Each year a ragtag group of cyclists take to the open road, heading to the deep north towards Tohoku’s vast rice fields and coastal trails. Every collective crank of their bicycles helps transform the lives of neglected children through Mirai no Mori, a non-profit organization that creates life-changing outdoor programs for abused and orphaned children in Japan. It’s this commitment to making a difference that keeps these noble riders pushing toward their goal and 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of their first campaign.
Many great adventures are planned in a pub. Most don’t see the light of day but the Knights in White Lycra (KIWL) are the exception.
“A few friends and I gathered in a pub, thinking what we could do to get rid of our beer bellies,” laughs co-founder Rob Williams. That’s when cycling came to mind. “We bought bikes, and then thought, let’s do something good with these things.”
“The tsunami devastation (from the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011) was still fresh in our minds and we wanted to help the communities up in Tohoku,” he adds.
In 2013, they put a plan in motion and cycled 330 kilometers to Minamisoma, one of the coastal towns devastated by the disaster and raised ¥2.7 million for those placed in temporary accommodation.
“I didn’t think I could ride 300 kilometers over three days and that feeling of accomplishment was amazing,” remembers Rob. “We then met the survivors of the tsunami and that really resonated with us.”
Over a decade, the humble group of ten avid cyclists has grown to 45, an international group from all walks of life.
“We have to cap it as the accommodation and support crew can only handle so much. Every year we have so many applicants—we’re booked out!” Rob marvels. “Cycling in Japan is fantastic—the roads are in great condition, drivers are generally courteous and the scenery is beautiful especially Matsushima Bay and Mt. Bandai.”
2016 marked KIWL’s first ride for Mirai no Mori, which has ties with Iwate Prefecture thereby aligning with KIWL’s focus on Tohoku. This year for the first time one of the children who was formerly in care joined the annual KIWL ride.
“She’s 21 now, and volunteers at Mirai no Mori summer camp as it made such an impact on her life,” says Rob.
KIWL’s major event is their annual 500-kilometer cycle spanning four days in Tohoku, usually in early June. In October, during cycling month, KIWL encourages individuals to ride 500 kilometers individually over the course of a month and track their progress through the Strava app. They also host KIWL Lite, which is half the distance and time from the annual ride. It’s held over a weekend and recommended for amateur riders getting into road cycling. Other events include pub quiz nights, running and walking challenges, golf days and futsal tournaments. This year alone, KIWL raised an impressive ¥14.7 million in just half a year, plus they’ve attracted more sponsors, riders and female riders than they’ve ever had.
“It’s a great way to celebrate our 10th anniversary,” says Rob.
Embracing the spirit of adventure and the power of community, the Knights continue to pedal with purpose, knowing that each mile brings joy, growth and endless possibilities to those who need it most.