Unlike index shifting, friction shifters (as seen on the Rivendell) let you control, or "trim," the exact position of your derailleursespecially handy when you're off riding in the middle of nowhere and don't want to deal with indexing knocked out of whack by overstretched cables or road abuse, which will have your gears slipping and singing.
We couldn't find a better, more comfortable all-arounder, yet the lugged-steel Hillborne was designed with camping in mind: The super-low gearing in its 27-speed Shimano Deore range was much appreciated while hauling tackle up rugged hills, and the handling was sublime with the bike both stripped down and loaded. Huge clearances let us run tires that chuckled at rough stuff, and the mustache bars offered superior leverage while climbing. The Hillborne is up for a high-mileage tour, too, but that isn't always possible, so we recommend taking it for weekends and overnights under the stars. Bonus: 5'9" or shorter? Your frame size will take smaller 650B (versus standard 700C) wheels, which means greater versatility and off-road performance. rivbike.com
VERSATILITY: 4.7 COMFORT: 4.8