If I could only have one bike, it would be a Surly Cross-Check.
I didn’t really want cantilever brakes when I bought the frame to build my commuter-explorer, but the rest of the package was too good to refuse. Since I got mine in 2000, they’ve made it a little better by including rack bosses on the seat stays.
You could build a Cross-Check frame into almost anything. The geometry provides secure handling on dirt, but sporty enough performance on pavement. I wouldn’t want to chase a froggy bunch of roadies on it, but it does well in the daily traffic criterium.
The long dropouts in the rear allow you to use it as a single-speed and to adapt some combinations of derailleur and cluster God never intended. I wish more frames in the Surly line had those dropouts, but they’ve fallen into the VD epidemic that swept cycling in the 1980s.
The whole Surly line reflects a fine balance of performance and durability. If you had the tools and knowledge you could build a small fleet of Surly custom bikes for the price of one high-end bike, mountain or road.
Since I built up the Cross-Check I have taken it into places where I welcome the cantilever brakes. I recently built a second wheel set so I can have my skinnyish commuting tires for the daily grind and a set of fatties for exploring the dotted lines on the map.
The Pacer road frame and Steamroller fixed gear also tempt me, although the top tube is a little short for me on the Steamroller, and the Pacer has VD. Still, for a dedicated road bike I guess VD are okay. I could still mix and match drive train parts, because I don’t care about index shifting.
Other makers offer one or two models that match Surly versatility, but you have to know what you’re looking for. Rivendell takes the high-end hand built approach to versatile bikes. But Surly provides it for the working class.
Vote with your wallets for the guys who provide lasting value. Don’t get suckered into buying a dispos-a-bike dripping with trendoid componentry.