If you're here reading this, then you probably already have a bike, so how can I contribute?
I'll start with how I chose my bike. For starters, I had $1,000 budget, so I started looking at bikes costing twice that. Why? So I could understand the kinds of trade offs I'd be making for one half the price. $2,000 buys a nice road bike, but with careful shopping, $1,000 can land you a bike with few major compromises.
The first subject I'll throw out is weight. I think a lot of people obsess over bike weight. If a few grams of weight are that important to you, just leave a few tablespoons of water out of your water bottle. Today's modern road bikes are very lightweight. Enjoy them, and find something more productive to obsess over. That said, if you have the money, go for one of those awesome 17 pound bikes.
Frame materials are another great subject. Aluminum is harsh and inexpensive but heavy. Titanium is lightweight and flexible. Carbon is light but frail. Steel lasts, is supple, repairable and rides well. Aluminum is the choice for less expensive, quality bikes. Stay away from cheap steel bikes, but for long distance touring, they are revered. Good steel bikes start around $2,000. Titanium is generally either loved or hated. Carbon is the current material of choice for the highest quality bikes.
I ride a Giant OCR-1. After looking at a lot of bikes, it was the best I could find for my budget. My thoughts on the bike:
I'm upgrading my bike over time. I started by swapping out my wife's wheels for Mavic Kysrium Equip's. That made a big difference. My next step will be to get Ultegra brakes. At some point I'll probably just get a carbon frame and transfer all of my components.