Because I thought I could
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Wash DC Metro
Bikes: November, Trek OCLV, Bianchi Castro Valley commuter
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Definitely try to test ride the bikes. ""55cm" per one maker may feel completely differently than 55cm by another company. Besides the differences in how "size" is measured, some bikes may just feel different to you. So-called "compact" frames (not the same as "compact" gearing) are usually sized S-M-L-XL. A shop has a range of adjustments they can make - saddle height, saddle fore-aft position, stem length, stem height, but you ideally want to get the frame about right first.
Any chain of shops is as good (or awful) as the staff. The local REI is cluefull, while I have never purchased a bike there, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them.
My commuting bike happens to be a Bianchi Castro Valley (almost same frame as Volpe) and it is a great all-around bike; I use it as a commuter, did a century on it, and would use if for at least light touring if the opportunity arose.