I am looking to buy my first road bike. So far I have tried:
Cannondale Synapse Alloy 7 Sora
Cannondale CAAD 8 6 Tiagra
Cannondale CAAD 10 5 105
I currently ride a Trek Hybrid and I'm looking for something to take me further and somewhat faster, although for now I do not plan on racing, participating in triathlons or doing competitive group rides. I am mostly a recreational rider, in good shape but not the best cycling legs, 140lbs, 5'9. I initially figured I could spend about $500 but I think $1000-$1500 is more appropriate given the impressive bikes you can get for $1000 these days. Having never tried a road bike of any sort before, I was blown away by the Cannondales I tested but did not want to buy on the spot without trying other brands, geometries, frames, groupsets, etc. On the other hand I also do not want to waste too much time trying everything out and confusing myself fine tuning little things that may not matter to me, for the first year or two at least.
I liked all 3 of the rides I tried, the Synapse felt more comfortable, while the CAADs felt aggressive and really fun to be on. I hated the Sora shifters as you could only shift properly from the hoods. The Tiagra was good but 105 was just so smooth.
Other bikes I'd like to consider:
Specialized: Allez Comp Apex + Allez Elite Compact
Scott: Speedster S40/S30/S20
Bianchi: Via Nirone 7 Tiagra + Via Nirone 7 105
Fuji: Newest and Roubaix bikes
I have heard/read good things about Jamis bikes as well as bikesdirect.com.
I think bikesdirect is out of the question for someone like me and perhaps even Nashbar. Besides I think buying from an LBS will have advantages like lifetime free basic tune-ups and adjustments that are too hard to pass up for a beginner. Nashbar just looks like it could be great value though even if I have to pay for tune-ups, etc.
I am open to suggestions about what else to try and whether I should concentrate on certain frames (stiff, relaxed, steel or aluminium but not carbon due to price), cranksets, groupsets, etc. Depending on how much I enjoy road biking, I want to buy a good road bike and additionally replace by Trek hybrid with a 'beater' steel road bike.
Sorry for the long post and thank you for reading.