Charity June 2017

Taking it up a gear

How the Knights in White Lycra climb to ever-greater heights

This May, the Knights in White Lycra (KIWL) completed their fifth long-distance bike ride from Tokyo to the Tohoku region raising money in aid of a charitable cause.

For the second year running, KIWL were raising money for Mirai no Mori, a Japanese non-profit organisation that provides life-changing mentoring programmes for orphaned, abused and neglected children who live in Japanese care homes. These programs are based around a series of summer and winter camps that are designed to give the children greater self-confidence and teach them extra life skills that will stand them in good stead when they have to leave the care homes at age 18.

KIWL first rode out in 2013—a 10-strong group of British men assembled by founder Rob Williams. The group cycled 300km from Tokyo to Minamisoma, a town that had been devastated in the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. The ride actually had to be abandoned on the fourth day, due to unseasonal snow; however, the riders did go back and complete the task two weeks later, their efforts raising ¥2.7mn.

In 2014, a 20-strong group cycled 450km from Tokyo to the seaside town of Minamisanriku in Miyagi Prefecture, to raise money for OGA for Aid, a charity that funds and organizes small-scale reconstruction projects in the town, which lost more than 200 of its inhabitants in the 2011 tsunami. This effort raised ¥5.5mn. The following year, 27 riders repeated this journey, raising ¥7.4mn for the same cause.

By 2016, the group had grown to 42 riders (including four women), 31 of whom were first-time participants. Mirai no Mori was adopted as the beneficiary of the fundraising—which would top ¥10mn by the end of the year—and the route took the cyclists 550 km, from Tokyo to Ichinoseki.

The 2017 Knights have once again been raising money for Mirai no Mori’s children’s programmes, and the May ride was again from Tokyo to Ichinoseki; however, this year’s route was significantly more challenging than last year’s—an inland course with punishing climbs on three out of the four days. In keeping with the greater physical and technical rigours of the ride, the cyclists were also accompanied by more support vehicles and personnel than in previous years.

This year’s 40 riders departed from Ueno Park at 7am on the wet and gloomy morning of 25 May. The first day consisted of a relatively flat 155km run that started out by following the Ara river, before turning north to Kinugawa Onsen in Tochigi Prefecture, just beyond the historic town of Nikko. Day two started in similarly poor weather, with 40km of hard climbing. The weather soon improved and the terrain grew flatter, although one unfortunate rider crashed badly and suffered a broken collarbone, which forced him to abandon the ride. Having completed the day’s 150km, the party spent the second night at Kitakata Atsushio Onsen in Fukushima Prefecture. Day three dawned brighter than the first two, and began and ended with about 20km of steady climbing (out of a total distance of 140km). The third night was spent in picturesque Obanazawa in Yamagata Prefecture, with snow-capped mountains off in the distance.

The group was up and off early on day four, as there was an important rendezvous to keep. After a relatively dry and uneventful 110km run to Ichinoseki in Iwate Prefecture—which included a steep 10km climb early on, followed by a couple of shorter ones near the end—the Knights reached the official end of the ride at the Itsushien spa hotel. The entire group then formed up and rode through the town to one of the care homes where some of the children benefitting from the Mirai no Mori programmes live. Here, the riders spent a delightful hour or so chatting, playing and singing with these inspirational children—a fitting conclusion to an arduous, but ultimately rewarding, four days of physical exertion.

As of this writing, the 2017 Knights have raised almost ¥11mn in sponsorship for Mirai no Mori and the disadvantaged children whom they support, with high hopes of still more donations to come. In the larger scheme of things, KIWL continue to hone their sporting and fundraising operations with the goal of pushing the envelope still further in the years to come.