In a modern day’s twist on the “Old Testament” plagues of ancient Egypt, the tiny Oregon town of Athena is swarmed, infested if you will, once a year for three days. Wombats, Rats, Squirts, Thunder Dogs and Road Toads besiege the town’s very core and squirm about in a pall of aromatic blue smoke. There are also more Aces than a Las Vegas poker convention, but that name is plain amongst the others. In 2014 the visitation was nearly divine, as it marked the 50th anniversary of the quirky marque of motorcycles generated from this very hamlet: Hodaka.
This half-century celebration of the Hodaka brand coincided with the 15th annual Hodaka Days Rally, and it took on special meaning in many ways. Some of the original PABATCO (Pacific Basin Trading Company) employees that started the enterprise are still around: Marv Foster, Chuck Swanson and others. One of the founding members, Harry Taylor, passed away recently and will be missed by all.
As previous reports on this event so accurately captured, this “Hodaka-ness” creates a family of sorts, from all points of the U.S. and as far away as Australia and Mexico, who know they can call Athena home for the long weekend. Noted Aussie moto author and editor of VMX magazine, Ken Smith, had just released his noteworthy and definitive book Hodaka, and was on hand to sign copies, tell stories and bask in the atmosphere. To hear the heavily accented banter between Smith and filmmaker Peter Starr, whether talking bikes or male health issues, was a treat to anyone who dared to poke their way into the conversation.
Hodaka zealots Paul and Patti Stannard are the main ringleaders behind this epic event, and are Vermont-based “Strictly Hodaka” folks (the remaining signed copies of Smith’s collectible book are available through their website,
strictlyhodaka.com). When Patti suddenly took lame while working their booth, it was amusing to see the crowd respond with everything from home remedies (“Just hold your nose and swallow”), to the offering of, “I’m not a doctor but I played one in a high school play once and will be glad to take a look.” Turns out it was just a stressed tendon, but the Hodaka Family responded.
So much of the back story of this hardy machine’s history is well laid out in Smith’s book, from the the meteoric rise and popularity of the affordable, well-targeted product, all the way to the demise of the little company as it found it was spread too thin across the Pacific to keep up with the changes and market demands. Sitting for a spell with co-founder Marv Foster, he told me of when “Big” Frank Wheeler, a California Hodaka dealer, invited him to Baja to test ride the bikes.
It was not the Baja 1000, but they did ride more than 3,800 miles on stock Ace 90s without a single mechanical failure. The trip was considered a great success for the brand. It was apparent the years had not diminished the pluck in this personality that once shaped the company.
The 2014 parade hosted 135 machines, the most ever, and it was a treat to be surrounded by the passionate two-stroke symphony of this eclectic swarming host! Noteworthy at these events are the bikes on display, whether in the judged show or just as proud owner turnout. One very trick Hodaka Ace trike was seen transporting owner Stephen Burrows around the gathering; the pride in execution, fit and finish plain to see on his Santa red cheeks. Rare, later Hodaka versions adorned the city park, such as the partnering with Rickman Metisse and Steen, or beautifully customized examples such as the Ace 100 café machine of Dave Michaels, a firefighter from Halsey, Oregon, who regularly rides and shows his creation.
If you have been around motorcycles for a few decades, the names of many guest “celebrities” will surely ring an old “Bell.” Having worked behind motorcycle shop counters in the early ’80s, I had hawked dozens of magazine issues with their names and faces on the covers, so even in the muggy evening air it was refreshing to walk up to join in a snickering joke-fest with Preston Petty and “Hippie” Brad Lackey. Having escaped the awards banquet and stifling indoor climate to grab a glass of wine or three, these two wove a tapestry of tales waist deep in history…and the here and now.
The “Garden Party” atmosphere at this event accentuates the power of admiration and connection that something seemingly as insignificant as a motorcycle can create and maintain in a person. This brand did so much with so little at a time when the riding public wanted it. Hodaka means “mountain” in Japanese, and this little mole of a motorcycle has indeed created a mountain of fans new and old and continues to add credits to its history, even now into its second half-century.