputation for quality and customer service? How about your own experience good or bad that way?