In my, oh, 6-week hunt for a bike for mostly commuting purposes (12.5 miles each way, suburban/urban roads), I've ridden several bikes, read "Effective Cycling" and "Bicycling Science" cover-to-cover, read John Allen's bike safety booklet, and browsed countless of bikeforums.net posts. Here's my extremely brief impressions of each test tide. I was looking for either a cyclocross or touring bike for maximum flexibility.
Giant OCR3: The first bike I've ridden in 17 years (can you guess my age?). Jittery ride, I was counting my fillings afterwards. 30 seconds into this test ride and I wanted off, although I stuck it out for 10 minutes.
Fuji Cross Pro: Out of my price range, but a very nice ride indeed. Very smooth and comfortable. Ultegra components shift so nicely.
Trek XO-1: This seemed very, well, vanilla. No real impression, good or bad. The particular bike I rode had very sloppy welds with gobs of aluminum sticking out everywhere.
Lemond Poprad: Now we're talking. Also too much $, but this was the 1st bike I test-rode that made me want to just keep on riding. My favorite of all the bikes I rode. Since the immediate future looks grim for Lemond bikes, I may look into a similar quality frame like the Soma Double Cross in the somewhat distant future.
Bianchi Volpe: The frame size I rode was a size too big since that was all that was on hand at the LBS. It seemed a bit twitchy, but I can't say much since it didn't fit too well.
Surly Cross Check: Except for the bar-end shifters, I loved this bike.
Masi Speciale CX: Unfortunately, the LBS didn't get this in stock before I found the bike I bought. Looks really nice in the pictures though.
Finally, the winner: A 1995 Trek 520 from a local LBS (completely tuned up), complete with fenders, the Trek rack, a pump, 2 water bottle cages, 700x35 Bontrager slicks, a cycle computer, underseat bag, steel tire levers, Tiagra STI-style shifters, and a very comfy Avocet saddle. $500, how could I go wrong? I added bar-top brakes for $75. All I need to do is touch up a quarter-sized spot of surface rust on the top tube and maybe get a computer that'll display cadence. Oh, and exchange the Giro Atlas II helmet for a Bell Triton to better fit my pumpkin head. The 520 definitely doesn't have the same sports-car feel of the Fuji or Lemond, but it will be a sturdy and reliable steed. And this price was tough to beat!
In addition I picked up a bright yellow wicking fabric shirt from the New Balance factory outlet ($13 - 20% off sale!), a pair of lightweight gloves, and a basic cable lock. I plan on lunchtime bike rides to build up my endurance and re-learn some cycling skills (like dealing with cars) for a few weeks before buying a pannier or two and moving up to a bike commute or three per week. Ideally I'll be up to 5 days sometime in September, which will see me DIY-ing a light system.
The final piece of the puzzle are bike shoes. I am halfway through a rebuild of some Speedplay Frogs, but can't invest in the shoes until my wife recovers from the bike purchase price. 'Til then I'll just use the toeclips and platform pedals already on the bike.
Many thanks to all who've answered my questions!