Often, we find ourselves answering the same question. How challenging is it to climb Etna on a road bike?

Etna is the mother of us Sicilians. We call it “the mountain,” but from a cyclist’s perspective, it’s incorrect to talk about the ascent on Etna. In reality, it would be more accurate to speak of the 6 ascents on Etna. Two ascents are on the north side, leading to Piano Provenzana, and four on the south side up to Rifugio Sapienza. What many don’t know is that, whether you decide to climb from the north or south side, to “start the ascent,” you first have to cover almost 800 meters of elevation gain, about 2400 feet! The main ascents are:

South Side up to Rifugio Sapienza:

  • Classic: From Nicolosi along SP92.
  • Salto del Cane: From Nicolosi through via Catania.
  • Strada Milia: From Ragalna or Nicolosi through Strada Milia passing through Piano Vetore.
  • Zafferana: Starting from Zafferana to SP92.


Watch Chavez and Yates on the Strada Milia in 2018


North Side up to Piano Provenzana:

  • Mareneve: From Linguaglossa along Mareneve.
  • Citelli: From Milo passing through Rifugio Citelli and then to Piano Provenzana. For both ascents, the last 3 km are challenging! In particular, the stretch we know as the “CURVA DEL PALO” is about 500 meters long.


Watch Caicedo winning Etna stage in 2020 climbing the Mareneve


Which is the Giro d’Italia ascent? All of them! Over the years, races have taken place on all 6 ascents. The Classic one (from Nicolosi), the hidden one (from Strada Milia), and depending on the years, on all the others. The first King of Etna, in 1967, was Franco Bitossi, while the latest, in 2022, was Lennard Kanma.

If there’s an eruption? Is it dangerous? Etna is an always-active volcano, the tallest in Europe, and this uniqueness makes it NOT dangerous. Over the years, there have been no deaths due to an eruption (excluding climbers near the eruptive vent). However, you need to check a few things. In particular, avoid cycling while Etna is erupting and producing volcanic ash. The risk is not so much being hit by lapilli but that roads, covered in black ash, can become very difficult for a road bike to navigate. Also, volcanic sand, if it comes into contact with the chain and cogs, tends to wear them out quickly. If there has been an eruption, you need to check the conditions of the road surface.

Can I have practical advice? Variable Climate The climate can change rapidly, especially as you reach the summit. It’s advisable to bring suitable clothing for temperature variations. Watch out for the variable wind. If you can choose to climb the north or south side, try to climb on the leeward side.

What Gears Should I Use? We recommend using a 50×34 and a 30 as the lightest ratio on the cassette.

Water and Supplies Given the long distances and altitude, it’s essential to bring enough water and, if necessary, energy supplements.

Road Conditions Check the road conditions before undertaking the climb, as roads may be subject to closures or restrictions at certain times. In any case, from April to November, the conditions are always ideal.

Sunday Traffic If possible, avoid planning your climb on Sunday. Especially on the north side, many motorcyclists have very little respect for cyclists. On the south side, we recommend taking Strada Milia, but be careful not to get lost!

I’m not sure if I can make it. In this case, we recommend relying on an experienced cycling guide. Our guides know every secret of Etna, its lava fields, and weather conditions. They can also help you find the right pace to enjoy what is and remains a great achievement that you will certainly remember forever.



Introduction: Top Cycling Routes in Sicily

Val di noto

Val di Noto: Unesco World Heritage Site


Climbing Etna on a Road Bike: Everything you need to know

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