I love to make bread - by hand, though. I have found that a bread machine takes all the joy out of making bread. But if I didn't have time to bake and couldn't find a locally made good bread, then I'd buy a bread machine.
Here are my answers:
How time consuming is it to make bread? By hand, it doesn't take that long. Maybe 20 minutes to mix it up. Then you go do something else for an hour. Then you punch down the dough and form it into loaves, and go do something else for an hour. Then you put it in the oven for about 40 minutes. Put the loaves on cooling racks and go do something else. It's a lot like doing laundry in terms of a time commitment. You get lots of breaks, but maybe 20-30 minutes of actual work.
How difficult is it to make your own bread? Are there some sure fire vegan bread recipes out there that a simple cook like me can use? If you can find a copy of Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads in your library or bookstore look for his First Loaf recipe. It's a very easy, straightforward, well explained recipe. You can substitute vegan margarine, and dry soy milk powder easily. Some rich tasting breads use eggs, but there are plenty of recipes which don't so they're easy to avoid.
Can I freeze the bread from the bread maker so that I can use it during the weeks when I am too busy (like exam week!)? I live by myself and usually slice and freeze my bread all the time. You can then thaw however many slices you need, or pop them into the toaster frozen. You probably don't want to have bread in the freezer for say 6 months, but it's definitely easy to freeze and tastes just as good. (Well, not as good as fresh-out-of-the-oven and slathered-with-Earth-Balance bread, but pretty good nonetheless.)
What type of bread maker should I get? Any tips on how to decide? I'm told that Zojirushi breadmakers (which are about the most expensive) are by far the best brand of breadmaker out there. I haven't wanted to shell out that kind of money (yet), though.
And-> Can you make lots of varieties of bread in a bread maker? Or do you have to stick to similar ones all the time? Most bread makers have settings for whole wheat (or whole grain) and white breads. You can certainly mix things up by adding fruits (like raisins) or spices (caraway seeds, for example). A good recipe book will have a lot of options for you.