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Hodaka Motorcycles

New book by Ken Smith celebrates 50th anniversary of Athena, Oregon marquee

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Hodaka motorcycles. Octane Press has released Ken Smith's definitive history of the birth, life, death, and resurrection in the vintage scene of this iconic brand of the 60's and 70's to coincide with, and celebrate, this event. The idea of producing a Hodaka book goes back about 20 years, but has been on the back burner until recently. The combination of Harry Taylor's death in 2013 (Harry was the head of both the R&D department and the racing team) and the upcoming anniversary, provided the impetus to finish the book.

Whether you are familiar with it or not, the Hodaka story is fascinating. It starts in 1961 with the formation of PABATCO (thePAcific BAsin Trading COmpany) in the small town of Athena, Oregon. PABATCO was a subsidiary of a company called Farm Chemicals, a distributor for Shell Farm Chemicals. Even before PABATCO was established, Farm Chemicals considered branching out into imports because there were concerns that farm subsidies might be cut, which would have an adverse effect on the agricultural chemical business. They sent representatives to Asia to identify possible products for importation, eventually settled on importing Yamaguchi motorcycles, and set up PABATCO in 1961.

Yamaguchi went bankrupt in 1963. That's an interesting story in itself, but this is a book review, not a retelling of the entire story.

In the US, PABATCO was left with a dealer network but no product. In Japan, Hodaka, which had supplied engines to Yamaguchi, had engines and no one to sell them to. PABATCO wanted to continue importing motorcycles and approached Hodaka about building complete motorcycles rather than just engines. A deal was struck - PABATCO would provide the design and marketing, Hodaka would build the bikes And so it was. It started with the Ace 90, followed by the Ace 100, Super Rat, Wombat, Combat Wombat, Super Combat, Dirt Squirt, and Road Toad with engines ranging from 80 to 125 cc. There were also a number of special projects and, towards the end, some larger displacement (175 and 250cc) bikes.

PABATCO was never a large company. From about 5 or 6 employees at the start, to a maximum of about 30, it was an incredibly lean outfit, especially considering that they sold more than 140,000 motorcycles in their time. The book details not only the rise and demise of the brand, it devotes chapters to each of the bikes. It introduces you the people behind the bikes. It has extensive appendices with sales figures, production data, and serial numbers that are invaluable to the serious collector or restorer. Interspersed among all this are many reproductions of Hodaka ads, posters, promotional artwork, and, of course, pictures of the bikes.

In summation, while this is a nice coffee table book, it is much more than that. It's a great read and a wonderful reference. I enjoyed it tremendously and if you're into motorcycles you will too. I recommend it highly.

HODAKA MOTORCYCLES
The Complete Story of America's Favorite Trail Bike
By Ken Smith
(Octane Press, 2014)

Review by Rolf-Immo Gabbe/September 2014


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