Assuming you want a sportbike, I’d say check out the Ninja 500. Given your size, that extra hp/torque could make all the difference, esp. for getting up to speed on the highway. Nearly as ridable as the 250, so decent for a beginner (maybe more so, as you don’t need to rev it as much to generate power).
Agree on HJC helmets (that’s what I have…see my avatar..it’s a CL-15). Good, if not great, quality, a reasonable amount of features, but both DOT and Snell rated. I paid a little more than $100 for mine.
I personally wear Fieldsheer gear otherwise, as I feel it offers a great value…quality protection at very reasonable prices (and w/o gigantic logos everywhere).
If you haven’t already, check out http://www.motorcyclecloseouts.com for some great prices on gear. If you don’t mind wearing (gasp!) last season’s styles, they have rock bottom deals. I’ve bought a bunch of things from them, at great prices and terrific customer service.