There's been a bit of a brouhaha brewing over at Consider Biking regarding the Monday Night Ride, a regular Critical Mass-type ride that takes place late nights on Mondays. It's a social ride, but there are complaints about some of the riders and ride leaders being drunk, stoned, and not following traffic laws.
Fellow Columbus bike blogger Doug Morgan addressed this problem with some comments. And they were great comments, especially about the comparison of soccer hooligans to the MNR.
As many of you know, before I was a bike advocate, I was a soccer fan. And soccer fans and bike advocates have a lot in common, as he's pointed out.
Back around the time that the US national team was qualifying for the World Cup (2000, 2001) there was a group of US fans who was outraged at the foul treatment that the US national team received when playing in Mexico and Central America, particularly during qualifying matches. The gamut ran from batteries and bags of urine being thrown at the team to harassment on the team bus to loud music being played all night outside the team hotel. Many players feared for their safety at times.
This group of "fans," who called themselves "Project Mayhem" after the anarchist group in the movie Fight Club, took it upon themselves to try to give the opposing players who came to the US a bit of the same treatment. Now they didn't stoop to pee-bags or anything like that, but the most infamous incident happened when the Costa Rican team was arriving in Columbus in 2000 and this group of "fans" met them at Port Columbus with jeers, shouting, and racial epithets. I wrote an article about this event when I used to write for the Crew's official website, and found a copy of the article at archive.org if you're interested.
There were two effects here - and neither was upon the Costa Rican team, who shrugged it off and got their bags and moved on. One, anyone else in the airport who didn't know about the game or the history of poor treatment that US players got in Costa Rica and elsewhere was turned off by soccer, which already suffered (suffers?) from a hooligan image. Second, a rather large schism grew in the US fan base between those who were appalled at the group's actions and the small but vocal minority who loved it.
Both effects damaged soccer in this city, at least, for a long time, and in this country for a bit longer. There are still individuals in the US team fan base who think this sort of thing is necessary to give the US an advantage when playing at home, which is sad.
Compare this to the impressions left by Monday Night Riders who do engage in such behavior. Is it creating a schism in the Columbus cycling community to support such actions, particularly when so many people (like CB) are trying very hard to create support for cycling against the odds? And is the MNR damaging the work that CB has done to fight negative stereotypes of cyclists on the road?
The second is definitely happening. The first... well, I certainly hope it's not. And right now the discussion over at the CB forums is pretty tame and civil. But I've seen this sort of thing get out of control before... I'd hate to see it happen again and with a more important topic.
I mean, soccer's just a game. Bicycling as transportation has the potential to help transform our society.
People, not speed.