A few years ago Debbie and I vacationed in San Fran and rented bikes to ride across the bridge. The rental place featured Marin bikes. I don't know where Marin bikes place on the Great Bicycle Brand Scale but there was something different about this bike: it was easy to ride compared to the green monster Huffy. It helped that all the gears and both brakes worked and the tires were worn smooth..
We made it all the way across the bay to Tiburon and visited Schoenberg's Guitar shop (one of the best acoustic guitar shops ever. guitar nerd heaven). We hit a head wind about 10 miles from Tiburon that no one at the rental shop warned us about. The bike map said it was some 20 miles away, but the GPS unit said we travelled 60 miles! I think the unit was tracking all the back and forth we were doing getting blown sideways by the wind.
So when we got back to Spokane, I swapped out the knobby mtb tires on the Huf and it made the commute a bit easier. It being Bike to Work week, River Park Square had bikes from different shops on display. I spied a Novara Buzz V from REI and it said "I'm your new bike". But it was like $300 -$400. I'm cheap. Long story short: after shopping around I ended up with a Marin Muirwoods 29er for about $300 more. It was tough to spend more $'s at first, but then a friend said you couldn't get a decent bike for under $1,000. He might be right, but the Muirwoods is a perfect commuter bike.