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


CyclingSavvy class in Orange April 24th and 25th

Register Here

OCBC is proud to announce our first CyclingSavvy course of 2015 on April 24th and 25th in Orange.

CyclingSavvy is a program of American Bicycling Education Association, Inc. (ABEA). The course teaches the principles of Mindful Bicycling:

  • empowerment to act as confident, equal road users;
  • strategies for safe, stress-free integrated cycling;
  • tools to read and problem-solve any traffic situation or road configuration.

The course is offered in three 3-hour components: a bike-handling session, a classroom session and an on-road tour. The classroom and bike-handling sessions may be taken individually, the road tour requires the other two as a pre-requisite.

Sample Lesson

The object of the course is not to turn people into road warriors. Being a confident, competent cyclist has nothing to do with speed or bravado. You don’t need either of those things to have access to the entire transportation grid.

Even most confident cyclists prefer to use quiet routes when feasible. In many cases, it is only an intimidating intersection or short stretch of busy road which hinders a cyclist’s preferred route. This course is designed to show students simple strategies to eliminate such barriers, and ride with ease and confidence in places they might never have thought possible.

The philosophy and intent of our course is best described in this quote by Aimee Mullins:

…all you really need is one person to show you the epiphany of your own power and you’re off. If you can hand somebody the key to their own power… the human spirit is so receptive… if you can do that and open a door for someone at a crucial moment… you are ‘educating’ them in the best sense. You’re teaching them to open doors for themselves. In fact, the exact meaning of the word “educate’ comes from the root word ‘educe.’ It means to bring forth what is within. To bring out potential.

The 3 Part Course
Our course is designed to be taken as individual sessions or as a complete course. Train Your Bike (bike handling) and Truth & Techniques (classroom session) can be taken individually in any order. To sign up for a Tour of Orange, you must have taken or be signed to take the other two classes prior to the tour class. Individual sessions are $30 per session. A package of three sessions (the full course) is $75. A package may be used to take the sessions at any time.

Train Your Bike! (3 hours):

This session is conducted in a parking lot. It consists of a set of progressive drills designed to increase students’ control and comfort handling their bikes in various situations. Drills include:

  • Start/Stop, Power Pedal & Balance Stop
  • Snail Race, Slow-speed Balance
  • Drag-race, Gears & Acceleration
  • Ride Straight, One-handed
  • Shoulder Check
  • Object-avoidance Handling, Weave, Snap
  • Turning: Slow-speed Tight Turns, High-speed cornering, Emergency Snap-turn
  • Emergency Braking

The Truth & Techniques of Traffic Cycling (3 hours):

Through guided discussion with video and animation, this session familiarizes students with bicycle-specific laws, traffic dynamics and problem-solving strategies. Students discover that bicycle drivers are equal road users, with the right and ability to control their space.

Tour of Orange* (3.5 hours):

This session is an experiential tour of the roads in the city of Orange. The course includes some of the most intimidating road features (intersections, interchanges, merges, etc.) a cyclist might find in his/her travels. The students travel as a group, stopping to survey and discuss each exercise location. After observing the feature, discussing the traffic dynamics and the best strategy for safe and easy passage, the students ride through individually and regroup at a nearby location.

* The Tour session is only available with the full course. The other two sessions may be taken á la carte, in any order.

More information
Origins & Principles of CyclingSavvy

Register Here



To ensure that your bike is in perfect operating condition for the class, Jax  will extend a 50% discount on the labor charge for a “basic service” at any Jax Bicycle Center for anyone who signs up for a Cycling Savvy or TS 101 class. The basic service is $69.99. Jax will  provide a coupon to anyone who signs up for one of the classes for 50% off on the labor charge ($35.00). Any parts that are needed for the service will be at the regular price.

Email if you would like a coupon for a tune-up!

National Bike Challenge Wrap-Up

From the website: “12 million total miles were achieved on the final day of the 2012 National Bike Challenge. What an exciting way to end what has been a great effort by a community of over 30,000 riders!”

