That is a great comment, Joe! I do not have *unlimited* funds, but I am prepared to spend more than I ever have on bikes. As I mentioned, I am also shopping for a dirt bike at the moment, and I must have a "barely street legal" type bike, for the riding I do. Even though I do not have a set amount to spend, I have this vague sense of "whatever I don't spend on a street bike, will allow me to get a better, newer dirt bike". My wife, however, might have trouble if I bought a bargain basement street bike, in order to get a fancy new dirt bike. She has seen what happens to my dirt bikes, and how they end up. My street bikes get treated much differently. I tend to pamper them, and keep them in pristine condition for years. The smallest scratch sends me into a tizzy.
My wife and I spoke again today about the bikes. I think that she is getting tired of talking about it, to tell the truth. We do, however, want to go to a Triumph dealer and check out the Tiger 800 (probably *not* the XC, as this will be a street bike only). So, I will keep hunting. With 8" of fresh new snow on the ground, there really is no hurry. Unfortunately, that also means that test rides are out of the question, so I will have to rely on web video's, comments, and reviews while I continue the hunt. FWIW - the KTM SM-T is pretty much universally praised, for what it is - a comfortable, yet fun bike. Very few 'Strom reviews mention that word - Fun. Instead, they use words like "competent", and "reliable". One phrase that keeps coming up is "Good at everything, great at nothing" - and I am OK with that.
Most nobody has unlimited funds but I figure you must be able to swing these bikes if you are seriously looking at them.
Another thing in your situation is the wife herself. Since she apparently is willing to ride with you naturally you want soemthing that she is going to like. Since she is not likely to subscribe to the 'woody' test it usually comes down to comfort so the two of you can have a good time out riding.
I think you are dead on in your perception of V Strom reviews. I've not ridden the 1000 but my view of the 650 goes something like this. It is mediocore in every way, brakes, suspension, fit and finish, etc.. It does make good power for a 650 twin and is a somewhat charming powerplant.
Curiously when you take the bike as the whole sum of its parts it manages to be better than mediocore as a bike. What I like about it is that it can do a long day, be run on dirt roads, not so expensive that I'm paranoid about damaging it. In certain envirionments it is fun to ride, tight twisty road being the main one. I truly don't like riding it on high speed highways, its spinning pretty fast at those speeds, not that it will hurt it, I just don't like the feel of it. I'm also not willing to gear it up because I don't want to lose any acceleration.
On my trip last summer I had a chance to do some high speed runs and found that about the best I could get out of it was 105 (gps verified). It just didn't have anything left past that. Now I don't need to go that fast but I think it gives an indicator of why it lacks a little fun factor as a street bike and adding a passenger will make it more so.
Now of course everyone has different wants and needs from their street bike. I'm pretty jaded in some ways I suppose, I like bikes with a lot of personality and that can mean a lot of things. For example I find the Triumph triples to be very engaging powerplants, very charismatic. It doesn't hurt that they typically put out a fair amount of punch.
But its not always punch, i have a 1979 BMW R100 and its very charismatic as well but its certainly not about power.
You'll hit on it. I think from what you were saying the KTM SMT was pretty darn close. Maybe not full on woody, but a test ride might have pushed it over the edge.
I'll be curious what you think of the Triumph 800 Tiger. I've not ridden one but I think it would have to be a pretty nice machine. Triumph is on something of a roll it seems.