About a year ago my partner and I started commuting to work. When we started we lived about 3 miles away from work and didn't know anything about bikes. I ended up with a Specialized Hardrock and she got a Giant Boulder with slicks (otherwise they are stock). Since then we have started riding more often and have moved such that our commute is about 6-7 miles one way that takes 25-35 minutes depending on the weather. Also, I am hoping to avoid using the car more and starting to do more chores/shopping via bikes.
The commute leads us through some traffic, stop signs and lights, plus the roads aren't the greatest. The city doesn't really keep the bike lane clean or take care of it at all. There are some hills, both gradual and steep.
Recently, we have discussed upgrading to faster bikes more suited for commuting, but don't have a lot of money to spend (hopefully under $500 each). Ideally, we would sell our old bikes once we got our new ones. I have poked around on Craigslist, but our area isn't very active.
I have done some searching online (going to the store this weekend) for bike recommendations, but figure I should ask here too. Not really limited by availability in town, because there isn't a huge variety, we can buy in Austin, Houston or Dallas. Please remember, at this point we haven't had a chance to test ride any of these, the focus is based purely on reading.
Right now the front runners is the Kona Smoke because it seems to get great recommendations, but I have also read good things about the Insight 1 and the KHS Green. Any thoughts or other recommendations?