Vintage Dirt Bike: Hodaka
Racing Days of Old
One does not need to have ridden a motorcycle to appreciate the fact that there were riders out there that loved their bikes. I have ridden a few motorcycles in my time but I never did ride or own a Hodaka. During my years racing and riding off-road I had friends and fellow racers that owned Hodaka's. They were very proud to be riding their Super Rat or Combat Wombat around the desert. Even though Hodaka has not been around for 30 years does not mean they slipped off into oblivion. Vintage motorcycle enthusiasts have kept the dream of owning a Hodaka alive and those that rode them in their heyday have not forgotten either. When sitting around a campfire with former desert racers reminiscing the days of old and the demise of our favorite dirt bikes. When motorcycles were a force to be reckoned with, and when strength, skill mattered most when racing. Today’s riders do not know how easy they have it or what they missed. I once heard an old racer say “in those days we were real dirt bike racers”. He may have been right!
Hodaka, The Beginning
The story of Hodaka motorcycles begins with an American and Japanese venture started in 1964. Shell Oil was involved with Hodaka by way of their trading company, Pabatco. The headquarters for Pabatco was in a small rural town in Oregon called Athens. Starting around 1961, Pabatco began importing Yamaguchi motorcycles, first in 49cc and later in 80cc versions, which turned out to be a good profitable deal. From there a dream was born and it was called Hodaka.
This first Hodaka introduced to the public was the Ace 90. The Ace was fully street legal, but it was very capable as being ridden as a dual sport bike. This would set the pace and led Hodaka into mainstream motorcycle ownership among the public. One dirt bike that was popular was the Combat Wombat and could be seen racing across the desert with a happy rider on board. There was also the very fast Super Combat and a revised version of the Super Rat in 1974. By the time the Super Rat came out many knew the name Hodaka. They could be seen loaded up in the back of pickup trucks heading out for a day of racing. Kids running around with their Hodaka Jersey on or sporting a hat with Hodaka blazoned across the front. Unfortunately some good things come to an end.
Hodaka Slips Into Memory
Some look at the company’s inability to adopt the latest technology as part of its downfall. It was contending with big powerful rivals Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki. Honda’s introduction of the Elsinore turned out to be a popular and affordable bike. Hodaka found itself on the short end and got what were leftover components that the big three did not want or need which played a part in Hodaka not being able to keep up with the new technology. The economic recession of the late '70s didn’t help either and the devalued dollar up against the yen didn’t cut it. There were competitors' bikes in the U.S. that were being sold at affordable prices and riders were watching their dollars. Shell began to view its motorcycle division as a liability and decided to stop production on a money losing endeavor. Shell tried to purchase the Hodaka engine plant, but the Japanese wouldn't sell and so the storybook tale came to an end. By the time 1980 rolled around, Hodaka's were no more, but not forgotten.
With vintage dirt bike racing, many motorcycles are getting a second life and if you have a chance go watch a race. I know owning a brand new KTM dirt bike sounds awesome but you haven’t lived until you have ridden a dirt bike with dual shocks and very little rear suspension. Getting into riding or collecting these old dirt bikes is a lot of fun and the people involved are some of the biggest dirt bike enthusiast around. It is a great time and fun for all, even for those of us that haven’t raced for a few decades. I am still hoping to own a Penton Jackpiner and a few other vintage dirt bikes before my time is up.
Happy riding and keep the rubber side down. And helmets on.
Hodaka Ace 90
Hodaka Ace 100A
Hodaka Ace 100B
Hodaka Ace 100B
Hodaka 80 Dirt Squirt
Hodaka 100 Dirt Squirt
Hodaka 100 Road Toad
Hodaka 100 Super Rat
Hodaka 125 Super Combat
Hodaka 125 Combat Wombat
Hodaka 125 Wombat
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