Enter the Chrome Kursk Pro. Loosely resembling old faithful Converse One Star low tops, these are worthy sneakers without the SPD cleat and 3/4 rigid last. With it they become a shoe that works fairly well on and off the bike. 1/8th inch more rubber would make them completely wearable but as is, the tell tale crunch and grind of the cleat is still present. Not a big deal in my estimation and going from street shoes to any clipless pedal/shoe was sure to provide a "wow" moment.
I'm noticeably faster, climb somewhat more easily and the method of release is similar to platform pedals and straps so the transition was easy and did provide that wow moment I was expecting.
The test will be hopping on one of the other bikes without the new pedal setup and seeing if it feels lacking. For the moment I'm thinking these would be nice in almost any situation though maybe not necessary. Just in off the cuff observations I'd say the $150 needed for an entry level setup would be well spent for most riders. Especially considering safety gains whenever wet weather or mud might be encountered.
My only mishap so far was not cranking down on the cleat screws enough allowing one to work it's way loose. This meant the cleat wouldn't release until I stopped, took my foot out of the shoe and twisted it off by hand. An easy fix and no harm done but if I'd been on a long ride outside the city it would have been a crummy ride home. That's admittedly not the hardware at fault but simple operator error, so I'm still calling it a win.
The one pictured is a limited edition white. Other colors are still available from Chrome.