Like most American cities shaking off their rustbelt past, Cleveland is full of contradictions - like driving by industrial smokestacks and rusting steel gantries to get to the strikingly modern Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fortunately, a little grittiness doesn't hurt in a city that bills itself as the home of rock 'n' roll.
The Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is nestled on the shore of Lake Erie, next to the Great Lakes Science Centre and the Cleveland Browns' home stadium. Johnny Cash's tour bus is parked outside, and inside the memorabilia unfolds endlessly: from Elvis' motorbike to The Beatles' suits and ZZ Top's Mad Max-esque custom guitars. The displays are heavy on costumes, guitars and set lists, but it's hard not to be excited by David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust stage outfit or Michael Jackson's mirrored glove - which spins endlessly on a disembodied hand.
To fill up after the museum, we headed to Ohio City, a neighbourhood known for its bars and eateries. At the West Side Market, foodies stock up on bread, meat, fresh produce and cakes from more than 100 vendors clustered into the historic building. Grabbing a crepe from Crepes De Luxe and a coffee from City Roast next door, we ducked upstairs to people-watch and admire the century-old vaulted tile ceiling.
Just across the road at the Great Lakes Brewpub, local beers are served at the same mahogany bar where the famed prohibition officer Eliot Ness once sat - or so goes the legend. The brewery has even named its amber lager (an excellent beer) in Ness' honour. The beers are made just around the corner and tours of the brewery are available on weekends.
To work off our beer sampling, we packed up the bikes and headed for the Ohio & Erie Canalway Towpath - formerly a major transport route plied by canal boats towed by mules, which today offers flat, car-free riding for 177km. The canal winds its way right through inner-city Cleveland, but the best riding starts further south at Rockside, where the canal enters the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The trail is well serviced with rest stops and cafes (there's good icecream at Boston Mill). Best of all, for $3 cyclists can make the return trip on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Cold beers are even served on board.
Dayton, Ohio, is quite a detour from, well, just about anywhere, but the small town (about three hours' drive from Cleveland) boasts the United States Air Force National Museum, the largest collection of military aircraft in the world, and viewing is free. Exhibits span from the Wright brothers to space flight, with more than 300 aircraft over three cavernous hangars. I was on the lookout for one aircraft in particular: the F14 Tomcat, as flown by Maverick in the classic 80s movie Top Gun, but had to settle for its nemesis, the MiG. Much like Tom Cruise, it was surprisingly small in real life and overshadowed by the more dramatically-proportioned B2 Stealth Bomber, with its 52m wingspan.