Thanks all for the discussion in this thread and my wheel weight/aerodynamics thread. I explored the Analytic Cycling site as recommended, altho for my general, non-racer-related questions it's almost TMI. But having read all the pertinent threads I can find here and on other forums, here's what I've concluded as an avid, middle-aged recreational rider who has some (but not unlimited)disposable income to spend on bike toys. FWIW, John's 5 golden riding rules:
#1: The purpose of biking is personal refreshment, fitness and fun, albeit with modest challenges/goals. Keep it that way.
#2: There are no universal truths regarding THE BEST frame, wheels, components, etc. There are lots of great options in all categories, whether top-end off-the-shelf, mass produced parts, or small, boutique custom parts. Stop trying to split hairs. So, shop carefully and then buy products you believe in, that please you, and enhance your riding experience. Remember, what makes you happy and adds to your riding pleasure is what's best. And style is personal/subjective: don't look to others to tell you what color, paint/finish scheme, etc. is best... express your taste in building-out your ride. If others approve of your stylistic choices, great. If they don't, SCREW-'EM! And GET A BIKE AND SET-UP THAT FITS!
#3: Lighter weight is generally better, however don't get insane over mere grams. (I know that violates a common paranoia that I long suffered from; but I suspect many of the forum readers are like me: outsiders seeking general advice/wisdom from the experience of the 'true believers'). Don't risk safety and dependability/performance for uber-light, off-brand carbon fiber stuff. The BIG $$$, super light stuff won't make an appreciable difference in performance. For we non-elite athletes, dropping a few pounds of excess body fat and improving our cardio-vascular conditioning, especially our 'red-line' limit at our aerobic/anaerobic threshold, yields better results.
#4: Aerodynamics trump weight. And by far the biggest aerodynamic factor is the rider: use the drops and wear appropriate kit. Wheels come next. After that, the aero benefit of various components is trivial for all but the most advanced racers/TTs. And, lastly,
#5: While chosing the best quality components you can afford, be sure to use really good tires and bearings as they have a measurable affect on rolling resistence and friction. No need for ceramic bearings; high quality steel is just fine. However, if you use ceramic, get top-end ones w/the best seals and proper lubrication or don't bother.
Again, these ideas apply to we mere mortal riders... Any suggestions from you super-humans?