STEEL STEED: THE 4X4
Cyclocross bikes already feature road-bike-like geometry plus the ability to tear up all but the most challenging singletrack, but Surly designed the Cross-Check to do even more. Not only does it accept fat tires; it's also easily transformed into a fully racked and fendered light-touring model. It's perfect for those commutes that trace a mixed-terrain route stitched together to make time and avoid busy streets. $1,050; surlybikes.com. ALSO SEE: The Bianchi Volpe ($1,100; bianchiusa.com), a similar multiple-personality cyclocross machine, with STI brifters, in case you prefer them to the Surly's less fussy bar-end friction shifters.
The Best Commuter Bikes: Kona AfricaBike One
STEEL STEED: THE URBAN PLANNER
Kona donates one of these to a good cause for every two sold. Put one under a doc in rural Africa and the number of patients treated per day soars. Put one under yourself and you've got a bomber single-speed city bike with plush 26-inch tires and built-in fenders, chainguard, rear rack, basket, rear-wheel lock, and kickstand. $375 (three-speed version, $450); konaworld.com/africabikeone. ALSO SEE: The Raleigh Classic Roadster ($520; raleighusa.com), a three-speed with fenders, a chainguard, and rack mounts.
The Best Commuter Bikes: Masi Speciale Commuter
STEEL STEED: THE QUICK-CHANGE ARTIST
A flip-flop (dual-cog) rear hub means you can ride the SC as a freewheel or fixed-gear single-speed, but look closely and you'll see there's also a derailleur hanger, downtube shifter bosses, and rack and fender mounts, meaning you can build it up as a self-supported-touring bike. The long wheelbase offers a Cadillac-like ride, and once you throw on racks and panniers, it'll keep the weight forward of the rear wheel, for superior stability. $795; masibikes.com. ALSO SEE: The Dahon Tournado ($2,500; dahon.com), a full-size touring bike that takes fenders, racks, and fat tiresand breaks down into its own travel case.
The Best Commuter Bikes: Rivendell A. Homer Hilsen
STEEL STEED: THE COUNTRY BIKE
Replete with gorgeous lugs and rack braze-ons, Homer also bears a Latin inscription that translates as "You can take this country bike anywhere you like." So we did. Dicey streets, rolling highway, cobblestones, singletrack, fire roads, stairsit took on all with nary a whimper. Especially impressive was its dreamy handling on high-speed downhillson street and trail. The classic 650B wheel size (between 26-inch and 700C; standard on frames up to 58 cm) allows plumper tires and is unbeatable for all-terrain versatility. From $3,300 ($3,940 as pictured); rivbike.com. ALSO SEE: The Kogswell P/R (frameset, $600) or Homer's budget-friendlier brother, the Samuel Hillborne (from $2,100), both all-arounders with 650B options.