7 best bike routes in the world

Story highlights

China's Friendship Highway takes cyclists 800 lung-bursting kilometers through foothills of Everest

More relaxing rides are available -- Japan's Shimanami Kaido can easily be completed in a day

Riders might have bear or moose for company on the Great Divide bike route from Alberta, Canada to New Mexico

CNN  — 

The primary joy of a bicycle is that, in its purest form, it’s little more than a highly efficient way of walking.

Just grab the bike, climb aboard and pedal swiftly to the shop, the bar or wherever.

Some cyclists, however, prefer their rides a bit more dramatic. Perhaps even scenic, remote and arduous.

Here are seven fantastic rides from around the world that take anything from a day to several months to complete (um, don’t forget the anti-chafe cream):

1. The Friendship Highway (China)

Clear blue water: Friendship Highway, China.

Whether or not the 800 kilometers (500 miles) between the Tibetan city of Lhasa and the Nepalese border is the planet’s most beautiful ride depends on your idea enjoyment of sometimes bleak high-altitude vistas.

What’s in little doubt is that it’s the highest.

The route includes three road passes of more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet), with a lung-bursting maximum of 5,220 meters over the Gyatso La mountain pass, where the reward on a clear day is a distant view of Everest.

This, it goes without saying, isn’t for everyone.

Conditions can be testing and the distance between towns necessitates careful planning.

Plus, the sensitive political situation in Tibet means individual travel can be tricky at times.

For the sufficiently committed this remains one of the globe’s true adventures, from the religious and cultural wonders of Lhasa and Gyantse to the prayer flag-draped peak of the Gampa La mountain pass, with the vast, turquoise lake, Yamdrok Yumtso, shining in the valley below.

If that’s not enough, the route ends with possibly the world’s longest descent, a precipitous 3,500-meter drop off the edge of the Tibetan plateau along muddy hairpins.

Cycling across the sea in stunning Hiroshima

2. La Ruta de los Conquistadores (Costa Rica)

La Ruta: Coast to coast in Costa Rica.

Shorter but arguably no less arduous than the Friendship Highway is this 270-kilometer off-road ride across Costa Rica.

From the Pacific to Caribbean coasts, this one takes in mud paths, rainforest, coffee plantations, even an extinct volcano. It can be completed in three days each November as part of the annual mountain bike race from which the ride takes its name.

Those in less of a rush can spend as long as they like, whenever they like, tracing the route of the 16th-century Spanish conqueror Juan de Cavallon, the chief conquistador of the title.

Costa Rica has a vast range of natural wonder packed into an area roughly the size of Switzerland, around a quarter of it national park – La Ruta delivers a decent taste of this.

Beginning in the surf resort of Jaco Beach, the route soon turns onto energy-sapping red mud dirt roads, climbing up. And up and up – the official La Ruta course includes about 3,000 meters (9,842 feet) of climbing on the first day alone.

Skirting the capital, San Jose, it passes near the extinct peak volcanic peak of Irazu and down again to mangrove forests and white sand beaches. The traditional end to the trip is a dip in the Caribbean. Riding in is optional.

3. North Sea Cycle Route (Europe)

The NSCR, which also goes by the slightly less evocative name of Euro Velo Route 12, is a Euroskeptic’s nightmare – an EU-funded epic across eight countries that claims to be the longest signposted cycle route in the world.

Covering almost