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Best Mountain Bikes Under 500

best mountain bikes under 500

Skyline Drive Trip #6, pano

Skyline Drive Trip #6, pano

[Nikon D70 Tokina 19-35 ISO200 F8ish raww > APP 1.4 > 43-shot pano about 93deg FOV horizontal, rendered to ~25%]

Note that I am Geo-tagging this as somewhere on Skyline Drive just north of the Blue Ridge parkway, which is really the most that I can remember of it...the one part that I do remember is Rt56 heading east off the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just before it got pitch-black, as the the sun was going down behind the mountains across US81.

Trust me you don't want to do that on a bike.
Unless you're more than slightly suicidal.

So anyway this scene wasn't all *that* impressive but I definitely wanted a pano of it.
So the thing is that between Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge parkway much of it is similar, and there are just hundreds of overviews, with a few that really stand out (as one heads farther south the mountains get much more uniform and there are fewer large valleys), and there are miles and miles of road to ride and overviews to shoot, 200 miles and at least one overlook per mile...but it just deserves some real time and effort, but if you do that you'll never get through it. And it's tiring as hell to stop, pull out a camera, take shots, then put it away and get going again, especially if I pull my helmet and gloves off, especially if I have to pull it out of my backpack, which is what I was resigned to do as I couldn't get the straps short enough on my DSLR with a lens on it, to keep it from banging against the tank when I rode. So some sort of camera-carry on the tank is in order...or a smaller camera...or a lanyard of a cord...or a hip holster...but the main thing is that it's just a PITA to ride this and take shots every 500 yards or so. And it destroys the ride, on top of that. The thing to do is to ride about 45m or so, ride until I need to take a break, as mile after mile of twisty road and a succession of somewhat-near-to-death experiences gets a bit tiring on a bike, and then stop somewhere and take some shots. 250 miles at an average speed of 35mph, you're going to get plenty of good shots that way.

Don't give into the urge to stop and shoot everything that looks halfway-interesting, or to take a bunch of pictures every 2 or 3 minutes. And I think that holds in general. You don't want to ruin the trip in the process of trying to get a good picture (or more than one good perspective) of everything that's even remotely interesting. And in any case you're probably just going to come back with a bunch of average shots despite your best efforts, with *maybe* one or two good ones. The results will be better when you're not rushed, and you will be rushed if you spend too much time taking shots. Aside from the associated technical difficulties like perspective error in the above pano and poor shooting technique, which *will* happen, even if you take your'll still forget those little details and fight to get great framing, meaning at least 75% of the shots will be a waste...with one or two gems popping up in them. I'm fully aware that I tend to take a lot of shots because I move towards perfection rather than getting great shots as soon as I start to take pictures, and that makes me a lot more willing to take say 20 shots of a scene than I probably should be. But combining that with a whole lot of scenes to shoot and I spend a LOT of time and effort taking shots and come back with hundreds of them, of which maybe 10 or so are really any good. So I've learned to just cut the number of scenes that I shoot and give myself more time and energy to try to get good shots on a handful of them, even if in doing so I miss some good scenes altogether.

There's just so much crap to shoot along this road and in the end I have to have faith that I'll be up here again and there will be other times. Now if this was *Paris* or someplace similar, a place that is not just huge but full of interesting sights and I'd get there maybe once or twice in my life if I'm lucky, I'd pretty-much have to dedicate a day maybe two to just walking around and taking pictures. That actually works well, because then I'll go to and see places that I wouldn't have otherwise, and discover local idiosyncracies that I would never have thought of looking for, when my focus is on "tourism" and "going places that seem interesting" (which usually means something specific) and not just dropping myself into the stream of life and not worrying about anything more than just walking around and taking pictures of whatever suits me, maybe stopping to eat when I get hungry. My best shots and often my most enjoyable explorations come when I just forget about everything else for an afternoon and just wander around with a camera, a couple of lenses and a lot of film. Good digital gear and especially "great" lenses cost so much that I have to drop a grand or so into the gear, and that really cuts into that casual "let's stop here and eat" or "let's go on this excursion" that one r

A wet afternoon in Beltsville MD

A wet afternoon in Beltsville MD


(it was so dark that I couldn't get a steady shot handheld without the flash...and of course the camera lightened the exposure)

...2nd time in one *hour* that I got caught in the rain...5 minutes before this I'm riding down 295 into Laurel about 15 min from home and it just starts can see the rain up ahead on the road but if there's no place to turn off or an underpass to hide under, you're going to get wet...I said fuck it and just pulled off and found a decent place to wait it out.

