I'm shopping for my first "real" bike that will be used for a mix of road and trail riding (mostly road riding, though). My GF bought a Trek 3700 last year from our LBS and I stopped by there the other day to see what he would recommend. He steered me toward the 06 Trek 3900 & 4300 or, if I wanted to spend more money, an 05 Cannondale (I cannot remember the model but the bike was dark blue--I want to say E50, F50, R50?). The 3900 was $309, the 4300 was $339, and the Cannondale was marked down from $560 to $475 since it was last year's model.
He said that either of the Trek models would probably be sufficient for my needs but that the Cannondale was a much better choice if I thought I was going to get bitten by the bug because I could hold onto it longer before upgrading to a better bike. He said that it had superior components compared to either of the Trek models, and that it would also be superior to a Trek of equal price. I wasn't sure if he was just biased toward Cannondale or if it is truly that much better. I don't really mind spending the extra money, but only if it will truly be worth it and if a casual rider such as myself will be able to appreciate the differences.
Advice, comments, and suggestions welcome!