I am a newbie that is completely overwhelmed with the vast information out there on how to choose a bike. Not only are there about a million price ranges, there are almost as many (maybe even more) configurations.
A little about me. I am 6"1' and about 180 pounds. I am 28 years old and I literally learned to ride two summers ago (don't laugh... yes it's true). The only bike I have ever owned was a Raleigh road bike. I believe it was a 12 speed. I don't know a whole lot more than that. I road it to work when the weather was nice and I rather loved riding it; I probably put 1000+ miles on the thing that summer, which I felt was a lot (not so much after reading what you crazy folks do lol), especially since it was sort of a whole new experience for me. It sort of fell into my lap when I told some friends I couldn't ride and they essentially forced me into it.
Fast forward nearly two years and I have moved cross country. The bike, I left with my friends. Even though it was a gift, I felt bad selling, and all we took with us was what fit in the car and what we could cram into a POD and away we went 1600 miles to the East Coast. I haven't been completely sedentry. I picked up running (while missing my bike) as well as weight lifting. I still do about 5-8 hours of cardio a week and five days a week lifting (I only point this out so that any recommendations are not made for someone you might assume has become a complete couch potato). I also spend some time on the spinning machines in the gym, though probably not as much as a should; I try to vary my cardio around each week.
Anyway, I am looking for a road bike, I think. If I ride on trails they will be mostly paved, and if not, very smooth. No real mountain biking. I do not really have a set budget in mind. I'd say something under $500... If $150 gets me what I need, I don't feel I should spend the $500. But if $500 gets me what I need, so be it. I am pretty certain I can stay under that. I am not looking at competitive racing, just something to ride for fun, MAYBE commute to work with (right now I live about 40 highway miles from work but we are looking at relocating again).
Anyway, any advice would be appreciated. Searching basically brings me to "do some online research and then check out a bike shop" types of responses. That's probably great for someone who knows what he's looking for. I, mostly, do not.