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The History of Hodaka Motorcycles

Wombats, Combats and Super Rats

| March/April 2007

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    A chrome-plated 1971 100cc Hodaka Super Rat, one of Hodaka's most popular models.
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    A 1974 100cc chrome-tank Hodaka Dirt Squirt, this one wearing signatures for from former PABATCO employees following a Hodaka Days reunion.
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    Big man, little bike: Seventies motocross star Jim Pomeroy gets some air in 2002 on a 1974 100cc Hodaka Super Rat.
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    PABATCO parts man Ed Chestnut showed off his brawn and the Hodaka's light weight in a late 1960s promotional photo.
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    Service manager Harry Taylor surrounded himself with trophies and Hodaka racers, including a rare road bike.
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In the world of classic dirt bikes, Hodaka motorcycles aren’t your average bikes. In many cases, a vintage motorcycle is Dad’s Toy. “Don’t bother your father, he works hard and needs some time to himself,” explains Mom. Hodaka motorcycles are a little different. Small, light, user friendly and easy to start, Hodakas tend to be Our Family Toy. Mom, Dad, Junior and Sister ride, Grandma cornerworks and Grandpa wrenches. Hodakas are a reason for a family social outing. Hodakas are weekend fun for all.

The dirt on Hodaka motorcycles
The Hodaka phenomenon of the 1960s and 1970s was caused by a unique sequence of events. The Baby Boom generation was then in their teens, there were a lot of unpaved roads in rural areas and Honda had popularized riding small motorcycles.

Following Honda’s success, many Japanese motorcycle companies sought to export their products to the United States. Yamaguchi, one of Japan’s oldest motorcycle companies, with roots back to 1941, was one such company. At the same time, Pacific Basin Trading Company (PABATCO), then a subsidiary of Farm Chemicals of Oregon, was looking to trade Oregon farm products for goods from other countries. PABATCO was headquartered in Athena, a little town in northeastern Oregon just north of Pendleton.

Starting about 1961, PABATCO began importing Yamaguchi motorcycles, first in 49cc and later in 80cc versions, and these proved quite profitable for the Oregon-based company. But the fierce competition between Japanese motorcycle companies in the early Sixties hit the smaller companies hard, and Yamaguchi went under in 1963. The last engine used by Yamaguchi was an 80cc three-speed made by Hodaka, a Japanese builder of two-stroke engines.

With their most profitable item no longer available, yet with dealers in place and strong demand for small motorcycles, Harry “Hank” Koepke, Adolph Schwartz and other PABATCO employees decided to collaborate in designing a motorcycle for the U.S. market. And with Hodaka already in place to supply engines, they looked to Hodaka to build their new bike. Rumor has it that much of the initial sketching was done at the local Green Lantern Tavern, with the help of a few cocktails.



Styling cues for the planned bike were taken from the Cotton, a British-made offroad competition machine with a record of success in offroad racing. The Cotton made heavy use of triangulation to stiffen the frame, and the PABATCO prototype adopted this idea. The all aluminum alloy engine would be based on the two-stroke, piston-port single used in the last Yamaguchi, but with a little more cubic capacity and one more gear, giving it four speeds instead of three.

The crew built and tested a prototype on the trails surrounding Athena. Blueprints in hand and satisfied they had something to work with, Hank went to Japan and hammered out contracts with suppliers, Hodaka chief among them, as the company would not only supply the engine for the new bike but assemble it as well. Hodaka agreed to grant PABATCO an exclusive distributorship for the new bike, and production began in 1964.

bigmosickle
5/28/2020 10:21:40 PM

I have a 1976 CYCLE magazine where Hodaka advertised the virtues of the Road Toad compared to the Japanese competition: two upper shock mounting positions, larger 2.8 gallon tank, rubber mud flaps, enduro speedo, braced chain guide, DAIDO chain, rim locks, competition chassis, mx type bars, enduro tool box, primary kick starting, racing carb, Alumiferric cylinder, conical front hub, heavy-duty 9-gauge spokes plus full street equipment. I also remember a Hodaka advertisement where a larger-than-average rider rode around the entire perimeter of Australia, a distance of over 10,000 miles, without incident. Between 1964 and 1978 Hodaka made 150,000 bikes with near indestructibility built in to every part.


bigmosickle
5/28/2020 10:19:56 PM

I have a 1976 CYCLE magazine where Hodaka advertised the virtues of the Road Toad compared to the Japanese competition: two upper shock mounting positions, larger 2.8 gallon tank, rubber mud flaps, enduro speedo, braced chain guide, DAIDO chain, rim locks, competition chassis, mx type bars, enduro tool box, primary kick starting, racing carb, Alumiferric cylinder, conical front hub, heavy-duty 9-gauge spokes plus full street equipment. I also remember a Hodaka advertisement where a larger-than-average rider rode around the entire perimeter of Australia, a distance of over 10,000 miles, without incident. Between 1964 and 1978 Hodaka made 150,000 bikes with near indestructibility built in to every part.


Edie
5/4/2018 6:17:32 PM

Are there clubs or organizations that I can contact to sell a vintage bike? I have a 1974 Hodaka Dirt Squirt to sell and would prefer not to use eBay or Craig’s list. I have no idea where to start.




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