NPO May / June 2022

Cyclists United

KIWL and Custom Media make perfect partners

KIWL founder Rob Williams (4th left) and other riders have raised ¥100mn.

As a member of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) virtually since the Edo period, I have always looked forward to my monthly dose of BCCJ ACUMEN. Having watched it grow into a high quality, informative and entertaining read, its arrival at my office immediately heralded the brewing of a PG Tips, feet flung firmly on the desk (with my shoes on, because I can), and a 30-minute indulgence in all things UK–Japan.

I often keep my ACUMEN copies, although who would have thought that in 2022 people still collect magazines? Well, there is a reason, apart from the useful news, articles, and contacts it has that one can refer to months later. For me, there is a sentiment behind retaining them. 

Founding KIWL

After the 3/11 triple disaster, many will know that, with a few beer-bellied British middle-aged men, I formed a cycling group called the Knights in White Lycra (KIWL), inspired by an ancient hit song, “Nights in White Satin”, by The Moody Blues. I still have the BCCJ ACUMEN edition in which KIWL first appeared in March 2013, a month before 10 dangerously overweight British men navigated their inaugural 330km cycle ride from Tokyo to the devastated coastal town of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, to raise money for essential supplies for those in temporary housing. 

That first fateful tour of Tohoku in April 2013 had to be abandoned just before we reached our destination because of a local blizzard—the first in 40 years. The day before, we had been climbing a massive mountain when one of our riders, wearing a high vis jacket and Lycra, was chased by a justifiably intimidated black labrador. Mad Dogs and Englishmen? Well, the rider has not beaten that personal best since. 

We eventually completed our first mission and, buoyed by the euphoria of having achieved what we thought was a one-off physical feat, together with the fulfilment of meeting the indebted survivors, it was decided to arrange an annual bike ride. The event not only grew from 10 to 45 participants in 2022, but it was the inspiration for what KIWL has become today.

We have had some distinguished riders in our peloton—most notably our current British Ambassador to Japan, Julia Longbottom CMG. In 2015, she made the 520km ride from Tokyo to Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, look like a pedal in Yoyogi Park. BBC World TV Correspondent Rupert Wingfield-Hayes also graced us and put many to shame with his cycling abilities. In the same year, I received the BCCJ Person of the Year award, something I was especially humbled by as it was a member vote, as well as an endorsement of the money raised for community projects in Japan by all KIWL members.

Joyful partners

In 2021, BCCJ ACUMEN covered the story of one of our riders, Greg Brutus, the son of a former political prisoner in South Africa who shared a cell with Nelson Mandela. Greg was whisked away to the UK at a very early age and developed a quintessential British accent, without forgetting his roots and the struggle his father had to endure during apartheid. Fascinating lives for father and son.

Flicking through my library of BCCJ ACUMENs dating back to 2013, I take quiet pride in how my body shape has loosely chiseled itself into something resembling a cyclist by keeping up this ridiculous annual 500km cycle ride to far flung parts of Japan. 

This year’s ride (9–12 June) includes male and female cyclists from 13 countries spanning four decades, attempting to ride from Tokyo to Kanazawa.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge the publishers of the most excellent BCCJ ACUMEN, BCCJ member company Custom Media, and its leaders Simon Farrell and Robert Heldt. They seemed to embrace KIWL’s mission when we first crowbarred ourselves into horrifically honest spandex and, ever since, have been the most generous of KIWL sponsors. Not only have they given us a platform through BCCJ ACUMEN to get our message out, but they also produce our annual KIWL video pro bono, which encourages others to get fit and give back through various sporting events we now host. Their support and that of many other BCCJ member firms this year has enabled KIWL to exceed ¥100mn in money raised for marginalised families and children since our humble beginnings. 

That was something quite unimaginable when we first turned our pedals on Nihombashi Bridge in April 2013, fiercely chased by a determined salaryman on his mamachari as we set off. 

What have I learned leading KIWL? That gathering a group of like-minded people with a desire to get fit and give back can have extraordinarily beneficial consequences for those in need. Oh, and NEVER allow a man to wear White Lycra—it’s just a name, don’t try it at home ladies and gentlemen. You cannot unsee it!