Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cycle killers, qu'est-ce que c'est?

I couldn't make yesterday's Tour du Danger, the mass bike ride that took in London's most perilous junctions. It was, by all accounts, a chance for two-wheelers to stick up two spokes to those authorities making the city's streets less – rather than more – safe for cycling.

Several hundred cyclists rode through the capital to call on Transport for London to redesign the most dangerous roads, and to do so quickly to prevent any more deaths. Cycling fatalities this year already stand at 15 - and the latest TfL figures show an eight per cent rise in cycling casualties, despite a decline among other road users.

In the past three weeks alone, two cyclists have been killed while riding on roads that will form part of the London 2012 Olympic cycle route.

Last month, Brian Dorling, a 58-year-old cyclist, became the first to be killed on one of Boris Johnson's flagship cycle superhighways when he was involved in a collision with a tipper truck at the Bow Flyover roundabout.

On Friday, a 34-year-old woman became the capital's 15th casualty this year when was crushed by a lorry on the same superhighway, the CS2, on the westbound carriageway at the Bow Road roundabout. The mayor had been asked to do something about safety at this now notorious blackspot at a London Assembly meeting just days earlier.

I for one hate riding on the blue superhighways: the painted lane always *looks* dangerously slippery even before a rush-hour downpour - I thought I'd offer a few ideas for the mayor and TfL to do to help prevent cyclist deaths.

1. Redesign bad junctions. It's particularly poor that the citywide street "improvement" programme that's carving up roads to make them ready for the "greenest Olympics ever" seems to be putting motorists' needs ahead of cyclists. Why else increase the speed limit over Blackfriars Bridge from 20mph to 30mph if not to give somewhere in town for drivers to put their foot down?

2. Remind cyclists is okay to ride like a motorist. Don't cycle in the gutters, or in those cycle lanes that stop suddenly or make you weave into the path of traffic put you in danger. Move away from the kerb. Hog the road if you have to. The lane is as much yours as it is the angry driver trying to overtake you.

3. Re-educate (educate?) drivers and motorcyclists that they should keep out of the Advanced Stop zones at the front of traffic at lights. Such provisions are there to give cyclists a sporting a chance of pedalling off without being crushed; they're a traffic-calmer, too. Cyclists can stick together by aligning themselves in such a way as to keep motorised vehicles out, and take snaps of offenders' number plates and post them online at My Bike Lane - it's a brilliant site, and also good for naming and shaming those who park in cycle lanes.

(What have I missed?)

And if they don't listen, let's protest again (as Chubby Checker almost sang). Or get people in higher places to. With the Barclays-sponsored cycle superhighways now being talked about as deathtraps, it might be ready to flex its muscle at the LGA before its name is linked with any more fatalities. Anyone got an email for the chairman?

UPDATE: there's a handy, at-a-glance graph that shows how London roads are becoming more dangerous for cyclists, here.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Are you man enough for yoga?

Here's something I wrote about losing my yoga virginity, for The Sunday Telegraph. Bring on the sarky comments...

How hard can it be to join generation flex?
Matt Julian (right), of The Third Space fitness club in Soho shows me how

Are you one of the estimated tens of thousands of men in the UK who have discovered the wonders of yoga? No, me neither. I don’t know my asana from my elbow – but lately it seems as though everybody else does.

Even footballers; Ryan Giggs was so pleased that downward dogging helped him become one of the oldest players in the Premiership, he released a “yoga for men” DVD. Leading sportsmen, from Andy Murray and Evander Holyfield to the entire New Zealand All Blacks, rave about how yoga tones muscle, improves flexibility and increases endurance.

According to the current issue of Men’s Health, one pose in particular – vipareeta karani, or the legs-up-a-wall shoulder stand to those who don’t speak Sanskrit – can even halt hair loss.

And yet despite all the chatter, it still seems irredeemably… girly.

Not any more. James Muthana, founder of, which offers tailored sessions in the workplace, says that the gender balance of his classes has recently reversed. Men now regularly outnumber the women.

“Yoga is no longer the preserve of the hippy-dippy stereotype. The men we teach fit a common profile: they’re between 30 and 40, work in the City, and do two or three sessions a week to maintain peak condition for their main sport, be it rugby, football, running or triathlons. They’ve realised that yoga is great for keeping trim, sculpting the abs, as well as providing that calm but focussed mental attitude that’s useful at work and play. They’re not looking to find themselves. They see yoga as part of their general conditioning.”

But the hardest part, says James, is getting blokes into the class. “I just remind them they’re going into a relaxed environment with a large number of 20- to 40-year-old women who look after themselves. It’s quite an attractive proposition.”

As a yoga virgin, I head to The Third Space fitness club in central London for a taster session. Matt Julian, general manager and its yoga and pilates instructor, agrees that yoga is no longer the preserve of the fairer sex – if it ever was.

“Originally, women weren’t allowed to do yoga,” he says. “For blokes, it’s more a case of asking yourself: are you man enough? There are plenty of moves that men are better at than women – such as this.” He drops to the floor, into a squat, and performs a mini handstand – the Crow. It looks like he could be armwrestling himself. Can yoga get much more manly than that?

Matt, who did his first sun saluation four years ago – “when I could barely touch my toes” – now has the zeal of a convert. He finds at least ten minutes a day to practice his asanas, the various positions that go together to make up a routine. Given there are dozens, if not hundreds, of variants, recommends a beginner like me might benefit from vinyasa flow, a dynamic power yoga based on a series of key poses that you combine into circuits. Repeat until exhausted.

How hard can it be to join generation flex? It’s tougher on the ego than the muscles, says Matt. “Guys don’t like feeling like the worst in the class. Yoga’s not conventionally competitive, but you are competing with yourself to maintain your breathing and your pose.”

Matt shows me a few key moves – the ‘Sun Salutation’, ‘Downward Dog’ and ‘Warrior’ – all of which have Sanskrit names that I promptly forget, and require strength and that you breathe in and out through the nose, “like Darth Vader”. I can do that.

To my surprise, I can also do some of the stretches and hold some of the trickier poses (ta-dah, bending-over-backwards ‘Bridge’!). I can almost keep up with Matt’s everchanging flow of contortions, too. It’s aerobics meets Twister.

“Can you feel the heat building up and a sweat coming on?” he asks. We’re only a minute in, and I am already dripping wet. For such a gentle and deceptively simple circuit workout, I feel a furnace-like glow at the end. But it’s the following day that I really feel the benefit – or, rather, a dull ache all over, and stiffness in muscles that haven’t been used for ages.

If I could just get the hang of a few poses – and the correct places to breathe – I can see myself doing a ten-minute session on the yoga mat every so often, before work or after a gym workout. I feel myself going native.

“Good,” says Matt. “The world would be a better place if more men did yoga.”

* The Third Space (13 Sherwood Street, W1F, 020 7439 6333,;

* The photographs were taken by the remarkable Clapton-based photographer, Rii Schroer. Cheers, mate. Check out her amazing portfolio here.