As a kid growing up in the city of Chicago, we all had bikes in some form of disrepair. We cruised sidewalks, dangerously swerved through streets with one kid perched on the handlebars and another dangling off the back of the banana seat, careening around parked car doors opened into our paths. We had a door stashed behind the manicured bushes and pulled it out for jumps, stacking old tires beneath one end.I found the bike faster than the bus once I was old enough to visit friends across the city. In summer we would ride to the beach in the Indiana Dunes, witnessing each other’s terrific crashes involving sand at high speed or maybe even toes “accidentally” stopping the front wheel in an immediate fashion, resulting in a bloody endo.Once I discovered mountain biking, the wrecks became a badge of honor due to a constant pushing of limits in situations with steep learning curves. “Chasing boys” is what I called it. It was simply a matter of keeping up and not realizing what I “couldn’t” yet do. I might not be able to clean that rock garden or land that drop today, but I never stopped believing that I could. My older sister, who had no idea what kind of rider I had evolved into and had explored beyond the city street said, “Yeah, you were never very good on a bike.”Getting back on the bike after an illness, a new job, or having babies taught me humility and compassion for myself. I had to fight down the regurgitated acid of what I “used to be able to do,” staring down at a soft belly and fumbling legs while my friends looked back, grinning.The first time I watched my boys pull away from me, begging for me not to let go, knowing that releasing the back of that saddle was going to be the beginning of a lifetime of letting go, tears choked my words of encouragement. “What’s wrong with you, mommy?”Each time I meet a new person who rides I’m amazed at what a bike can do for them. This machine, with a chain, is the most efficient of means, designed to work with you. The simplicity of being self-sufficient and exploring the edges. It’s inspiring. It’s freeing. It dulls the pain of a broken heart. It fills the soul with potential for the next beautiful thing. It’s a meditation.ED WHITINGAge: 79 / Hometown: Farragut, Tenn.Favorite ride: The one about 40 years ago when my wife convinced me to ride 200 miles across the middle of Illinois. I was so happy to get done. Although that was before I was a serious biker.I used to run, but when that hurt my feet, I dedicated myself back to the road bike. At 45, I retired from the Air Force. I’m so ancient that I flew B52s when they were brand new. I then worked in environmental research and development, always focusing on staying in shape. My wife, also in the Air Force, moved from bikes to yoga. I have no desire to twist my body up into those postures. I’ve been serious about keeping in shape. That’s the primary motivating factor to riding. I look forward to the bike, but have trained myself to “have to” do it. That’s part of it.Cycling vacations became a thing of the past, so now I do 30- to 60-mile loops from the house four times a week to keep fit. It takes me almost four hours to do 100 kilometers these days, but that’s what happens when you get old.I keep up with the Tour de France most years, but this year I seemed to have missed it. My wife forgot to remind me.It’s fun to be out in the fresh air and going around. On a bike, you get a lot of exercise in a hurry.DARBY WILCOXAge: 27 / Hometown: Greenville, S.C.Favorite ride: The huge hill on the back side of downtown Greenville that takes a bridge over the railroad tracks with a view of the city. But now that I’ve started mountain biking, I love Pisgah National Forest and DuPont.I commute to my sales job at the Great Escapes bike shop. My 6-year-old is not as willing to get stuffed in the trailer anymore, but my guitar doesn’t complain when I have a singing gig. I’m used to drivers giving me the stink-eye, but I chalk it up to jealousy as I enjoy the back roads and zipping past long lines of traffic.I like not needing a car, not dealing with parking, getting exercise, helping the environment, having fun getting to work, and the fact that it’s mind-clearing. Those first couple times were like a puke fest. It was horrible. But I’m stronger, and it’s getting easier. I like inspiring people to ride bikes.My boyfriend has helped me branch out beyond commuting, onto road rides, the woods, and my involvement with SORBA, which I love. I love the biking community – it’s awesome.I went on a three-day ride to Charleston in the Ride to Remember, raising awareness for Alzheimer’s. It was the camaraderie I appreciated most, and the powerful stories of those people’s experiences with the disease.MIKE SULEAge: 40 / Hometown: Asheville, N.C.Favorite ride: New Jersey to Quebec with three college friends. It rained absolutely every day. It was the most difficult and strenuous trip but the most fulfilling because of its challenges.I’m director and founder of Asheville on Bikes, which is a nonprofit focused on bike advocacy and education. I’ve always been an organizer of things, but more for fun and frolic. When I met legendary bike advocate Claudia Nix, she helped me understand there was a lot more to the cycling community. I didn’t think I would take the fun and frolic of Asheville and bring it to the advocacy that AOB has become, but I quit my job as an elementary school teacher to do this full-time.I simply love to ride and I have never been fond of urban car traffic. I’ve figured out how to incorporate what I love into the fabric of my everyday life. I haven’t had a car since 2005. Bike touring and commuting are what I do most.My first mountain bike in the sixth grade was a purple Coyote. We lived between a ski resort and a state