After years of service, my Univega bike gave out. The gel seat (long since turned to solid foam) is disintegrating, the wheels can’t be trued any more, the crank grinds in the bottom bracket, the brakes squeal more than they bite.
I need basically the same thing: a decent bike to pedal the streets and hills to work and around the city. It’s tiring to look around on dropped handlebars and I wear regular shoes so I don’t want a road bike; I don’t need heavy mountain bike features like disc brakes, suspension, and knobbly tires; and I want something more efficient than an upright cruiser
For this market, everyone sells “urban” or “hybrid” bikes with oversized aluminum frames, flat handlebars, and decent components for $500-$900. Cannondale Quick, Giant Escape, Marin Fairfax, Scott Metrix, Specialized Sirrus, Trek 7.x, etc. They all use almost identical Shimano components: Tektro brakes, Acera and Avila gears, etc. I quickly settled on a carbon front fork for a smoother ride, then it was just test rides trying to figure out what was most comfortable and solid. But so much depends on the way the shop adjusted the seat to me and how well they set up the bike. When I commented after test rides some places said “We can adjust those spongy brakes/rattling gears” — set the bike up perfectly before I try it!
I bought a Specialized Sirrus Elite. I added a rear rack and transferred the bell and toe clips from my old bike. The fancier Sirrus Comp with endo bars had fewer gears, and I never tried the full carbon fiber Sirrus Limited at twice the price.
I got tired of test rides before I got to the GT Tachyon and Raleigh Cadent. My one unexpected find was the Novara Express, REI’s in-house brand, which had significantly better components for only $849. Its molded grips have a weird bulge that hurt my hands! I could have swapped out components, but I’m not that kind of bicycle tweaker. The one that got away was the Giant Escape 0, it seemed ideal based on riding the comfortable smooth Escape 1, but no store had one in stock in my size.
Bicycling to work and the shops is great, you should do it and skip the cost and hassle of parking! Away from main roads are quieter streets where you can pedal safer.