Cycling For Change From Tokyo To Tohoku

The Knights In White Lycra

What one growing group of enthusiasts is doing to help the still struggling Tohoku region — while staying fit.

When I first heard that a handful of men were planning to cycle 330 km north of Tokyo to Minamisoma in Fukushima, I thought they were out of their minds. But little did I know that I would soon be cycling along them, and not only 330 km, but a whopping 530. Here’s how it all began.

Fit And Firm: The Beginning

The Knights in White Lycra is a small (though constantly growing) Tokyo-based group of men and women who are supporting a cause that gives back to the society that many of us call home. They cycle hundreds of kilometers up north to Tohoku every year to raise funds for a designated charity or organization that supports a clause they believe in.

It all started back in 2011 in the wake of the March 11 disaster that shook Japan to its core. British expats Rob Williams and Nick Rees set in motion the wheels to “give back and get fit” — they needed to lose some weight and Tohoku needed help, so it only made sense to them to do something that could benefit both. So in 2013, ten British men rode 330 km over three days to Minamisoma, Fukushima in support of the Save Minamisoma Project, raising a total sum of ¥2.7 million — and they haven’t stopped ever since.

The group’s name was established after deliberating over pints that lead to a karaoke session. Someone punched in The Moody Blues 1967 hit single “Nights in White Satin,” and there was no turning back.

Going Strong

Following their initial success, in 2014, 20 cyclists took to the streets cruising 500 km north to Minamisanriku, Miyagi on behalf of OGA for Aid. In the mix was the first female knight Angela Ortiz, who is the executive director of the non-profit organization. The ¥5.5 million raised, helped to build a small vegetable-processing factory that to this day supplies employment to the town and is a mark of achievement for the Knights.
2015 proved to be a success yet again, with 520 km under their belts and ¥7.4 million raised after 26 riders from seven different countries pushed forward to the same devastated town of Minamisanriku for OGA’s “Place to Grow” project. This program went on to educate local children in the agricultural industry. Among the brave 26 cyclists was the Deputy Head of Mission to the British Embassy, Julia Longbottom, and the group’s first three Japanese cyclists to join the fray. I did my humble part that year and sat in one of the support vehicles, taking photographs of the Knights in (white?) Lycra as they zoomed past.

In 2016 I, along with 41 others from ten countries and spanning four decades in age, were persuaded to cycle 530 km up to Ichinoseki, Iwate. Even though we were supporting an amazing charity, Mirai no Mori, it took my partner (a knightly veteran of 4 years) several days to coax me into thinking I could even attempt such a feat. But I’m glad I did. There were so many smiles and looks of appreciation from the children we were cycling (and in pain) for.

The group had many “firsts” that year. Among them was its oldest Knight (who is cycling again) of 62, its first ¥10 million in KIWL (Knights in White Lycra) history, and a hobby cyclist who flew in from the U.K. especially to participate. As of date, the Knights have given over ¥30 million to several community projects and NPOs.

This year, the group will cycle 550 km in the hopes of raising ¥7 million to support the non-profit organization called Mirai no Mori, which offers empowerment to abused, neglected and orphaned children of Japan through outdoor adventures and life changing experiences.

Fundraising Activities & Participation Ops

Apart from the annual trek north, the group organizes regular fundraising events throughout the year in support of the annual event and other causes. Among them are a 24-hour relay where you can choose to walk, skip, jog, or cycle around the Imperial Palace; pub quizzes, wine tasting, pizza and craft beer nights and other events that help bring the community together both for the fun and in support. The pub quiz in March, for example, raised ¥300,000 with over 100 attendees, while the 24-hour fun ride in April raised over ¥500,000 for Mirai no Mori.

On Sunday (14th May) from 6:30 pm, the Knights will be hosting its final fundraiser before the long journey to Ichinoseki at the end of this month. Everyone is welcome to participate — bring your family and friends to What the Dickens in Ebisu for a night of music, dancing and fun. Tickets cost ¥2,000 in advance and ¥2,500 at the door. 

There are many ways to become involved and support the group, too — from corporate sponsorship and individual donations for different causes, to sponsor the riders directly — starting from just ¥1,000. And of course, you can also become a rider yourself and join the team — but you need the know that it comes with a lot of responsibilities, training, determination and things to do (including fundraising). If you’re interested in joining in from next year, contact the group directly from their website.

Meanwhile, keep an eye on the Knights and stay tuned for more information!