park in the Pocono Mountains, so I learned the trail systems and was hooked. In college I couldn’t afford a car, so I rode.For years I’ve taken summer bike tours, Holland, Oregon-Washington, the Alleghenies, New Jersey to Quebec. A bike tour on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath sealed the deal with my now-wife, Emily. Bike touring is the best and worst of times so you really get a sense of your partner. A lot of success of being with someone is realizing where the comfort and misery meet—and how to read and communicate with your partner.ALLISON ARENSMANAge: 20 / Hometown: Valdese, N.C.Favorite ride: Highway 276 in Brevard up to the Blue Ridge Parkway where a gravel road spurs off for six miles. It never fails to amaze me to see what’s up there, and getting to come back down is even better.I was tricked into riding by my brother and dad. It looked like it hurt, and I didn’t want anything to do with it. Back then, riding 20 miles was just horrendous. I thought it was terrible. Cycling is a harsh sport without great rewards. You’re depending on the bike to work well too.This spring I stood at the top of the podium for the USA Cycling Collegiate Road Nationals in Richmond, Va., racing for Brevard College, where I study exercise science.In 2010, I caught the cyclocross bug. It was just fun. It’s just you, and the bike, in the mud. It’s like being a kid again. By the third cyclocross race, I was still trying to figure out which end was up. I kept crashing in the sand, but once I caught the girl in first going uphill I attacked and moved on. Next was the Olympic training center women’s cycling camp. I hope I get chosen for Europe.I like to explore and run errands commuter-style. It’s such a freeing thing—whether I’m training or riding easy. I feel like I can get away for a little while on the bike.BRUCE DICKMANAge: 45 / Hometown: Atlanta, Ga.Favorite Ride: The Millstone trails in Vermont with quarries, vast temperature variances, and technical features across 70 miles of single track.As a lad, I began on beach cruisers, evolving onto mountain bikes in 1994. I currently ride a carbon fiber hard tail and prefer the woods to road. I don’t wanna bounce on pavement. However, I did have a wreck in the woods which resulted in several back surgeries. Trees are troublesome. When you’re riding in good shape, and you know it, you ride really strong and you love getting out there. Struggling to get back in shape is an uphill battle and you know what you have to do to get there.The bike offers freedom, a chance to be in shape, not in shape, back in shape, repeat. My most memorable ride was from Atlanta to New York City with firefighters for the 10th anniversary for 9-11. It was 1,500 miles in 15 days, ending in a parting sea of applauding people. I hope to do that again one day.SUE HAYWOODAge: 42 / Hometown: Harrisonburg, Va.Favorite ride: Splash Dam trail in Davis, W.Va. It leaves from town, passes a cold spring, solid mile of technical rocks, and then winds along the banks of the Blackwater River, complete with mountain laurel, flame azalea, five varieties of ferns, and blueberries.I talked my dad into buying me a mountain bike in college for exploring and beer-drinking. I took that investment and went pro, not even knowing what that meant until I won the national championship while sponsored by Trek/VW and then got paid to race for the World Cup.Some of it is luck, some isn’t. Sometimes it’s easier for girls, because there are fewer, but we also didn’t get taken as seriously.My first rides involved chasing boys, crashing and figuring out where they went, only for them to take off as soon as I caught up. Now I race for fun. I love enduros, the technical long-distance rides. Now I teach clinics helping women tackle singletrack better.I’m a junkie for those flashes of adrenaline, like an electric pulse. I wouldn’t want it to be just fitness—or just scared all the time.My love of riding has evolved from getting faster, being just a job, fixing a broken leg, mending a broken heart, getting skinny, and now quality of life in the woods with friends. You can always get back to the bike. Although it hurts getting back, it will always take you back, and your friends are always there.REUBEN KLINEAge: 45 / Hometown: Frederick, Md.Favorite ride: Michaux State Forest, Pa., is my favorite racing circuit, but Spain and the Canary Islands aren’t bad.I grew up in the Pennsylvania Appalachians. Cycling has given me so much in life, including friends, an outlet, and mental and physical health. The energy that I’ve put into cycling has given back more than anything else I’ve done in life. Even a 20-mile ride you are ten miles away from any issues you have. You literally get to ride away from the stressful environment and let things go.I started mountain biking at 20 in Utah on a Giant Iguana before any kind of suspension. You felt like you were running a jackhammer. I’m now riding a Specialized S-Works Epic—the sweetest bike ever.I quit riding for a while until my close friends coerced me back on the bike at 30. It helped me through a lot of things. It’s a healthy addiction that fulfills. You go 100 miles and you’re in a completely different area and you see things differently from a bike.I started the Gran Fondo National Championship Series three years ago, to provide a cycling challenge for beginners as well as competitive types. It’s not necessarily a race. There are no start and end times, and riders are encouraged to stop at rest stations. The competitive types get their thrills in timed segments throughout the race. There are 30-, 60-, and 100-mile options. Everyone gets a finisher medal because it’s more like an accomplishment. How many people entering a marathon are about winning it? Same thing with