Naming conventions for many motorcycle companies amount to a mish-mash of letters and numbers more befitting of a Star Trek ship than a bike. Few marques break free from these cumbersome alphanumeric conventions. Hodaka—a small bike brand from the mid-1960s—did it very best.
First, some background: When the Oregon-based Pacific Basin Trading Company saw an opportunity arising from the growing popularity of Honda’s small motorcycles in the late 1950s, it began importing Yamaguchi motorcycles direct from Japan, intent on selling them against the Honda bikes of the time. The gamble didn’t pay off though, as Yamaguchi went out of business in 1963. Still seeing the demand for the machines it was selling, Pacific Basin Trading Company decided to cut out the middleman by going straight to Hodaka, maker of the engines for the newly-defunct Yamaguchi machines.
Hodaka worked with the Oregon crew to redesign the Yamaguchi Scrambler. The result was the lightweight trail-focused-but-road-legal Hodaka Ace 90, which hit U.S. shores in 1964. Starting in 1969, the names, frankly, began to outshine the machines. Here are just four of our favorites:
The Super Rat supposedly got its name from a conversation that took place when one employee walked into a meeting discussing the then-new SR model and said, “what does that stand for, super rat?” The name stuck, and the 100c-c motocross-focused machine became a staple of the Hodaka fleet. Oh, this is just the beginning.
The Combat Wombat battled in the 125-cc class of racing. It boasted more aggressive geometry and additional power compared to the smaller and more approachable Super Rat. Of course, the chrome gas tank really dialed up the cool factor. Even if you weren’t the fastest on the starting line, at least you had the best-looking bike. Not to mention by far the coolest name, unless someone else was riding a …
An evolving market forced Hodaka to keep up with the times, which meant the small, fun bikes of its early days would have to grow up. The Thunder Dog sized up to a 250-cc engine and became more enduro-focused, compared to the closed-course racers in which Hodaka was previously accustomed. In its day, the Thunder Dog was praised for its even power delivery, which is saying something in an era of light-switch powerband two-strokes. Only 1800 Thunder Dogs were produced.
The Road Toad was—you guessed it—one of Hodaka’s street-legal models. Of course, it was offered green, though not all of them were. At just 98 cc, the engine might have occasionally left riders wanting for power, but the wide-ratio five-speed and full light kit made it plenty capable for adventuring where ever the road or trail would take you.
Sadly, despite the cool names and fun bikes (seriously, we didn’t even touch on the Dirt Squirt), Hodaka fell victim to cost cutting. Shell Oil, owner of Pacific Basin Trading Company since 1965, pulled the plug in 1978 due to a lack of profitability.
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