Old Favorites

Last night I was playing my guitar when my wife asked “Aren’t you glad you have that little guitar?”

The guitar she was referring to was my humble little Martin 00-15. The 00-15 is known for being a “Plain Jane”, no-frills, guitar that sits well in your lap and has a sweet, folksy tone. It’s about as plain as a guitar can be; the entire thing is made from mahongany—including the top—and it has zero cosmetic touches. I originally purchased it as a “beater” guitar to loan to friends and take on road trips, but for some reason I couldn’t help but pick it up and play it, and over time I found myself playing it more and more as my high-end “fancy” guitars sat in the closet, collecting dust. As I played it more, my wife and daughter—who often sit with me and read while I play in the evening—came to prefer the sound of the “little mahogany guitar” over my other, more extravagant guitars. And as they became enamored with the 00-15, so did I.

In the end, I ended up selling my other guitars for lack of use, and I’m now left with only my humble, but well-worn and much-loved Martin. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, and yes, I’m glad I have it.

I’ve only had one bike over the years for which I felt a comparable affection – my early 80’s Specialized Rockhopper. Like my 00-15, it was humble and solid, with few frills and zero bling. It was one of the first production mountain bikes on the market and it wasn’t really up to the task of bombing singletrack, something that I did on a regular basis with a few other early-adopter mountain biking friends in the early 80’s.

The motorcyclists we ran across were always wide-eyed to see a group of 4-5 mud-covered crazies on strange looking bicycles, 10-15 miles up the trail from the nearest road. Many times we were asked “How the hell did you get here?”

Our group rode mostly on the motorcycle and hiking/horse trails that criss-cross the National Forest lands of the Olympic Peninsula, west of Seattle, WA. There was no such thing as a mountain bike trail in those days; in over three years of riding those trails, I never once came across another mountain biker. The motorcyclists we ran across were always wide-eyed to see a group of 4-5 mud-covered crazies on strange looking bicycles, 10-15 miles up the trail from the nearest road. Many times we were asked “How the hell did you get here?”

My poor Rockhopper suffered terrible abuse on those trails. We rode year-round, and what passed for “sealed” bearings in those days would not come close to passing muster today. Just to keep everything from freezing solid, I had to disassemble the headset, bottom bracket, hubs, and pedals after nearly every outing. Often, mud and water completely flushed out the bearing grease well before we made it back to the trailhead. We’d squirt Phil’s Tenacious Oil into the bearings just to keep everything from seizing up in the middle of nowhere; we went through gallons of the stuff.

I eventually replaced every part on the bike, one at a time. The only thing that survived was the overbuilt CroMo frameset. It was that frame that forever made me a fan of steel bike frames. That poor frame had more scrapes and paint worn off of it than a demolition derby junker. I never bothered to touch it up; I’d hit the rust spots with a little steel wool and oil now and again and call it good. Before it finally went to its grave, it had nearly as much bare metal and rust as it had paint.

I rode that bike extremely hard for 4 years. During the week it served as a commuter and grocery getter, and on the weekends it took me deep into the forest, sometimes fully loaded with camping gear. With its high-rise stem, flared off-road drop bars, and ancient Brooks saddle, it was comfortable, practical, and versatile; truly an all-purpose bike. It was the catalyst that led to many great adventures, and it’s those adventures I remember the most – not the bike. That must be what makes an old favorite; not the thing itself, but the experiences and fond memories it creates.

11 Responses to “Old Favorites”

  • andy parmentier says:

    i spent 2 years with a group that lived out of their bikes, and a fair share of them played guitar-and beautifully at that. i never learned either bike mechanics, nor the guitar, but some basic urban survival skills, and warm camaradarie was imparted.
    we pushed our bikes thru wet grass uphill, and toughed it out on long hitchbike adventures, and had campfires.
    once, while visiting easy racers in watsonville, ca i watched gardner martin file a rear dropout. this was a miniscule part of the big picture of all he did! nevertheless, it inspired me down the road to appreciate the awesome human body, that after we’re jigged and welded, small imperfections are inevitable and easily fixable, so now i’ve “filed down” my extra long left leg, (by adding a lift to my right shoe, and a toe lift in my left shoe). now my body truly feels like a
    “gold rush”

  • andy parmentier says:

    continuing to mine that hitchbiking vein, takes me to the oregon coast, may 2004, on a borrowed cycle genius bent. i had just gone to a mass interview in portland for a fishing job in alaska, and was biding my time on the follow up interview or phone call a few weeks on. so i borrowed my friend’s bent, and headed to the oregon coast from eugene. stuck out my thumb, and along comes dale defrance in his rv. he’s a professional photographer, and showed me some of his stunning work. he takes a long time to set up! we drove thru the olympic peninsula (one of my favorite places) and he dropped me off in port angeles, wa.
    i did make it to alaska the following summer, and then again in 2007, with my 29er unicycle my trusty companion to hitchbike to work at some odd seasonal jobs, including a cannery. homer ak is a very artsy town, and i met sylvia plachy, a famous hungarian photographer who lives in new york. she has never used a digital camera. she reminded me of my mom..and my mom is also hungarian, they were born 1 year apart, both lived in vienna on their way to new york (but my grandpa’s job fell thru there, so they ended up in los angeles) (i also met another new yorker who runs an organic farm there in the summer, and also SIDECAR, comedy improv troupe from new york was visiting. (i was running a schwalbe big apple tire on my uni) and to mine out the big apple vein in a different direction, my tire actually has 28X2.35 printed on it, and there was an italian joint called FAT OLIVES in town that served 28 inch pizzas! and of course i met a guy on a wildfire designs FAT BIKE (like a surly pugsley). the wildfire bikes are made in palmer, ak

  • Croupier says:

    Ah, that takes me back to my 1998 K2 DMC. I wish I still had it. The day I learned how to barspin on it I swore I’d have it forever. I want to be a billionaire someday just so I can hire someone to find all my old bikes and bring them back to me.

