Well, I haven't pulled the trigger.
...Partly because I've been so busy I didn't have time to do the research I wanted to lead me to the proper decision. But I'm also getting conflicting advice from folks I respect (BZ, for one), who have more knowledge about the subject than me. Part of my confusion is due to the fact that those giving me advice have my best interest at heart and are trying to guide me to a "rational" decision. How can ya not love that?! But many (a LOT of my co-workers) would say the simple act of riding a motorcycle is irrational. Why should purchasing a bike have anything whatsoever to do with logic?
Let's review my thoughts leading to considering buying a bike, (and here I'm gonna make a fool of myself by trying to rationalize)-
I rode bikes for years, then quit riding 30 years ago when Big Bubba was born.
A couple years ago I started reading the Blog of a retired Air Force Aviator, Jim*In Texas. Jim was a neophyte rider, and as you can see at his post he bought a good starter bike... a Kawasaki Ninja 250.
I enjoyed reading his thoughts on the joys of riding, to include riding his little Kaw on Patriot Guard rides with others who, for the most part were on Harley-Davidsons. My very first motorcycle displaced 250cc's so I know although they're small, they are also perfectly capable of getting out on the Interstate and will out-accelerate most family trucksters.
And what tweaked my interest about Jim's little Kaw was that he gets 75 miles per gallon with it!
I live 32 miles from my workplace. The roads are two-lane, paved, virtually flat, and well maintained. I'm presently driving to work alone in a car designed to carry five adults very comfortably. Driving this automobile at 55 miles per hour I burn 2.4 gallons each round-trip. For ease of calculation and because I think Bozama will succeed in jacking up our fuel costs, let's assume a per-gallon price of $3. That makes my cost to drive to/from work in the car $7.20. The same trip on Jim's Kawasaki Ninja 250 would cost less than $3, and I wouldn't be bored stiff riding to work in a metal box.
I started discussing my thoughts with a bike riding paramedic friend here at work and his first comment was, "Sara Jean won't be able to ride with you."
Well, when I owned my original 250cc bike I had a girlfriend who was delighted to ride along behind me. I'm not now considering a 250 cc bike, but Sara Jean certainly COULD ride behind me on one...
I've seen rear footpegs on bikes much smaller than 250cc's!
But I thought about his comments and realized they were somewhat valid. He made me focus on what I'd want in a bike:
I want it to be reliable.
I'd like to be able to do much of the maintenance myself.
If it breaks I want to be able to get parts quickly and at a reasonable price.
I want it to be fairly quiet, vibration-free, and get good gas mileage.
I'd like it to be comfortable enough for Sara Jean to come along now and then.
I want it to please my eye.
So let me share with ya what I've been lookin' at and include a little discussion about each of the machines I'm considering-
The Solid Teuton:
That's an older BMW. The engine displaces 1000cc's, so it will definitely get out of its own way.
A two-cylinder machine, (as are all the machines I'll discuss here), you can see one of the cylinders sticking out on the lower left side of the engine... there's another just like it on the other side. The weight of the pistons on this "horizontally opposed" engine cancel one another out, (it's called a "Boxer" engine) making this bike VERY smooth.
It's reliable as a Swiss watch, so although it has a good dealer network, folks riding old BMW air-cooled "airhead" bikes won't need to visit the dealer often. A driveshaft connects the engine to the rear wheel, so that would take the same amount of attention as the driveshaft on your car... ie. NONE.
For me it's a strange looking bike, but anyone who knows the "whys" of its design will see beauty in its engineering. This bike would be purchased USED. I have one on my EBay "watch list".
Sara Jean would learn to love riding this machine.
The Efficient Little Japanese:
(This was BZ's recommendation.)
You're lookin' at a Kawasaki Ninja, similar to "Jim In Texas'" bike, only the engine on this bike displaces 650cc's instead of 250, and where Jim's little bike is air-cooled, this machine is liquid-cooled like your car. Because they will operate in a more limited temperature range, water-cooled engines can be tuned to operate more efficiently, (better gas mileage and more power), and I suspect this 650cc machine probably puts out about as much horsepower as the 1000cc BMW above. Having the cylinders surrounded by water also makes the engine quieter. But this bike has two pistons that go up and down vertically in their cylinders, and riders have to accept a little vibration with this configuration.
