No, this is about a small displacement motorcycles (100cc give or take a few ccs), with a very distinctive red frame and a chrome tank which was introduced back in the early 1960s. It became a immensely popular in its day, and still today continues to have a passionate, cult-like following.
Ironically, it was a Japanese company owned by Shell Oil that owned the Pacific Basin Trading Company, or PABATCO, from 1965 to 1978. However, earlier, around 1961 PABATCO was also in the fertilizer business in the Oregon/Pacific Northwest region.
The headquarters was actually in a little rural town of about 1,000 people called Athena, Oregon, and legend has it that the name “Hodaka” came from some mountain located near the factory at time. In Japanese, Hodaka means “to grow higher.”
During this time, PABATCO partnered with Yamaguchi to distribute motorcycles and in early 1963, they had imported approximately 5,000 motorcycles through a network of 480 dealers. Toward the end of 1963, Yamahguchi suddenly went bankrupt and forced Hodaka to make it’s own motorcycles.
Hodaka is also known for starting the trail bike movement in the USA with their first two entries - The Ace 90 and Ace 100. Other models followed, but these two models were the most famous. From the start, they were well engineered and very reliable; modeled after the British Cotton and Greeves trail bikes of the period.
When I was a teenager my high-school buddy Eric had a 1968 Ace 90 “full dirt racer” (left) with silly loud expansion chamber, no lights, speedo or any other legal street accessories. It was a little monster, and blindingly FAST as it had no weight to speak of. Add a 100-lb teenager with no fear and you have the makings of “neighborhood badass” at the highest level!
Back then, you had to wait until sixteen years of age to get a NY State Drivers Permit, so at ages fourteen-to-fifteen, when we all started riding, we were limited to the local back roads, dirt roads, and corn fields. We knew all of them like the back of our hand. The cops were always chasing us, and I recall one day where Eric came “flying” around the road by his house and jumped 20 feet or so over an embankment and disappeared back into the woods.
Seconds later, a NY State Trooper blasted by, lights and sirens flashing, and rushed past his house only to realize Eric was not just gone...but LONG gone! Of course, the frustrated trooper swung around stopped to interrogate the rest of us sitting in Eric’s driveway, all smiling, and of course, none of us knew or saw anything. It was a classic incident, back in the day, and Eric’s hood credibility immediately shot up a few notches!
There was also a company called Bonanza that placed Hodaka Ace 90 and Ace 100 engines into their mini-bikes (can you imagine those little speed demons?!?), and they were also popular where I lived during the 1960s. There may have been other mini-bike manufacturers, but the blue Bonanza is the one I remembered best.
Many young, new trail riders got their start on Hodaka’s and they were not only fun, and again, they were well built and rugged as well.
Here is a clip from Peter Starr’s article: “Ode to Hodaka - The Hodaka Story”
“In June, 1966, the 10,000th Ace 90 was shipped from Nagoya - an amazing feat from a company that had looked extinction squarely in the eye just three years earlier. That same year, to display their faith in their product, Marketing Manager Marvin Foster and crazyman Frank Wheeler rode a couple of Ace 90s on a 3800-mile tour of Baja, Mexico, without experiencing a single mechanical failure. Marvin later settled down to corporate life in Oregon, but Mr. Crazy went on to ride a Hodaka 125 around the perimeter of Australia in 1972, covering 10,000 miles in 21 days.”
Toward the end of the 1970’s the declining US Dollar-to-Yen exchange rate, the poor economic climate, and the changing demand from dirt bikes to larger displacement road bikes finally took it’s toll. Hodaka had a brief and failed attempt to purchase Fuji Heavy Industries, which for years made most of the engines for Hodaka, but this was not to be. Around 1980, all operations in the USA ceased and the tooling was eventually sold to the Korean company Daelim.
The spirit of Hodaka is still alive and well today. In the year 2000, 600 Hodaka enthusiasts came to Athena, Oregon for a reunion of the marque. Pure “fun” at its best. The event, which is also known as 'Hodaka Days' has been wildly successful, and the next one is June 21-24, 2012. You can read more here: www.hodakadays.org
I used to ride my friend Eric's Ace 90 when he let me, and when he was not outrunning the local PD. I always wanted one for myself, but never did. I particularly like the street version of the Ace 100 with the lights and rear tail rack. Every time I see that red frame and chrome tank, it really makes me think I need to add that motorcycle to the growing “Bucket List.” JJ Cerilli
VMOL files, the Internet
Strictly Hodaka - www.strictlyhodaka.com
Hodaka Club - www.hodakaclub.org
Ode To Hodaka-The Hodaka Story, by Peter Starr