I haven't bought a bike in literally a decade, but it is fun to get back into it particularly for a new rider. It may be sad or good, but not a lot has changed in biking in the last few years. The big changes are the move to electronic shifting and at the lower end, the move back to aluminum from carbon fiber as aluminum has gotten much better and is much cheaper for the price.
The other change is the move to compact geometry, good for the bike manufacturers as they have to stock fewer sizes and also easier to get in and out of them. The magic price points do not seem to have changed much, they are about $1200 for an aluminum very decent bike and about $2k gets you 90% of a $15K bicycle. Remember it is the rider not the mount in the end :-0
The main things to think about are in order:
- Fit. This has gotten easier, if you are 6' 3" your choice is an XL frame. What used to be called a 58". On a Giant TCR2 for instance, XL is 60.5 on the top tube, L is 58.5, M/L is 57 and M is 56 (my size).
- Stiffness over compliance. These playoff, but the frameset is the one thing that you can't really change, so make sure you have the right balance. If you are new to riding, you may want more compliant, but like many sports, in the end, stiffness is what makes the ride easy because you are not wasting energy bending the frame.
- Weight. I know it shouldn't matter, but you want a nice stiff frame and low weight so it feels like a rocket ship. One important thing is the weight of the wheel set as this is spinning and has a much great effect on responsiveness than just the weight of the frame.
- Gruppo. That is the components your are using the Shimano 105 is a great value choice, the Ultegra the performance choice. The main difference between the 105 and the Tegra 4700 (just below it) is having 11 gears in the rear cassette, so you get more range as well as low friction coatings in the cables. However, the 105 is about $200 more so that makes a big difference at the low end. I would rather get a lighter wheel set and lighter frame than move to 105 particularly if you are a casual rider. But in the end, the 105 is going to feel more responsive, so I'd probably pay up a little more for a better group.
So taking at look at Bicycling 2016 http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/newbikemo/2016-buyers-guide-best-road-bikes-under-1500 and really good reviews form bike radar.com and bicycling.com sorted in order of best value first looking at Shimano 105 versions that are low cost and do not weight too much. These are not main brands so they do not have the name brand charge.
- Fuji Roubaix 1.3. 105. 52/36 11-28, $1260 (right now they are $1199 at Performance with a 20% rebase if you join their club). Has a ful Shimano 105 set. Performance Bicycle with claimed weight of just 18.5 pounds on the site and 18.7 measured. Front wheel is 1260 and rear is 1850 grams. It's a little more than the Ghost effectively but much lighter.
- Ghost Nivolet 105 50/34 11-28 REI $1349. 18.8 pounds according to REI which seems incredibly low. Gearsuite.com says 20 pounds. However it's a little hard to find more details about it. This is a German brand and carried only by REI and is only a good deal if you are an REI member and expect 10% off (so effective price is $1200).
- Orbea Avant H30 Aluminum 105 25mm $1300 Recycled Cycles 1007 NE Boat St. Seems like a nice bike but no reviews anywhere of it. Can't find the weight either but Orbea has a great reputation and it is a Shimano 105 set.This is a Spanish brand so not as well known here.
- VeloVie Vecteur 105. This a $1195 105 bike so quite a saving however they do not seem to see them mail order any more 🙁 Otherwise it would have been a major contender.
The next step down are the Tiagra which should be much cheaper but remember these are list prices:
- Scott Speedster 30 (review). 23mm Kenda, Tiagra 4600, Aero Wheels, $1149. Ballard. 20.5 pounds. They have an XL (58cm) and XXL (61cm) so this runs a big smaller as a Large is 56. It's a good value at $1149
- Specialized Allez DSW Elite. Tiagra. Racing $1250. 34/50 12-28 Gregg’s. 20.7 pounds. The 105 version is $1500. It has race geometry although the wheel set if heavy and brakes are a little touchy, but the frame is incredible.
- Trek Domane 2.0. Tiagra, 11-32, Comfort $1360. Gregg’s. This is more of a comfort bike and more upright. 21.1 pounds
- Giant Defy 2 Disc. Tiagra, 11-32, $1200. Montlake. I can't find any reviews for the Defy 2. Front wheel is 1315 grams and rear is 1900 grams so not super light. The non-disk version is 20.1 pounds. The Defy 1 Disc has Shimano 105 weighing 20 pounds for a disk bike for $1500.Felt Z95 Disc. Endurance. Aluminum. $1199. Cannot find reviews of it.
- Cannonball Synapse Disc Tiagra. This is a more upright bike that most.