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Joshua, another newbie here, I get my license in 3 weeks and I bought my first bike about a week ago (it's sitting at the dealer for 2 more weeks, then he'll deliver it so I'm ready to go once I'm done with the Rider's Edge/MSF course).

I'm with you on not being into the sport bike style. I'm a high school teacher, and my students love them, and I did at their age too, but as a 290LB (soon to be) 40 year old I think I'd look silly on something like that (plus I just love the relaxed look of the cruisers and the, well, standard look of the old fashioned standards). Heck, even most of the current standards look to me a lot like the sport bikes (see the Suzuki Gladius or SV650).

On this and other forums many people strongly suggest dual purpose bikes for first-timers, but you will probably find them too big. I'm almost 6' tall, but I have a short inseam (30") and I found them too tall. If you can find one that fits it may be worthwhile.

You like the UJM, how about other older style standards? It may be over your limit, but the Triumph Bonneville is a great looking bike (I don't know what it goes for used). It is a 650cc, but one of the main complaints is that it is a bit underpowered, and one of the things I often see praised is the smooth delivery of power and forgiving clutch- all features that might make it a good bike for us beginners.

The Suzuki TU250 has already been mentioned. Read up on it, every review I've seen has been absolutely glowing- other than the Ninja 250 it sounds like the best overall 250 out there in addition to having a cool (and today, unusual) design. Just enough power for short trips on the highway, fun, but easy to ride for us beginners, good price (under $4K new), 80-90MPG, and it is different. Had it been available locally (the closest dealer that seemed to have one in stock was nearly 100 miles away) I probably would have bought it instead of my Suzuki C50. Once my car is paid off I may buy one as a second motorcycle for around town when my main motorcycle's 50MPG just isn't good enough.

Your reason for ruling out Harley seems to be outdated. I thought they were less reliable myself, until I started researching bikes. It sounds like they are about equal with the other big brands, and they may be easier to work on if you are mechanically inclined and want to do your own work. Most of the Sportsters (other than the Custom) have controls almost directly below the seating like a standard, not the feet forward of most cruisers. The 883cc of the Sportster may sound like too much as a beginner, but from most of what I read they are very underpowered for the size and the power delivery is very smooth and forgiving so it may not be too bad (and they are easy to add performance mods later when you are ready for more power). The biggest criticism I've seen of it for new riders is that it is top heavy, making it more likely to be dropped.

I really like your new option, the Vulcan 500. I came incredibly close to buying one (the best of the used bikes I looked at was one, and I thought about buying one new as well). They are nice bikes, and everything I read about them make them sound like nearly a perfect first time bike, if you want a cruiser style. Since you seem to prefer standards you do want to be sure you like the feet forward stance of a cruiser first, but if you do, this bike has been made for a long time so you should be able to find a good example whatever your price range.

Why is not buying a Honda "heartbreaking?" If you are that brand loyal, why not a Honda Shadow 750 or 600 (since you are willing to try a cruiser anyway in the Vulcan)? On many forums, both are put forth as good beginners bikes. The 750 is supposed to be pretty beginner friendly despite the 750cc, apparently a very easy bike to ride. The 600 is a bit less popular due to its 4 speed transmission, but can be found used for pretty reasonable prices. Also, how about a 1980's Honda UJM, a bit newer than the '70s versions, and some are supposed to be nearly indestructible?
 

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currently dancing between the Suzuki Boulevard S40 and Honda Shadow; leaning towards the Suzuki. A bit more engine that I want (in both bikes) but they just keep popping up.

Under alternative is the Suzuki Tu250, which is a thousand dollars less, and less than half the power of the S40.
All good choices. From what I read, the Shadow, whether a 1980's 500, a newer 600 or a 750, is a great starter bike. They are supposed to be easy to learn on. The S40 of course is a great starter, I just didn't really consider them because they were a bit small for me (and I liked the Vulcan 500 better- but that's me). The TU250 is a great choice. You may wish for more power sooner than the others, but from all I read it is a lot of fun, and it may be cheap enough to consider keeping as a high MPG but fun choice even after you "replace" it with something bigger. If a dealer around here had one I probably would have bought that instead of my C50, and I'll probably buy one eventually anyway. Given your choices, if it was me, I'd probably pick that TU250 if anyone around you had it, and if not, I'd probably go with the Shadow (if it is the 1980s 500 or the current 750, I'd probably go with the S40 over the Shadow 600).
 

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I find out what kind of loan I'm going to be looking at tomorrow. Wish me luck!
Good luck. Are you going to the bank? Not a bad idea, but don't lock yourself in. Suzuki has some nice financing incentives right now, if your credit is good you can get an incredible rate.
 

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The cruisers are a different animal than the sports bikes or even a standard. The engines and transmissions are set up for torque more than horsepower. My 800cc Suzuki Boulevard C50 has less HP than a 650cc Suzuki SV650 (I don't remember the numbers, but I do recall that it was by a pretty substantial amount).

Some people (on other forums, you don't really see it here) seem to think up to about 1100cc is OK on a cruiser. What you need to be careful with on a cruiser isn't so much engine size as weight. Too heavy and it can be awfully hard to control in slow speed maneuvers for a beginner. Mine is 611 LBS (before options, like my windshield) and my first couple weeks I definitely would have appreciated a lighter bike (and I most certainly wouldn't have wanted to go heavier). I think some of the 1100cc bikes weigh in at similar numbers, maybe even lower. Check the weight of the bikes you are considering and if it is under 600LBS, and you are very confident of your abilities after the training class, you may be OK. Regardless of the weight, there is no way I'd consider larger than an 1100, and I personally ruled out anything larger than the 900cc Kawasaki Vulcan (now I think I might have been OK to 1100cc, so long as the weight wasn't greater than my C50).

Now, that advice is partly because you are 40. Being a bit older, you are presumably more mature. You can still get in trouble on a cruiser engine, you don't need the HP of a sportsbike, it is just a bit more forgiving. Also, if you drop that 600LBS on your leg, you have a broken leg. I remember being a teenager and early 20-something, and I'm a high school teacher now, I would not suggest anything that big and powerful for a testosterone laden young man (I know, a double standard, but you young men out there, all that extra testosterone really can get you in trouble).

Anyway, back to specifics. The Honda Shadow 750 is a great starter bike. If you look at the reviews, while some may imply it is a little boring, they all seem to agree that it handles pretty predictably and is an easy bike to ride. They either imply or state outright that it is a great beginners bike. The Vulcan 750 is a slightly different style, more like an early 90s or late 80s Japanese cruiser, sit on one and make sure you like the fit, but if you do it should be a good bike to start on. The Vulcan 800 is a beautiful bike (I'm still a bit unhappy about 2 used Vulcan 800s that got away) and would be a terrific starter bike (I almost bought a new Vulcan 900 instead of my Suzuki). A Vulcan or Shadow 1100 might be OK (and used it seems the 1100s are a much better value than the 750s-900s, they seem to be about the same price and you get a bigger bike).
 
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