I've been spinning for the last two years and looking to purchase my first road bike, comparing road, touring, cyclocross and hybrid. I won't race, but do look to ride weekly & take some 40-80 mile rides on rough pavement/light gravel. I have up to $1200, what do you recommend?
This started as a comment but I must be in a wordy mood this morning - here's a suggestion and a few things to consider. First though, when it comes to brand, any of the "proper" brands would do, it depends what you're comfortable on.
For multi-purpose use I recommend a hybrid with flat bars - but add ergo grips and/or bar ends.
Hybrids generally have rack attachment points, often for a front rack as well, and will take a wider range of tyres than road bikes -- mine (GT traffic) has 35mm, I'll switch to 28 on the same rims when I need to replace them anyway, and you could easily fit much wider tyres if you wanted. Road bikes often max out at something too narrow for even the lightest gravel, though drop-bar tourers are better for this and I'm sure others here will recommend them. The riding position takes less getting used to than a road bike, and it the road gets a bit too rough -- e.g. potholes -- I find it easier to stand on the pedals of a flat bar bike -- partly to do with the brake positioning on a road bike.
You don't mention hills, but they're a consideration when choosing gears -- while I'm sure there are people here who could do steep hills in twice as high a gear as I do.,if you're just starting to ride for real, you probably want quite a wide rang. Once again this says hybrid or tourer to me.