  • Jim Reilly says:

    Christian Frederick Martin and Sons…. Nazareth, PA… Alan if you ever find yourself on the east coast with some time on your hands, tour the factory! I have toured the Martin Factory twice, most recently about 6 years ago. What a place! And what a product! As my friend and I were rambling throught the gift shop, we found ourselves in line at the cashier behind the current Mr. Martin. My friend said: “Mr. Martin, you make a beautiful guitar.” With humility, he replied; “I have a lot great help!”


  • Ian Nicholson says:

    Alan, I really enjoyed your guitar story. As I look back on my life it seems to me that Bicycles and Music have meant so much to me too. My cello…my bicycle! My piano…my bicycle……My daughter’s guitar…my bicycle. Now that I have found it best to suspend bicycling during my chemo therapy, it was such a delight to come home and find that my wife had bought me a Yamaha P85 digital piano with strings,organ, and vibraphone functions. Now I can play heart out, have fun and relearn some of the old songs we used to sing. It has such great sound and playing it in the evening is such great soul therapy rather than watching the box. Both the giver and the receiver of this wonderful gift are thankful…despite all that’s wrong with the economy and our personal situation. The bike, the piano, and my daughter’s lovely guitar playing are just a few of the blessings we have that we are Thankful for. Here in Canada our Thanksgiving is celebrated next Monday, October 13. For you I know its later..in November. So, in the words of an old hymn, it is good to, ‘Count Your Blessings’ and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done!’

  • cafn8 says:

    I feel the same way about my old steel Hoo Koo E Koo, which I recently found out was built in 1995. Over the years its parts spec has climbed gradually to the level of “stuff that holds up”. It’s no lightweight, and looks like Frankenstein’s monster, but I love the way it feels on fast singletrack. As cobbled together and beat up as it is, I still get complements from those who recognize what it is. Usually they’re old bike shop owners and salesmen who, despite the bike’s charms, just couldn’t move a mid-level steel bike in a market where aluminum had come in to fashion on all but very low end and high end.

  • andy parmentier says:

    august 2004, i convinced my mom to buy me an easy racer recumbent. i had decided against going to alaska that year, though i’d been wanting to go there for years. earlier that year, even before the cycle genius hitchbiking trip (if my memory serves) i had taken a regular hitchHIKING trip with a borrowed australian shepherd (quiet as a cat) on a trip-again-oregon coast. i had this premonition that sandra martin was sick with cancer, and even met a hospice worker-one of our hitchhiking rides.
    so after the hitchbiking trip, i took ANOTHER hitchhiking trip, this time without a dog OR a bike, and ended up back in washington state, (should i mention my freight train hop where i almost died passing under the cascades?) i think someone said that a brush with death has a real way of clearing the mind, and perhaps it showed me that i should really go for what i wanted, and i knew what i wanted more than anything just about, was an easy racer recumbent. and my mom bought it for me, it was a trade in from easy racers, and gardner martin sold it to me. he never said he was sick..i found out sometime the following winter, early 2005 maybe, from his wife, sandra martin.
    so my black tour easy is the color of a grand piano (like my dad plays) but is long and my “stringed instrument” (brake and shifter cables) like my mom’s cello.
    and i talk about off road bikes, but my tour easy is at home on curvy river bike trails, and that IS off road. curvy like a melody, like a heartbeat. roads are too straight, like a heart flatlining.

  • jbm says:

    I love this post. As a Martin player and a Rivendell rider, I’ve wondered if there was a connection. The 00-15 is a great guitar. I don’t own one, but I convinced a good friend to buy one years ago in the face of fancy Taylors and Taks and whatever else. Just the sound. We moved cross-country not long after, and my memory of her sitting there strumming with her thumb is a happy one.

  • David Lewis says:

    Ah, old bikes. Mine custom steel Brodie Romax, circa 1988, sat in various garages as I aquired a family and moved from city to city. Most of the places weren’t ride friendly, that and life and kids got in the way. We moved to Ottawa (Canada), and it’s pretty bike friendly, so I dug it out and have been community 8 months of the year on it. It’s heavy, but there’s something that I’d be hard pressed to find in a new bike … eventhough I WANT a new bike. I’ll ride this thing till it explodes, with it’s 7-speed cassette, u-brake, upside downshifters (pre-thumbshifters), and Tange MTB tubing.

  • Red says:

    I have six bicycles. My favorite and the one I ride the most is a trek lugged steele frame from the 1980’s.

  • gary says:

    i live just a few miles from the martin guitar factory and an old friend of mine used to work there making guitars. the factory is also about 3 miles away from a state park that has a couple miles of trails that allow mountain biking. so plan a day trip to nazareth, pa., you won’t be bored.

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