It's been years since I felt I was "deeply" involved in the cycling world, having biked across the country in 2010 and spent most of my college weekends racing or just riding bikes (wow, I graduated almost 8 years ago!).
That said, some of the things that I remember seem to remain true. The most important thing about bike shopping is you: what do you want to do? So, let's start there:
a LBS recommended i go with a new Jamis Quest Sport ($699) i want it for 10-20 mile bike rides a couple times a week through town or bike path. know anything about that brand of bike? think it's a good bet? or should/could i go with something more basic?
So yeah a lot of good questions. The most important thing is what you want to do with it. Not to offend, while Jamis I have heard of, they’re not one of the big brands or anything (from what comes off the top of my head, they make lower end stuff?).
The biggest brands are Trek, and Specialized probably. I ride a Specialized road bike I picked up used, and I’ve had Treks before too. The other biggest brand I can think of is Cannondale. And now more come to mind, I’ve seen good prices for Canyon, they’re DTC (no shops). All four of these make bikes ridden in the Tour de France, as well as more entry level stuff.
As for deciding on the kind of bike: - Frame. You’re not going to see much different on bikes <1000, likely all aluminum (and I wouldn’t get a carbon bike under 1000, optimizing for the wrong thing). - Geometry of frame. The biggest question (full road bike, or more city-bike style). - Wheels. Everything will be pretty "basic", I wouldn’t see too much here. The width that fits in the frame is a big determinant of ride quality. - Road bikes go as narrow as “23c” and they used to be even narrower. - I ride 28s on my road bike because it’s not really any slower, they’re the biggest that fit in the frame I have, and they’re comfier. - Anything up to 40 or even 50 would be good for cruising around (I’d take a 50c out on a road ride, and they’d be sweet on a gravel ride). - Brakes: rim vs disc. It used to be only disc on mountain bikes, only rim brakes on road. Over the past 2/3 years all the road bikes are going disc. The stopping power won’t make a big difference for you, but discs are better. FWIW, my road bike is older, it has rim brakes, they’re great. It’s not a big selling point really. I’d want discs for my next bike, which will probably be a “gravel bike” (a road bike that takes up to 50c tires with disc brakes). - Drivetrain. This is the shifters on the handlebars, and then on the front/back, and the gears. Huge differences in price and quality on these...this will be the biggest difference on a 1000 vs 2500 bike (likely same frame). Putting the top end drivetrain on the same frame would be like 3k more. They go crazy at the high end, fully electronic (which I’m not convinced I would go for...I rode a prototype way back in 2010 and they were awesome, and now they’re mainstream but...I like bikes being purely mechanical).
There are two big drivetrain brands, you want one of them. Shimano and SRAM. It used to be Shimano and Campagnalo (italian…). SRAM is newer, I was an early adopter in 2008ish and I like them. People get really sentimental about these (some still swear by “Campy”). Each SRAM/Shimano will have 4 levels: basic, intermediate, high end. I’ve never even owned the high end, but still ride a mix of basic and intermediate parts. They each also make stuff cheaper than their 4 signature levels (and now, each has electronic version of the top 2). If you can go for the entry level for either brand, that’s a good bet. Shimano is “tiagra/105/ultegra/dura-ace” and their lowest->highest and SRAM is apex/rival/force/red. Apex is the “cheaper” one but I think it’s still probably okay.
The first bike that comes up on canyon’s site: Canyon Ultimate CF SLX Disc 9.0 ETAP. Full road, carbon, disk brakes (some room for gravel width tires…everything is going that way), …and sram red electronic. It’s 7500!
The cheapest on their site: Endurace AL Disc 6.0. A bit more of a gravel/relaxed geometry: 28 tires, nice wheels, disc brakes, aluminum frame. It has Shimano tiagra, which is their basic below 105.
Let me say because people get hung up on this: aluminum vs carbon is the very least important thing. But what about aluminum vs. steel? Aluminum is lighter and stiff, steel is more “comfortable”. I wish I’d ridden steel across the country rather than aluminum. But blindfolded, maybe you couldn’t tell the difference on a smooth road. My dream bike is steel or ti (not carbon). Some beautiful handmade steel race bikes out there (see Firefly).