"Can you recommend a nice bicycle for me?"
I get this question every once in a while, so I'll can it here for future reference. As you can see, I do my best to absolve myself of accountability in the face of customer dissatisfaction. This particular response deals with Road Bikes (the last road bicycle I owned was in high school - a Western Flyer 200lb piece of cast iron I won in the local newspaper subscription sales contest):
If I were buying a road bike, I'd look at and try out a few different new frames. Especially to see if i'm more comfortable with traditional or compact frame styles. And then I'd look on craigslist or ebay for that same frame style in a 1-2 year old model (probably more C-list than ebay so i could actually go see the ride in person/test it out).
Because components are so expensive, buying used seems to be the way to get the best gear on a bike (ie, Ultegra vs. Shimano 105, wheel upgrades, etc). Plus a lot of really well off people tend to buy expensive bikes and find out they don't like riding, so they'll use them very little and sell when bike season begins. Their mistakes can be your opportunities.
This, of course is only one way to shop. You can also just buy within your budget New, knowing that a shop will do your tuneups for life (or they should - it would help to ask). And then you can upgrade components as you wear parts out / budget it in.
As you can tell, I stayed away from dropping name brands. I just don't know who is really great when it comes to road bikes. Even with MTB or track bikes, you can really fall in love with a frame because it's what you ride all the time, and the seatpost/saddle/bearing/brakes are dialed in to what you like. But since that's your only reference point, you can't draw from the experience of riding a few thousand miles on a potentially better frame.