Gran Fondo.CHAD PROSSERAge: 14 / Hometown: Youngstown, OhioFavorite ride: Daniel Dehrs Action Sports Complex, Holly Springs, N.C.I love to ride BMX bikes because it’s so fun, it’s different, and you have to push yourself. Nobody else can push you to do better.My parents always told me that they took my training wheels off when I was two years old, and I would ride around in my diaper. They support me, but my dad worries about me hurting myself. I broke my elbow during a jam when I was in the second grade. I cased on a quarter pipe, flipped over, and slammed my elbow. My dad was like, “I told you so,” and I was like, “whatever.”My 16-year-old neighbor took me around when I was 7 and taught me a lot of stuff. Once I knew where to go, my older sister and brothers would take me.My best tricks are a truck driver, where you kick it all the way around, and a tail whip, which is a 360 bar spin, where the bike spins around midair until you’re back on the pedals. I really want a flair—a 180 back flip. When you get a smooth take off, it feels like you’re soaring through the air, it’s amazing. But when you lift off and you already know it’s going bad, you get that face, and it’s scary, really scary. If I get mad or frustrated, I tell myself to have fun. Really that’s what it’s all about. I would like to compete on a professional level.FRED SCHULDTAge: 45 / Hometown: Asheville, N.C.Favorite trails: Coleman Boundary in Barnardsville, N.C.At 24, I got a Huffy from the Navy Exchange for transportation. Magazines indicated it was not a great bike to have. After a year, I tested an aluminum Trek mountain bike and was told to pay attention to the way it shifted, braked, and handled. I walked back bleeding down my face and bought it. I rode 4-5 times a week, obsessed. That’s how I am. My buddies always dropped me, but I dusted them on the climbs and started racing.After the Navy, I got a job at Hearn’s bike shop. I went to Bent Creek and threw my bike down in frustration because the climb never stopped. It just made me bitter and stronger. Mom took me to Turkey Pen, she on her horse. I loved being out that far in the woods. I couldn’t ride downhill and constantly got passed. It scared me, baffled me, I didn’t get it. So I got a downhill bike. Don’t get in the way of momentum is what I learned. Freeride happened after downhill. That was all about going bigger and figuring out how not to kill yourself. That weightlessness only lasts “that long,” so you wanna go bigger so it lasts longer. I opened Pro Bikes and after 8 years of running it, my avocation became a vocation. There’s not as much riding when you own a business.It’s pretty spiritual being connected to the earth through this mechanical, man-made thing. I liked sitting on Merrimon Avenue, looking at Mount Pisgah saying, I’m gonna ride there today—and then hours later, looking back at town.I’ve suffered a broken collar bone, a summer of sprained ankles learning to dirt jump, a ruptured spleen, a dislocated hip on a half-pipe, a smashed face when the head tube snapped, dropping me off a five-foot wall. If you don’t get injured once in a while, you’re not getting the full experience.MIKE THOMASAge: 28 / Hometown: Greensboro, N.C.Favorite trails: Beech Mountain and the Pisgah National forest in the Grandfather District. I’ve ridden all over the country. I’m always happy to be riding again in Pisgah with the creeks and the rhododendron.I got into mountain bikes when I was 16 as a way to train for motocross and then just kept doing it. Motorcycles are just not as convenient as mountain bikes. I started racing cross-country as a junior expert, and then as an adult expert, but now race downhill pro.I went to Appalachian State University, where I won two downhill national championships. For four years, I helped develop a bike park for visitors. I’ve had my own trail-building business, Terra Tek Trails, for two years. I now build trails for Beech Mountain and other places. I also do hiking trails and a lot for the US Forest Service. Downhill trails are the most fun to build.I love where I’m at right now. I’m super happy. Five years ago I would have never realized I could have a career like this. Riding bikes is just part of my life. I freak out if I don’t ride at least a couple times a week. I’m addicted to it. When you start getting better and faster, you go through a series of crashes, and I’ve had my share, including both collar bones in the same summer. But you’re also breaking through to the next level.ELIJAH FREESEAge: 11 / Hometown: Asheville, N.C.Favorite trail: Bent Creek, Upper ExplorerI like riding bikes because it’s healthy for your body and you get to know yourself better. I started riding a bike when I was 2. When I was 3, the Easter Bunny came and took my training wheels, so I learned to ride without them.When I was five, I did my first race on a velodrome and finished last. I thought I won because everybody was gone. When I was 8, I took second in the Carolina Mountain Bike League series.I’ve ridden in Utah, at Beech Mountain, and around town, but I love the woods best, in the middle of nowhere and all of the birds and animals I see. I especially like when it’s overcast and foggy, riding through dense evergreens. It’s cool—like a secret hideout. I like dirt jumps too, because you can get really big air. I do bike club at school. My mom takes us, so I get to ride with my friends. Otherwise mom takes me on trails she knows I can do. When I crash, she helps me do the section again to get better next time. My dad takes me on trails he does with his friends and says that I can do stuff that his friends can’t. Riding bikes makes me feel really happy, like I’ve accomplished something. I feel disappointed when I crash, but then I see what I could have done better.