Two weeks ago, on my 36th birthday (which was incidentally Mark Twain's 177th ), my thoughtful hubby, Dan, surprised me with a beautiful new bicycle . The bright blue, vintage-style Schwinn, which I found waiting for me in our courtyard, has fat tires, widely spaced handlebars, a roomy seat, an awesome headlight, a handy rear storage rack, vivid sunflowers all along the frame, and, thankfully, only one speed. As you might imagine from that description, it's girlie to the max! No wonder Schwinn calls it a “Slik Chik.” Of course, that doesn't refer to the “chick” riding it through the French Quarter. As many friends and relatives can attest, I'm not the most graceful individual, but so far, I have yet to experience a mishap on my new bike.
Although I was a little late in learning how to ride a bike as a child, biking has since become one of my favorite outdoor activities. While I particularly enjoy biking over the quiet hills and through the remote woods of northern Michigan every summer, I do find sharing the roads of New Orleans  with oodles of vehicles, pedestrians, and other cyclists to be an interesting challenge.
Of course, it's not always possible to bring your own bike with you wherever you travel. At such times, it's wonderful to know that plenty of bike shops throughout the United States offer rentals at reasonable rates. In New Orleans, for instance, there's Bicycle Michael's  (622 Frenchmen St., 504/945-9505, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Tues. and Thurs.-Sat., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sun.), a laid-back, full-service bike store that lies amid the live music clubs of the Faubourg Marigny. It's actually where Dan purchased my birthday bike, and in addition to handling sales, Michael's provides rentals ($35-110 daily, $140-320 weekly) and offers repair services. Here, you can choose among city hybrids, mountain bikes, off-road bikes, and tandems. Then, depending on how long you choose to keep the rental (from a half-day to a full, seven-day week), you'll be free to explore the Faubourg Marigny, the nearby French Quarter, City Park, the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline, and other key areas in this relatively compact city. Although locks, biking advice, and local tips are free, there are nominal costs for helmets ($5 daily), baskets ($5 ea.), and maps ($6-8 ea.).
Key West is another welcoming town to traverse via bike. As I mention in my Florida Keys guide , one of my favorite outfitters in America's Southernmost City is Eaton Bikes  (830 Eaton St., 305/294-8188, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun.), which rents a range of bikes ($12-45 daily, $40-135 weekly), from cruisers and trikes to mountain bikes and tandems. In addition, Eaton's offers free delivery, pickup service, and roadside assistance throughout Key West.
In Michigan , another place that I've covered for Moon, biking is quite a popular diversion, especially during the summer months. Biking enthusiasts may particularly appreciate Traverse City, where you can ride along the shore of Grand Traverse Bay or amid the wineries of the Old Mission Peninsula. Luckily, while visiting the Cherry Capital, you can rent a variety of cruisers, road bikes, mountain bikes, hybrids, and tandems from Brick Wheels  (736 E. 8th St., 231/947-4274, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Sun., $15-60 daily, $75-300 weekly), a full-service bike shop that also lends helmets, baskets, locks, and specialty pedals at no extra charge.
Another curious option is Liquid , an online marketplace that allows individual bike owners and existing bike rental shops to rent their bikes to travelers, cyclists, and locals hoping to explore more than 400 cities in 80 countries. If you're a bike owner interested in earning a little extra cash, you need only to submit a few details and photos of your bike, then within 24 to 48 hours (after Liquid checks for quality, price, and accuracy), your bike will be ready to rent. If, on the other hand, you're interested in renting a bike through Liquid, you merely need to search by location, bike size, and bike type to see a list of available bikes near you – after which you can request a rental from the bike's owner, ask any necessary questions, and await the owner's approval.
Sounds like a terrific arrangement, akin to couch-surfing for bikes – though, admittedly, I'm not quite ready to list my precious “Slik Chik” on the Liquid website – at least not until I've logged a few more miles in the harrowing French Quarter. I should be the first one, after all, to scuff a sunflower.
So, what's your favorite city for biking?
As always, I’m open to ideas for future posts. If you have any suggestions, burning questions, or destinations that you’d like me to explore in greater detail, please comment below, contact me via laura [at] wanderingsoles [dot] com, or connect with me on Facebook  and Twitter .
Disclosure: While I occasionally accept free or discounted travel assistance when it coincides with my editorial goals, my opinion is never for sale, which means that everything written in my American Nomad blog and Moon travel guides is my unbiased reflection of the things that I see, do, and experience while traveling across the United States.
Photo of two biking enthusiasts near Key West's Harry S. Truman Little White House  / Text © 2012 Laura Martone