Join Date: Jun 2009
Location: Castle Rock, CO
Bikes: '09 Gary Fisher "Kaitai, '09 Raleigh Team", '91 Trek 8700, '97 Cannondale SR500, '12 Raleigh Twin Six
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First off: Welcome to the Dever area.
Second: Unless the engine is already as light as it can be and you really plan on riding competitivly (your post suggests you are not there yet), the difference between a 16lb bike and a 17 or even 18lb bike is negligable IMO. Ride them both and buy the one that is most comfortable for you. If you are not racing, is it more important to be able to say you did the ride on a lighter bike that beats you up, or being able to finish the ride on a heavier bike and still feel like you could keep going? If you are serious about racing, it seems like you would want a bike just for focussed training and events, but you wouldn't necessarily want to ride it all the time.
Third: Around Denver and Boulder, you can have any kind of ride you want from gentle rolling hills with low relief and brutal winds to long, knarly climbs with wicked fast descents. Denver and its surrounding areas are pretty big. There are lots and lots of groups for every skill level. Start by checking out the local bike shop(s), and you will find the group that's right for you.
I haven't made the leap to a carbon wheelset just yet, so my opinion is anectdotal, but for riding in the mountains, I would choose a lighter aluminum wheel over a heavier, deep section carbon wheel most of the time. Tire selection is probably just as important as wheel selection.