We had the pleasure of spending a little time talking to Vagabond Choppers' Athena 'Chickie' Ransom at New Orleans Bike Week 2010.
The driving force behind Vagabond Choppers
, the charismatic Athena ‘Chickie’ Ransom, is a very busy woman. In between promoting the current ‘Chicks Rule & Boys Drool’ tour, she’s also got four bikes scheduled to be built before Sturgis, three of them ground-up customs. One of them is for Michael Lichter’s ’Eternal Combustion 30 in the Wind’
exhibit where ‘Chickie’ has been paired with Laura Klock, who will also be creating her own custom motorcycle for the show. The two were teamed together because they share the common bond of both being Motor Maids, the oldest and most respected women's motorcycling organization in North America. She’s also one of the newest members of the Limpnickie Lot, the grass-roots collective of new generation custom motorcycle builders and craftsman. Motorcycle USA got an opportunity to sit down and share a few moments with one of the most respected female custom bike builders around at Bike Week New Orleans 2010.
(We ran into Athena during the Plantation Poker Run Friday where a traffic accident on I-10 made it challenging to make it back to the Riverwalk Festival in time to turn in our cards.) So did you make it back in time for the poker run?
We made it to the first plantation and one of the girls I was riding with had an issue with her bike and I spent two hours under a tree fixing her bike and then we rode back here. But these really cool people were nice enough to take our cards and stamp them.
So what were you riding yesterday?
I was riding my 'Texas' bike, the red, white and blue one. I ride that bike everywhere, it’s my daily rider now. The
Athena Ransom built the 'Texas' bike for the ROT rally a couple years back and now calls it her daily rider.
pink one before that I had we took apart, we’re painting it and we’re doing a live build at the Broken Spoke on Lazelle in Sturgis on Wednesday. I’m going to assemble a bike in a day like we did for the Breast Cancer Awareness bike and the one we did for the Today
show at the Rockefeller Center and we did one at Harley’s 105th. But this time we’re teaming up with ‘Teach’ Bass and his high school shop class and what I did, I had the girls in the class write essays and tell me why they should be able to come out to Sturgis to assist me and I’m going to pick two to three girls to come out and help me, because that’s what it’s about, inspiring them because they’re our future. It’s cool because they’ll get the experience of Sturgis. It will give them exposure to the public eye and teach them not to be afraid or timid or shy because it really doesn’t matter, motorcycles aren’t gender specific.
So tell us a little about the ‘Chicks Rule & Boys Drool’
tour you’ve got going on.
Well, this year we’ve got a good lineup of about 10 women, and at different stops we come out, like at Daytona we had Cris Sommer-Simmons, we have Paula Taylor of Paints by Paula here, we have Laura Klock
and Sara Liberte, and we do on-site seminars teaching women the basics. I’m using the Harley Fit Shop as a guide to teach riding position and the certain way you should sit to be comfortable to get the most miles and teaching how to make the motorcycle fit them and how to handle their bike in a confident manner. We show them how to make it unique through the expression of custom paint. Vette from BikeDesignz.com, they come out with their parts because they’ve got these cool jeweled parts and other stuff. We teach women leverage and how to back up their motorcycle and things that are important for them to gain confidence in their abilities. We also get them out, to show their bikes and do a little more in the motorcycling community. At the Limpnickie Lot now, we started this thing called ‘The Footprint.’ In Daytona I brought in four counties of the Boys & Girls Club and I gave them a tour of the Lot, I gave them t-shirts, we had an exhibition skater at the skate park and Howie’s donated like 15 pizzas.
So how’d you get hooked up with the Limpnickie Lot?
I’ve known them for a while and I’ve been trying to get in for a couple of years and then in Cincinnati some guy gave me some shit and I beat the shit out of him and they said “OK, you’re in.” (Athena then recounts the story, which we
Athena (middle, front row) and friends get ready to pull out from New Orleans Harley-Davidson on their way to the Destrehan Plantation during the Plantation Poker Run during Bike Week New Orleans 2010.
won’t go into detail here, but it has to do with a guy who has little respect for women and the B-word.) But you know, I’m not like that, it’s just sometimes… You don’t come into our world and have an attitude like that, I mean, we’re all humble and we all treat each other with great respect. And even the ones that we don’t really get along with we have a mutual respect and a passion for the motorcycles so we conduct ourselves accordingly until you push the limit. It’s on you if you push the limit, you get whatever you give.
So you mentioned that you’re going to be part of the Lichter exhibit this year at
Yes, I’m actually paired with Laura Klock. It’s 15 pairs of builders and we each build our own bike and the paired builders share a common bond. Last year I signed her up as a Motor Maid and I was her sponsor so we’re both Motor Maids and that’s our common bond. And our bikes will totally be two opposite builds because of the era where she comes from is totally different from the era that I come from. As far as choppers go, there’s around a 20 year difference. But she’s got a bike that she’s wanted to build for the last four years that she’s had in her brain but somebody’s always been in the way in the shop and she hasn’t had the time. Brian’s actually built her a nice little building out back so that she can just work on it herself.
You say you’ve got four different builds you’re working on that have to be done before Sturgis?
Yeh, and three of them are from the ground-up and I’ve got the parts but I haven’t started. But hey, that Breast Cancer bike I did, I did all the fab, everything, in just one week. It will be a little stressful, but you know, without a little stress, it'd just be another routine day in the shop, which would be boring.
So what compelled you to become a custom bike builder?
Wow. My first husband. I was 15 and he was 25 and my dad worked in this biker bar and he was in the bar and I wasn’t allowed to go in and one night I snuck in and I sent him a beer across the bar because he had the hottest shovelhead in town that he’d built himself. He was super sexy and he took me for a ride. We still say my to this day that my dad sold me for a six-pack in the bathroom because I came out of the bathroom and my dad’s like “You’re going for a ride with him.” We didn’t get together right away because he had an old lady but a couple months later he dumped her and then chased me around for about four months before we started dating. And you know, it was 'ass, grass, or cash, nobody rides for free,' so I used to get his bike out every Friday when he’d come home and I’d wash it and wax it and we’d go for a ride. About six months later, I was washing and waxing it and I saw something loose. Just as my luck goes, I went in the garage to go get something to tighten it and he pulls up in the driveway and just goes ballistic. He didn’t talk to me for about a week. After that, he said “Why would you do that?” and I said “When you detail it, you see everything and I really want to learn.” It was kind of funny, because after that, we had an accident and I bought him a brand new bike, and I said “What are you going to do with that one?” because it was totaled and he said “If you can put it together, you can have it.” He put this jar on the work bench and he said every time you ask a question, you have to put a dollar in the jar. I needed parts so I got a job at the bike shop across the street so that I could get parts at cost and I went to work every day in the bike shop. And they all made fun saying at Daytona they were going to have a grand in the jar, saying we’re going to party it up and in the end there was only $33 in the jar. It was funny, but yeah, that’s how it all started. I admired and respected the hell out of him because mechanically he was really gifted.