That still takes a few minutes of wet highway riding to get to an exit, some wet riding through an intersection or two to get off the highway and down to the nearest building, then wet riding to ride around and find a dry spot, park the bike, etc. And I'm only stopping if it's really pouring, not just for a sprinkle. If I'm not getting soaked I'm not stopping. I want to get home or somewhere I can stop for a *while*, not stop under a bridge just because of a light drizzle. So yeah it was really pouring at this point.

Out in the openness of central Virginia or western Maryland or whatever? You don't find places like this to stop and wait out the rain. Maybe you find a tree, a line of trees. You can't just roll up under someones' balcony, you need at least a small town to hide in. The farther that you ride, the longer that you're on the road, the more likely that you will get caught in some serious rain. If you're going to do any real motorcycle riding, you *have* to get a bike that you can handle in the rain. And the wind, behind a truck at 65MPH in the rain, at night, in the fog and cold. That helps because you're going to get caught out at night in the rain, fog and cold on a highway behind a bunch of trucks. At some point.

Oh and did I mention the road repairs, the grooved highway, that I was riding on at 65mph in the rain? That were so bad, the road was so ripped-up and crowned that people stopped behind me waiting for me to fall? I actually had to slow down to 55mph or so, it was so bad. Normally grooved highway doesn't bother me as long as the road is straight, this time I was fighting to keep the bike from slipping off the highway, it was so badly sloped and ripped-up. Had to slow down and I'm sure it looked ugly from behind. It looked a little ugly from on top of the bike, too :)

Motorcycles are great to ride 99% of the time, but every now and then there's that 1% of the time when Nature does its best to scare the shit out of you when you're on a bike. Or at least, seriously annoy you. To me honestly riding a bike in nice weather more than makes up for that. And driving in the rain is not all that great of an idea either.

Try driving a 12,000lb box-truck loaded with gear at 75mph in the rain through the mountains west of Pittsburgh at night in a driving rainstorm. Or try *riding* in one while some psycho 25 year old is driving one at 85mph in the rain, 3" behind the car in front, around blind turns. Now *that* is fun. On a bike in the rain all you have to do is not fall down or get run over by a truck coming up from behind you. Comparatively, it's an easy thing. And believe me, right now there is some guy busting ass in a truck or a bus or a tractor-trailer in the rain at ridiculous speeds because he's just gotta get somewhere real soon now, and about to wreck and kill a family of four that's never heard of the guy before. And he'll survive the accident. You can bet on it. The dangerous part is not riding in the rain, or even driving in the rain. The dangerous part is the feeling that you *have* to do it, and even worse, that you *have* to go fast, knowing that it is unsafe to do so. I've seen that happen many, many times, with many many different drivers. It's not the rain or the speed that kills. It's the insistence on coupling the two together for long periods of time. The thing about a bike in the rain? If it's really wet? You're probably going to stop. A guy in a car? He'll just turn up the wipers and the fan for the defroster, and keep driving fast until he either gets where he's going, or until he slides into something. 498 times out of 500 he'll make it home ok. Once, maybe twice? He's going to slide into something. And you don't know which time it's going to be.

And then, someone can hit you. Or a tree falls on your car. Or a rock, or a deer. You just don't know.

Though I have to admit, I've seen guys riding choppers at night in the fog just as the rain is letting up but the road is still sloshing wet, with no helmet, wearing just a pair of sunglasses and a bandanna on their heads. At night. Passed by me at 65+, spray kicking up from under their tires just like there was nothing to it, and I'm crawling along at 50mph in the far side of the right hand lane. I was like, "holy shit". Just put my head down and kept riding. There are all manner of stupid people on the road, from the people talking on their phones or sending SMS or screwing around with a passengers,

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