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Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011, a few British men—plump men, as they described themselves at the time—were sitting in a Tokyo pub when the classic Moody Blues hit “Nights in White Satin” began to play. As they were discussing how they might get fit and also help those affected by the disasters, they decided to form a cycling group and adopted the title of that song as its name—adding a dash of chivalry—to create the Knights in White Lycra (KIWL).

Among them was Rob Williams, senior investment adviser at AP Advisers Limited. The ACCJ Journal asked the KIWL chair and co-founder for a brief history of the group and about this year’s special plans.

FIRST RIDE
Ten men cycled 330 kilometers to Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, for the initial trip, in 2013, and raised ¥2.7 million for the Save Minamisoma Project, helping those in temporary housing, Williams recalled.

That first outing inspired another, and another, until KIWL became an important partner for groups needing to raise funds.

The journey became an annual event, and last year 42 riders completed a grueling ride along a different route that raised a KIWL record ¥14.5 million for YouMeWe NPO, which also received support from the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) through funds raised at the 2019 ACCJ Charity Ball. Since its start, KIWL has raised ¥73.5 million for disadvantaged children in Japan.

DIVERSE GROUP
As KIWL has grown over the years, it has become more diverse. This year, 43 riders—both male and female ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties—will make the trip.

Ability levels differ, too. “Fifteen of those riders are attempt­ing the KIWL 500 for the first time, and seven are taking up cycling just to do it! Seven Americans are joining the many British cyclists, and 12 countries are represented overall, including Turkey, Spain, Serbia, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, Germany, Australia, and, of course, Japan,” Williams said.

ISLAND TRIP
This year’s ride will include KIWL’s first visit to Sado Island. “We heard it is a beautiful place to cycle, and we always like to vary the route and experience so that riders are attracted to return each year,” Williams explained. “We have had to use trains and automobiles on previous rides, but as we cannot afford a plane, we thought we would book a ferry instead!”

Having heard stories of the stunning natural beauty of the coastal landscape, KIWL knew that Sado Island would be a perfect addition to this year’s route. The group will spend the second of four days there.

“The entire coastal road can be cycled in a day by more advanced riders, so it is a good workout. And the fairly gentle undulations of the road offer everyone a good, challenging ride that is not too severe,” said Williams.

The residents of Sado Island are known for being very welcoming, but Williams wonders what they will think about 43 spandex-clad foreigners descending on their island in June. “It may mean they all run for the hills,” Williams said with a laugh. “But before they do so, we hope they will flag us down along the route and offer us their local delicacies. Unfortunately, the local sake will have to wait until we finish our day’s cycling!”

THE REST OF THE JOURNEY
The KIWL route varies from year to year, and a visit to Sado Island isn’t the only change for 2020.

“This year is different again. We used to start from Tokyo, but because of the mundane nature of the ride through the Kanto plain, we decided to begin further north,” Williams explained. “This year, we start from the ski resort of Echigo Yuzawa, in Niigata Prefecture, which is surprisingly only a one-hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo. It is just as beautiful in summer.”

The first day’s ride from Yuzawa to the city of Niigata will wow cyclists with magnificent scenery as they ride through a valley lined on both sides with breathtaking mountain ranges, then on a riverside path that leads up towards the Sea of Japan.

KIWL will then move to Sado Island for the second day, and the third will take them inland to the east, over the spine of the country to Yamagata Prefecture and the lovely city of the same name, where many of the older buildings are preserved and newer ones are designed and constructed to blend in.

“Our last day takes us to Sendai, which we have visited on a few occasions during previous KIWL 500 rides. We are hoping the coastal areas will largely be repaired and rebuilt, and we don’t have to again witness the results of nature’s force at its worst,” said Williams. “Overall, it is a very challenging ride, but one which should leave us with lifelong memories—especially those created at the end, when we visit the care facility and meet the children for whom we are raising funds.”

GET INVOLVED
KIWL welcomes people of any age and ability with the desire to get fit and give back to join them in empowering fragile children to become successful young adults who also contribute to their communities. If you are interested in cycling visit www.kiwl.net. You can also make a direct donation to YouMeWe at youmewenpo.org/donate and arrange to volunteer time by contacting founder Michael Clemons at michael@youmewenpo.org

Christopher Bryan Jones is Editor-in-Chief of The ACCJ Journal. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, he has lived in Japan since 1997.