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La Farola, Cuba
Fascinating Cuba is a delight at helmet level. Try the spectacular 9km descent along the La Farola highway, from the crest of the Baracoa Mountains down to the south coast. The highway clings to cliffs hung in tropical vegetation, with guard rails protecting you from drop-to-nowhere gorges, before sweeping from one giant limestone ledge to the next, each turn providing a closer vista of wild open ocean. Built by the Revolutionary government, this magnificent mountain highway is an irresistible challenge for cyclists. Traditionally, the first stage of the Vuelta Ciclista Cuba (Cuba's answer to the Tour de France) is run over this route.

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Food options are minimal: be prepared to eat out of your panniers. It is also essential to carry your own bike equipment and first-aid supplies.

National Highway 1, Vietnam
This iconic road runs the length of the narrow country from north to south. It is the most popular cycling route in Vietnam, a long but immensely rewarding trip along the best parts of Vietnam's coastline. The route has some reasonable hills, climaxing in the mighty Hai Van Pass (496m) - with a breathtaking descent as pine-clad mountains loom to the west and the South China Sea vanishes into the east. Take the time along the way to gaze at networks of lush rice fields blanketing the hidden valleys below; fish, snorkel or dive the turquoise waters of the coast; and soak up the atmosphere of delightful rural hamlets.

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The Indochina Trekking Company, based in Hanoi, offers a variety of cycling adventures in Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand.

Otago Peninsula, New Zealand
With the first half decidedly laid-back and the second portion anything but, the mix of scenery and sweat make this one of the best one-day rides in the country. Starting from university-town Dunedin, you soon shed the trappings of the city and succumb to the lure of the open road. The serpentine route twists pleasantly along the shore, providing tremendous ocean views, and the terrain is made for cycling. Then suddenly there is a sharp turn to the right and you are gaining altitude like a climbing fighter-jet. Get ready for steep climbs, fast descents and the odd albatross to keep you company. The route should be negotiable year-round whenever conditions are dry. However, you are less likely to suffer frozen extremities on descents outside June to August.

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Dunedin boasts the world's steepest street, Baldwin St. With a maximum gradient of 1:1.266, test your brakes before you try descending. A souvenir shop nearby on North Rd sells the official T-shirt.

Cape Breton Island, Canada
This justifiably renowned cycling route is best-known for the scenery - breathtaking rocky coastlines, the crystal clear Bras d'Or inland sea and the soaring ridges of the Cape Breton Highlands - especially in their autumn colours. But adventure-seekers will also be satisfied as gently rolling hills become invigorating mountains with some tough climbs and heart-thumping descents. Combined with local wildlife (such as beavers, moose and deer), quaint fishing villages, an intriguing Gaelic culture grown from French-Scottish roots and plenty of fresh ocean breezes, Cape Breton is the whole package.

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The Celtic Colours roving music festival makes October a superb time to visit.

Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
By cycling the often overlooked, yet spectacular far reaches of the northeast corner of Italy, you have the opportunity to intimately discover this earthy region. Along roads that make for easy pedalling, Slovenian farmers tend their fields in the strong sun, rows of vines cling to voluptuous hill country, and you smell the freshly tilled earth and feel the wind cool the sweat from your face. Then in the evenings, relax in a piazza to sample the region's famous white wines and join the laidback locals for a chat. The route's icing on the cake is the final scenic jaunt down the Istrian coast.

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The Regione Autonoma Friuli Venezia Giulia has collaborated with Avventura - Bike (Associazione Mountain Bike Italia) to create a booklet of suggested mountain biking itineraries in the region. You can pick up a copy at visitor centres.

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© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Lonely Planet's top 10 cycling routes’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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