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.
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.