Being told she couldn’t do something because she was a girl only seemed to fuel the fire inside Athena “Chickie” Ransom while growing up. She was always really close with her dad because of their mutual love for bikes, so he always encouraged her to do whatever she wanted. This kind of support helped push her to be the diehard kind of builder, rider, and mechanic that she is today.
Athena – known as “Chickie” in the bike industry, is the owner of Vagabond Choppers. She is known for her choppers that are finely crafted, fun to ride, and have the perfect, tough stance and persona with just the right amount of feminine touch.
She was born in Illinois, lived in California but moved to Florida at seven where she grew up. She started riding at fifteen and about that time began learning how to work on bikes as well. She learned the mechanical end of things from one of her first boyfriends and after hours in several of the bike shops where she worked in the parts departments over the years. Every Throttle Gal starts somewhere!
Athena attributes her love for bikes and her family’s biker status to her dad, “Chicago Phil”. He and his brothers have been riding choppers since the 60’s, so Athena was brought up in the lifestyle learning about the culture, the mechanics and the love of riding from them. “When I was a kid my dad had long stretched choppers that my mom would not let me ride. They never seem to stop as quick as she would like, (now I know why, the old drum brakes were not like the disc brakes we have today).” After her parents’ split, at the ripe young age of fifteen, Athena remembers going into a biker bar where her dad was a bouncer, after she was roller skating one night… That was a big no-no with her dad. She was never allowed in the bar on a Friday night after ten because of how crazy stuff got in there, topless chicks, bar fights, drinking, etc. But she did it anyway. She had to find her dad after she was left at the skating rink alone, so brave little Athena marched into the bar… And that is where she met John.
John was a no bullshit biker at the age of 25 with, what Athena describes as “the most righteous Shovelhead I had ever seen.” She fell in love with his chopper, and the rest was a joke, as she puts it. Somehow, Athena’s dad actually let her date John. Ass, gas or grass was a reality for Athena at 15, but stubborn Athena wasn’t about to give up more than gas money to ride John’s chopper, so he continued to ride her around on it, in hopes for more. “We dated and I would have to wax the bike every Friday after work so I could go riding, and I still paid for gas. Occasionally I would find him some grass too… But he still wasn’t getting any. A couple of months later on a Friday I was tired of waiting for him to get home so I moved his bike to detail it. He lost his mind, then he realized that I could handle it, so it was okay to come over cook dinner and wash and wax the bike before he got home. Then I did it… I was waxing the Shovel and saw a loose nut, my dumb ass went right to the garage got a wrench and went to tightening it- just as John was pulling in the driveway. He went cuckoo, got mad and would not talk to me for a week. I managed to smooth it over… Yeah! He finally got some… It was all I could think of at the time, and of course I got him to teach me the basic principles of motorcycles.”
At that time, there were very few aftermarket parts, so Athena would watch John cut up parts and make his own. She got a job in a local bike shop owned by a guy who was a drag racer with the fastest gasoline Sportster of the 80’s. That’s where her education really began.
Just after her 17th birthday, Athena and John were in an accident on the Shovel, and it was totaled. As a passenger she got an insurance check about six weeks later for $10,000. So she took John right out and bought him a brand new Heritage Softail. When they came home, there was the Shovel, all busted up. She asked John what he was going to do with it. He said that if she could put it back together, and make it run – it was all hers.
Athena says the rest is history. That was 1985 and she rebuilt that bike in front of a garage full of guys (John and his friends). If she asked a question, she had to put a dollar in a jar. They were sure she was going to end up paying for the bike that way. But unfortunately for them, Athena paid attention while at work in the bike shop, and silently watched them all wrenching. In 1987 she finished the Shovel with only $33 in the jar, and $15 of that was from wiring. She’s been wrenching ever since. She and John were married for 12 years, and had two beautiful children together. Though they divorced, they remained friends until he passed in 2006.
Athena’s aforementioned closeness with her dad is shown in many ways beyond wrenching together. Phil was disabled after falling twenty-two stories from the Sears Tower in 1989. He was caught by a safety rope, but the jolt from the fall broke his back. At the time he was told he’d never walk again – but he is obviously where Athena gets her stubborn nature, because today he does walk – and even rides every once in a while.
