With any competition level bike you aren't gonna be riding with stock parts but Cannondales tend to come with solid components, primarily some of Shimano's better parts. There's a difference b/w what is considered a high end bike and a competition level bike though. When someone would come into the shop looking for a high end road bike you'd show em say a Trek Madone or something along those lines (look at Cannondale's Super Six and tell me that's not high-end, that bike is beautiful, if only I had more cash...) or a high end MTB (Trek elite 9.9) which certainly is not a low end (Pacific) or a mid level (Shwinn) bike. I know what you're saying though when people have stock parts and think they have the most amazing ride on the trail, buying your parts is more practical and a lot of fun.
When I worked at a shop the only repeat issue that comes to mind with Cannondale completes is occasional problems on a couple models with poor Shimano BBs but that's quite minor in the grand scheme of things. I worked at the shop for a couple years and with MTBers particularly, Dales prolly had the most repeat customers but I gotta admit we live in PA and they're assembled here and bikers generally tend to have a hometown bias when it comes to purchasing frames, parts and even accessories like messenger bags (same bias I have about Fuji bikes which I also ride happily, they're now based near me in Philly not Japan). And ya some people are suspicious of the lefty shocks (im assuming that's what you're referring to as the mono fork) but they really are great products with some big advantages and despite the odd look the net force is the same and they handle as well as conventional shocks (I've had to explain this to customers far too many times lol, it's hard to convince ppl b/c they look so odd and look like they'd exert force unevenly). Look at a fighter planes landing gear and some motorcycles and they often have a one fork set up btw, so Cannondale isn't exactly first when it comes to this. If you got a buddy who has a Dale with a lefty, try it I'll assure you you'll like it. It's not so much about style>substance, personally I think conventional shocks are more aesthetically pleasing. I prolly can't much change your mind but I figured I'd defend Cannondale and give a different viewpoint as most of our customers, myself included, always seemed content with their rides. Plus that lefty really is a decent product and you should at least put it into consideration despite it's unconventional looks.
I'd like to think bicycle preference is like music though and is quite subjective, everyone likes bikes for different reasons (stiffness, weight, shape, etc.) and most people have a bike that fits them better than others (all the more reason to cop a frame and build it yourself), so to each his own. All the internet opinion in the world doesn't mean much (my own included) and there's no better advice than to get to the shop and give her a test drive, you wouldn't buy a pair of jeans without trying them on right?
Cosign on Specialied btw, they make great bikes. I rode my ex-roommates Specialized rock hopper from time to time and despite being a few cm too small I still really enjoyed my rides on it. Plus our customers always seemed pleased with their Specialized purchases.
I disagree with Owens as well haha, the Madison is oft argued to be the best entry-leveled fixed complete. I think Cannondales are solid as well though. And you could always get a Bianchi Pista, that's what I rode for awhile and loved it.
And killypants, my fault I didn't take into consideration that you were considering an entry level, you may very well be right that Schwinn makes a decent entry level fixie but in the grand scheme of things Schwinn doesn't make stellar higher end products. Of course if you're looking to spend around $500 that's the market that Schwinn tends to target and o well in. If you're looking for a higher end bike and not an entry level, I'd personally steer clear of anything Schwinn, be it fixed, road, or MTB. That's just my 2 cents.
And btw your friends issue with the Specialized is almost certainly exceptional, just make sure he contacts em and gets the problem rectified, that's definitely not normal nor indicative of Specialized's overall quality.