Kinship. Camaraderie. A connection. So much of our motivation to ride can be traced to a desire to form meaningful relationships with other humans. We're all searching to feel like we belong, and we ride because it helps us find 'our people.'

Our dirt companions often change over the years—full-day missions shared with a group of buddies untethered of responsibilities and unbound by time constraints are eventually replaced by laps with the kids at the neighborhood pumptrack or a stolen hour at dusk with a co-worker—but it all means the same thing: Miles pedaled together equate to lasting bonds.

Photo: Ale Di Lullo

This issue is devoted to stories that convey these connections, and we chose an unconventional cover image to present it, simply because Ale Di Lullo's shot from Royal Fest so perfectly embodies that moment of pure enjoyment that we all crave from this sport: carefree, in the woods, with our buddies. And no better event than Fest Series—a series created by riders to promote camaraderie over competition—to express this feeling.

One of the truest examples of the bonds created by dirt is the decades-long friendship between Mattias Fredriksson, one of Bike's senior photographers, and his steadfast subject, Janne Tjärnström. The duo's work has resulted in dozens of magazine covers and thousands of published images, many of which have graced the pages of Bike. The Swedes met by chance, but stayed close by choice, and their shared vision for how to portray our sport has inspired scores of riders. But while Tjärnström has appeared in more images than most riders who get paid to show up in photos, he's relatively unknown. In "Hidden Talent" writer Tobias Liljeroth sheds light on the man in front of the lens, but also on the friendship that put him there. 

Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

And halfway across the world, an eclectic crew has banded together in Toronto due to their dedication to a handbuilt trail network tucked away in the bowels of the busy city of 6 million people. Writer Devon O'Neil and senior photographer Bruno Long embedded with the 'Don Vivants' last fall, and chronicle the allure of the underground scene within the pages of the September issue. Similarly, in a remote corner of California's Sierra range, two childhood friends whose adult lives have diverged, come together to celebrate the trails that formed their relationship, both with bikes and each other. Writer Kurt Gensheimer and photographer Abner Kingman report from the tiny enclave of Bear Valley.

Photos: Bruno Long

The pull to connect over a shared passion is the reason why columnist Kristin Butcher said 'yes' to a ridiculously grueling day in southern Utah's La Sal mountains, the agony and triumph of which she details in "Butcher Paper." It was a day that would've been taxing before tacking on that extra 5,000-foot-climb. But where's the story in that? After all, we all yearn to find those people who we can look back with now and laugh about what nearly broke us then. Because what else are friends for?