The History of Hodaka Motorcycles

Wombats, Combats and Super Rats

| March/April 2007

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.

7/17/2014 8:20:01 PM

Hodaka history is incomplete without the mention of my Dad, Bob Armstrong, who raced a Hodaka in the International Six Days Trials in Spain. The only man to take a Hodaka to the "Olympics of cross country cycling." Bob was a distributor of Hodakas in the southeast where he found dozens of shops willing to sell Hodakas in the late 60s and early 70s. He raced them 50 weekends per year for two years (my Mom says) to get the name out there in front of people. He won lots, too, which is what propelled him into the ISDT in Spain in 1970. Hodaka and Pobatco, unfortunately had trouble getting his sponsored bike to Spain in time. Nixon decided to visit just before the big race began. Dad finally received his bike the night before the start of the race. The bike was still crated so it had to be assembled. He was up most of the night assembling, tuning and prepping. I suppose he was pretty much a one man show over there. He told me he was doing well in the race into the second day until he experienced a flat tire on his 21" front wheel and the replacement tube that had been sent was 17". He was out of the big race. He prized his blue helmet with two off-centered white stripes from the race. I have fond memories of my own Super Rat, too. Dad passed away in January three years ago. Posted by Jody Armstrong

gerald estes III
2/1/2013 11:34:20 PM

thanks for the story. they were really lightweight; balanced differently compared to the hd's baja. the aeromacci's where geared differently - euro road circuit heritage and all that. market penetration? as a kid, in a 1 mile radius from the house, remembering the bikes out and about...pair indian 100's, wad of step thrus, minitrails, a couple sl / xls and an atv 90, 2 suki dual rangers, about 5-6 hodakas - same for the hd's, couple dt's, kawis, a bonanza, a six wheeler probably missing a few that never made the trail. it was a blast riding 'em thats for sure. and somewhere in the middle a coupla huskies. splinting crankcases and fixing the stuff inside, i was always eager to help the hodies get there shift mechs working again. 25 years later, as an enthusiast dirt bike restorer, a bud gave me a super combat rat, wow, awesome wheelies... i enabled the 2nd winding on the gen side for some lighting and formed up a really sharp k&n pod shroud using a match color thick plastic corporate promo binder. after the umpteenth time aligning the silly shift mechanism in my dimly lite garage, the springs let loose, the balls went flying out everywhere, patience got thin so i cut the rear engine mount off, made some threaded rod frame spreaders, unearthed an xl 175 outta another buds swamp - and squeezed it back together with ty wire. then the budget went sour...mef's probably still got the works - i left it with him in exchange for a rockfish burger salad and soft drink combo in disgrace, pennyless... anyway, thanks fellas for the memories.

bob bergerson_2
2/19/2010 8:04:07 PM

ah the hodaka ace i loved mine when my very first bike was creamed by a big caddy and was totaled i wanted an other dual purpose bike but didn't quiet have the funds for a new honda so my dad bless his heart showed me my first ace. cheap ran good but was a little doggy. my friend had a new harley baja 100 and it was all i could do to keep up so i heard of a wrecked super rat in a guys garage and made a deal with him thats what i likeed about the hodads all the parts interchanged and my mild manner ace became a street legal rat and i ran that thingfor several years i would drive it to the race remove the headlight and tail light race put them back on and go home never won anything best i ever did was 4th but i was up against some serious kids whos dads bought them factory mxes from yamaha and honda i did all my work my self it finnally died in a bad wreck involving a red fox and a cliff but i have a 1968 sitting in my gararge thanks to my wife and her yard saleing expertice just need a few parts and it will be running pictures to follow

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