Three Kawasaki motorcycles occupy the pages of my memory and I had good experiences with them all. There are Kaw dealers everywhere but again I suspect someone owning this machine would not need service beyond the routine, and parts would be easy to obtain and reasonably priced.
Final drive to the rear wheel on this bike is by chain, which would require now-and-then maintenance. (No big deal, but chains DO require adjusting/lubricating.)
Aesthetically? I'm not a big fan of cafe racers, but I don't HATE the looks of this Kaw. I can afford to buy this machine new right now, but would probably try to find a "good-USED" version of it...
I'm not at all sure Sara Jean would enjoy riding behind me on this bike...
(In fact, it looks as if there's no pad for a rider at all in the photo unless the rear seat is painted Kawasaki Green!)
The Sexy Italian:
That's a Moto Guzzi.
Ever hear that name? Moto Guzzi is one of the oldest manufacturers of motorcycles in the world. It's an odd bike appealing to a niche crowd, so you don't often see a Moto Guzzi on the road. Some refer to them as "The Italian BMW", because like the BMW above, it's a two-cylinder, air-cooled, driveshaft bike. Unlike the horizontally opposed "Boxer" configuration of the BMW, the Guzzi's cylinders are pushed up into a 90-degree V-twin configuration, but the engine on both the BMW and the Guzzi are mounted transversely, as opposed to the tandem-cylinder arrangement of a Harley Davidson. (You can see one of the Guzzi's cylinders just below the gas tank above... its valve cover is painted red like the tank.)
Guzzi's are fairly quiet, fairly smooth, simple, and reliable. But their dealer network is sparse and should parts be needed, they'd come at a price.
I once had a student that had a Moto Guzzi. He liked it. When I rode it, I liked it.
I like the looks and sound of this bike.
Driving up on one would attract attention.
Two-up riding would be very pleasant.
I'd have to buy a good-USED one.
There are two Guzzis on EBay that I'm watchin'.
The American "Fat Boy":
Over the years I have owned and ridden many Harley-Davidsons. Most of that riding was done when the Harley was the fastest, most dependable motorcycle on the road. They're no longer the fastest... not even close. They're no longer the most dependable.
But NOTHING sounds like a Harley!
Most towns of 100,000 or more will probably have a Harley dealership, but if I buy one I might need to establish a personal relationship with the parts guy because those parts would come in packaging marked "Harley-Davidson" and that name comes at a premium.
Like many things these days with an American badge, much of the bike is of Japanese origin, (suspension, electrics). And I think the new fuel-injection systems are German.
The vibration on this 45-degree V-twin would have made me dismiss the idea of owning a Harley years ago, but they have eliminated much of that with new technology.
Final drive is by a belt, which is cleaner than a chain but still requires a now-and-then adjustment.
Several family members own Harleys, so we'd quickly be part of a "gang".
I LOVE the look.
I LOVE the sound.
Sara Jean would be happy riding it on short trips.
Harleys are fairly expensive, so this too would be a "USED" purchase.
(But Harley's fortunes lately are such that prices are coming down and dealers are giving finance and other incentives to buy.)
And that brings us back to the original parameters-
The bike will be used mostly as a to/from work commuter...
Because of the explosion of deer in the area, we WON'T be riding cross-country at night...
Dependability and fuel mileage are important factors, as is the bike's "attitude".
Fuel efficiency? It will be better on the Kawasaki, but not enough to put the other bikes out of contention.
It all boils down to looks, sound, and "gut" factors.
So there ya have my thoughts.
Of those shown, do you have a favorite?
Tell me which, and why!
Added- I am now the high bidder at EBay on a bike similar to one of the above, with less than 24 hours left in the auction.
I'll let ya know how it turns out!