Raw Numbers (at the time of this writing):

Rider Goal = 50,000 Achieved = 30,371 Result = -19,629

Mile Goal = 10 million Achieved = 12,003,584 Result = + 2,003,584!

The mileage attained surpassed the stated goal by over 2 million miles with over 19 and a half thousand less riders which is awesome. Breaking it down (miles/riders) it works out to roughly 395 miles per rider – well done!

Here’s the top 10 latest standings:

Top 10 States / Points Top 10 Companies / Points
1 – Vermont      / 337.91
2 – Wisconsin    / 212.97
3 – Nebraska    / 191.92
4 – WashDC      / 67.99
5 – Colorado     / 57.48
6 – Iowa           / 50.23
7 – Pennsylvania/ 30.58
8 – Ohio            / 25.81
9 – Kansas        / 24.48
10 – Indiana      / 24.42
1 Trek Bicycle Corp   / 213198
2 Kimberly-Clark Corporation / 198500
3 Retired / 107212
4 American Electric Power / 63277
5 Ingersoll Rand / 51297
6 Texas Instruments / 49591
7 Oshkosh Corporation /
8 NW Mutual / 42585
9 U of W – Madison / 34139
10 Self Employed / 28807

California wound up in 40th place with 4.85 “points” a far cry from where we started out in May at 28th. Ridership grew to 1,553 riders covering 488,719 miles

Here’s the top 10 standings for the state:
Rank   Name                            Distance         Points – County
  1. Antonio Dimatteo    5,063 miles  – 1864p – Ventura
  2. Ken Walker                  4,645 miles – 1735p – Sacramento
  3. Wayne Stetina            3,307 miles – 1499 p – Orange
  4. William Hunt              3,924 miles – 1492 p – Orange
  5. Jeff Shein                     3,492 miles – 1477 p – Orange
  6. Terry Koberstein      2,810 miles – 1475 p – Alameda
  7. Ben Arguilla                3,568 miles – 1420 p – San Diego
  8. Jeffrey Driskell          3,239 miles – 1404 p – Santa Clara
  9. Greg Kline                    3,492 miles – 1389 p – Orange
  10. Jim Alejandre             3,618 miles – 1376 p – Los Angeles

The County of Orange was well represented, thanks guys!

Thanks to all the riders – see you next May?

RAAM 2012 Done

RAAM 2012 In the Books

All teams have completed the course and are headed home.

Congratulations to all who stepped up to the line in Oceanside for this year’s edition of the Race Across America.

We are sorry for those who were unable to complete this grueling and challenging event, yet you still should stand tall and proud knowing that you gave it your all, and your best effort. Although the fickle finger of fate did not point in your favor this time, the experience you have gained will last forever, and there’s always next year!

Joan Deitchman (<50, CAN) finished just 1 hour ahead of  Janet Christiansen (50+, USA) at which just goes to show what a difference a .04 mph difference across 3,000 miles. Well, OK, 2993.24 to be exact, but what a race those last few miles must have been! It looked like Janet was gaining steady on Joan and was actually predicted to arrive 2 hours before Joan. Maybe there was a mechanical, or Joan poured on the coals during the last few miles to hold Janet at bay.

Well done ladies! We armchair cyclists were on the edge of our armchair saddles watching your progress across the country, along with other exciting duels in the course of the race.

John Williams (of San Clemente Cyclery) and his mixed team (60+, USA), Team Kinema, finished in 8 days, 18 hours, and 48 minutes with an average speed of 14.2 mph. Yay! Proving once again that age is just a number, you’re all an inspiration to Dad’s looking at their bike hanging in the rafters asking, “what if”?

To all the “youngsters” still in school: if you do nothing else in life, you have done this, the toughest cycling race on Earth, and having done it, you now know that there is nothing you can’t do on the bike or off it.

Best of luck in your future endeavors, and perhaps I’ll get to write about one of you setting a new RAAM record soon!

Solo results are here, while the team results are here.

All for now, see you next year?