Phil wasn’t Athena’s only source of inspiration. Her mom was a strong woman who battled Lou Gehrig’s disease for several years, until her passing in 2002. Athena quit her jobs in 2000 to care for her mom full time. The years that followed were difficult but their family’s strength and love pushed through in the end. Athena recounts the situation, “My mom lost everything due to an unfortunate situation. Her roommate at the time saw her rapidly deteriorating and took advantage of the situation. He took her to the courthouse and married her even though he knew that she could not speak or sign her name. I fought him for a year in court to prove what he did, and to get custody. As a result, the courts absorbed everything she had worked for her whole life. I’ll never forget the final disbursement of her assets, my best friend Patzy went with me- when they handed me a check for $1100.00 Patzy looked right at me and said, ” I’ve got bail money!” I wanted to lose it but knew that I could not jeopardize custody of my mom. She still had me and my two wonderful children, and even my dad was there for her after all those years. We loved her and took good care of her until she died in our home in November 2002.” While caring for her, Athena started college to get a paralegal degree. She went part-time while Patzy sat with her twice a week. “My Mom always wanted me to be a lawyer not a biker, but she did love the fact that I rode big cool choppers that I built myself. Before my Mom got sick she would let me take her around on my chopper every once in a while.”
After Athena’s mom passed, she returned to school full time to complete her paralegal degree. Being that straight-A student paid off, as she took up an internship at a small law firm during her education. However, somewhere inside she really missed motorcycles. As an intern Athena found herself working on a big case which resulted in a nice little bonus when it was all settled. That bonus didn’t stay long in her pocket – and went straight toward Athena’s true calling.
With it she opened Vagabond Chopper Company in Deerfield Beach, Florida. He best friend at the time, Don Ransom, left another known builder to come help Athena out. Athena and Don had been close for years and after working together, they realized they were made for each other. They were married in August 2004 and Athena says that someday, after her children are all grown, she and Don plan on hopping on their choppers and finally riding off into the sunset. “Don is the love of my life. He has my heart and could crush me at any time. I trust that he never will,” says Athena. She feels that he has a true talent with motorcycles and no one was pushing him to do anything more than just assembling or wrenching. So with her gut instinct of Don’s innate talents, Athena puts him right next to her, 24/7/365 – to help with her bikes, and be her partner in life’s challenges. “He is my heart and soul and his love and support has been the key to all of my life successes.” Pretty inspirational love story!
When asked what her muse is, Athena answers quickly… “The wind, the road, the good people you have the fortune of meeting throughout your travels. My ever longing inside voice that says: This is where I was meant to be- on my chopper. I was raised around motorcycles and have always enjoyed the wind in my face and the breeze on my knees. There is an extreme serenity when I am on my chopper and it allows the internal me to get my shit together mentally and keep moving forward in life (externally) with a positive mental attitude.” She has built many bikes in her lifetime, but her favorite to ride is her Pink Heart Flamed Chopper, titled “Heart of a Vagabond”. This beauty is a rigid chopped frame, with Athena’s Heart parts collection on it, a Jaybrake hydraulic foot clutch set up, glass heart shifter, smooth Metzler tired, 20 inch apes and a girder front end. This is one smooth, mean little chopper. She says her favorite she’s ever laid wrench to is one she built called “Puzzled”, or Texas as she calls it, as it was built for the ROT Rally Big Texas Chop Off. “I cut up so much stuff and made cool stuff out of old shit. It rides so smooth and is truly a one of a kind.”
But being a woman in the bike industry isn’t always easy. Many of us Throttle Gals, who ride or drive, understand the hardships we sometimes face from a select handful of knuckleheads who think women aren’t their equals. Athena is fortunate enough to have experience and be real… no bullshit. She really does work on and build bikes, and because of that she’s really earned the respect of her peers. She says that on occasion she’s gotten the “It goes like this sweetie”, while working. It only fuels that fire. “But then I will cut up whatever it was and use it for something off the wall, and next time I see that person, they remember my name, AND ITS NOT SWEETIE!” Other than that once or twice, it’s been good for her. She takes a razzin’ from her colleagues in the industry but it is with love and respect that they have fun with it, and like that it does not bother her. “I always tell them that I have boobs and a round butt and use it to my advantage. Everyone laughs and we keep having fun with it. As a chick who has grown up around motorcycles and bikers, I have learned the difference between a condescending prick and boys just funning and being boys, so I am already at an advantage. The way I look at it, my passion is no less than any other person/builder because I am a chick and I truly love motorcycles, so I feel that everyone respects that about me.”
Somehow this woman is able to manage her time as a builder, business owner, wife and mother of three. “It’s a challenge to make it all work,” she says. “I am usually in the shop until 11 or midnight. I start in the shop at 11 am, but I am up until 2 or 3 am getting laundry done, housework, etc.” She is also able to toss in a few other passions on that busy schedule: roller skating, shooting, and horseback riding, to name a few. And she says she’s looking for an old beat up ’67 Malibu or Chevelle to work on, as she sold hers to build a chopper.
Athena is one Throttle Gal that won’t be held down! This busy “Chickie” just keeps pushing on. She’s encountered a lot of hurdles in her life, but leapt over every one of them and kept right on going. You can find her traveling on her chopper all across the country. She hits most of the major bike rallies and events, with Don right next to her. For more information on Athena, her upcoming projects or purchasing bikes or parts: check her out online: http://vagabondchoppers.com.