From Fat to Fatlete

Zavala_Best_Cropped_Bike_Photo_smallMy name is Ramon Zavala. I bike for transportation with exercise being a really nice perk of that transportation. I’ve never been in a bike race and I don’t wear skin-tight cycling clothes. My one and only bike is made of steel and weighs 30 lbs. with just the rear cargo rack. I ride to work with big red bike bags. This is my story of going from a fat non-bicyclist to a soft, but very healthy, bike commuter while expending very little conscious effort to do so.


 A Slow, Fat Realization

A couple years back, I was rummaging through a display of one of the now-defunct Borders bookstores. And while seeking out that $1 diamond in the rough, I found Jayne Williams’ Slow Fat Triathlete.

The title hooked me. “Raw, self-deprecating honesty? That’s me! “

At the time, I was only a year or so into bike commuting, but it was enough time to notice that a substantial amount of fat had disappeared from my body and I had grown some very powerful leg muscles. I felt “healthy” for the first time in years. I was still 230 lbs., but for a 6’1” male with new, hulkishly muscular legs, that’s not so bad.

I handed the book to my partner almost as a joke. You see, my partner used to be the type of person who, on a whim, would decide that she will have six-pack abs in one month. She would make extreme changes to her after life and then, a week later, give in to physical fatigue and for love of the couch. She used to be this “all-or-nothing” person when it came to her own fitness and she would always burn out before she met any of her goals.

She bought the book. 

The more she read, the more she began to understand that physical change in a busy life is possible with small, incremental changes. She told me about what she had read I began to think about my own physical change that had been happening without any explicit intention of my own.


My physical change came as a result of committing to bike commuting. At the time, I had a 4-ish mile round-trip commute down steep hills in the morning and a work out climbing back up those hills in the afternoon. That 20-minute commute was the only change for quite a while. No diet change whatsoever!

Then I started going on Tuesday night rides. No, not for fitness- but for food. My weekly 20 miles of commuting had 10-25 miles added to it by virtue of attending the Taco Tuesday Social Ride on the UCI campus. Over the following months, I continued to eat as I had, but the change in physical activity meant I had more energy through the work day and more energy when I got home. I slept better, I lost fat, and I put on muscle. I felt happier in my skin. I was happier and healthier.

As someone in the place to influence others and convince them to try out bike commuting, I often tell them this story and they invariably ask, “So when are you going to change your diet and fully slim down?” I always respond, “Meh…”

Unlike proper “athletes”, I like having random weekends dominated by beer, wine, cheese, and pastries. I like going out to eat and not having to count how many ounces of sour cream I’ve had this month.

Don’t let all my biking confuse you. I’m a fatlete, not an athlete.

I think it would be cool to be ripped, but I just don’t have the willpower to work out for the sake of my looks. Moreover, I like beer. I like wine. I like cheese and pastries. And that’s OK!

Every Day Since

Today, having integrated biking as my main form of transportation, I’m healthier and so much more fit than I thought I would be a couple years ago. In such a short time of casual riding, I’ve been able to turn my health from “mediocre” to “Today I rode 30 miles round-trip to pick something up in Lake Forest.”

My commute is now 8 miles round-trip, but only minimal inclines. I no longer attend those Tuesday night rides due to other time commitments, but I still bike commute and, more notably, I bike pretty much everywhere else I need to go. For longer trips that require a trip on the Metrolink or Amtrak, I ride to the station and bring my bike with me.

Since realizing that biking to a healthier self and being a foodie aren’t diametrically opposed, I’ve begun seeing others who scoff at the “get thin” compulsion. I’m a big fan of FLAB (Fat Lads At the Back) in the UK and the Clydesdale/Athena discussion group at Check them out if you think you and I may be in the same proverbial boat.

Healthier, happier, and slightly less heavy,

Ramon Zavala

Ramon Zavala serves on the board of directors for the Orange County Bicycle Coalition and is a certified cycling instructor with League of American Bicyclists. He also leads the Sustainable Transportation program at UC Irvine while also serving as the campus’ Senior Bicycle Coordinator. If you liked what you read here, Ramon would like to hear from you. Contact him at


Orangeman Triathlon

Title: Orangeman Triathlon
Location: Dana Point
Link out: Click here
Description: Doheny State Beach – bike through the cities of Dana Point & San Juan Capistrano towards the turnaround that sits near the top of the majestic Ortega Highway..(SR-74) will be closed in both directions from 7:30am to 12:15pm.

Start Time: 05:00
Date: 2012-9-23
End Time: 16:45

We asked the organizers if it would be possible for locals to ride Ortega before the event like from 6 to 7am, and the response is no you may not. In fact, according to the organizers,” The CHP is aware that anyone not wearing an event sanctioned bib number/timing chip will be cited. In summary, this is theft and as much as we love cyclists, it would be a better idea for them to form a relay team and pay registrations fees like all the other participants. ”

In addition, early riders wishing to use the San Juan Creek Bike Trail are advised  from the Details page:
10. The bike course has been designed for your safety and enjoyment. The San Juan Creek Bike Trail will be staffed with trained volunteers to discourage general public use and encourage safe cycling. Ortega Highway (SR-74) will be closed in both directions from 7:30am to 12:15pm. <our emphasis>

Make your ride plans accordingly. Del Obispo can be used if you don’t mind a little street traffic to get to and from Dana Point.

The Orangeman Triathlon supports two charities that will benefit from this event; the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southwest County (Lake Elsinore, Temecula, Murrieta).

Good Luck to all the racers!

OC Tri and Duathlon

Title: OC Tri and Duathlon
Location: Mission Viejo / Lake Forest
Description: 2k-40k-10k race
Date: 2012-5-20

There are 1.5k & 2.5 mile open water swim and  a mini-aquathlon suitable for kids as well as the international distance triathlon and the Du. The spectacular venue at the lake, the pristine ride through Santiago Canyon, and the primarily off road run through the hills of Mission Viejo will bring the 7th Annual OC Duathlon to the next level, and it will soon become a major stop and a “must do” on the Duathlon circuit.

The OC Duathlon has been combined with the OC Triathlon which takes place
Sunday the 20th. Starting with the swim in Lake Mission Viejo, the athletes will
bike a portion of  Santiago Cyn and probably a small portion of the Aliso Creek Bike Trail from Santiago Canyon to the transition area by Marguerite and El Toro.

If this event is close to previous ones, riders will bike from Olympiad onto Marguerite, then onto El Toro / Santiago Cyn to a turnaround spot, then heading back along Santiago Cyn, enter the Aliso Creek MUP down to the parking lot by Marguerite to begin the run back to the lake.

Turnout is usually pretty good for this event as it is sanctioned by Triathlon USA.  Be on the lookout for traffic controls during the morning in these areas.

Best of luck to all the competitors!