Pirelli is primarily known as one of the leading manufacturers of premium tyres for cars and motorcycles. However, since 2011, they’ve also been the exclusive Formula 1 tyre supplier, demonstrating their expertise on the world’s fastest race tracks. Furthermore, the Superbike Championship motorcycles have been equipped with Pirelli tyres for many years. Something that is far less known, though: Pirelli can also look back on a long tradition of producing bicycle tyres! They only stopped making tyres for road bikes in the late 1980s.
In 2017, almost 30 years after the end of production and two years of research and development, the Italian company celebrated a successful return to the road cycling business. Following the highly acclaimed launch of the P ZERO– and Cinturato line for road bikes, Pirelli is now rightly entering the market for MTB tyres! The new MTB tyre line is called Scorpion – a name which does not come by chance, considering that more than 70 World Championship titles have been won using Pirelli’s famous Scorpion motocross tyres! Has the transfer of technology and experience from motorcycling to mountain biking been a success? Ralf fetched a Radon test bike, put it in a Bike Case II from B&W and headed south to test the tyres.
Let’s go to Italy!
„Pirelli invited me to Castiglione di Sicilia at the base of Mount Etna in Sicily and I was able to witness the official press launch of the new Pirelli Velo Scorpion MTB tyre series. Pirelli‘s new corporate strategy is clearly focused on the consumer. With a total of more than 1,400 engineers and an R&D quota of 6.5%, the company invests a lot in the development and performance of its MTB tyres. In order to establish their products on the market, Pirelli’s engineers ask themselves the same questions as their customers. Nobody can reliably predict which direction this sport will take and which trends will decide about its future. However, from Pirelli’s point of view, the central question for the rider is and always will be: Which tyre do I need?
In the course of the presentation of the Scorpion MTB series, it became clear that Pirelli will not immediately cover all areas which spring to mind when thinking of MTB. But with the presented product range they‘re already broadly positioned in the most relevant segments. All the more so as Pirelli pursues a different approach to other MTB tyre manufacturers with its Scorpion MTB tyres. Based on the aforementioned central question, Pirelli does not so much define the Scorpion MTB in terms of categories, such as XC, Enduro or Downhill, but in terms of intended use, i.e. the types of soil on which the tyre will be mainly used.
Which tyres are available?
All tyres are tubeless ready and feature the same innovative SmartGRIP compound as either full material or single layer. Furthermore, the tyres can be used in all weathers, i.e. they are suitable for both dry and wet soils. The main difference between them is the profile: the shape and height of the treads, the spacing, cross connections and angles. This is where Pirelli‘s many years of experience in the motocross sector come in. The following models are available:
- Scorpion MTB H: Hard Terrain – for rocky, hard terrains
- Scorpion MTB M: Mixed Terrain – for varying surface conditions
- Scorpion MTB S: Soft Terrain – for loose, sandy or muddy terrains
- Scorpion MTB R: Rear Specific – for rear-wheel use, mixed terrain
Apart from the Scorpion MTB R, all models are also available as lite versions which – who would have guessed – are lighter. The puncture protection is somewhat reduced in these cases, but the rolling resistance is better. Choosing between the two versions is actually a matter of what you prefer: maximum puncture safety or an even faster rolling lightweight tyre. What’s more, with 2.2″ and 2.4″, there will initially only be two tyre widths, each with slightly modified treads according to the needs of the individual rider types. The tyre sizes are 27.5″ and 29″.
First ride with Pirelli‘s Scorpion
I had the chance to test two of the tyres on an MTB circuit with partly rocky, partly sandy terrain (both wet and dry) and chose the Scorpion MTB M 2,4″ (M for Mixed Terrain) for the front and the Scorpion MTB R (Rear Specific) of the same width for the rear wheel of my test bike with a Radon pre-production sample frame. The tyres were kindly mounted by Pirelli onto the 30mm DT-Swiss rims. As typical for tubeless ready, the tyres fit rather tight. However, with enough elbow grease and the right technique you can mount them without needing any tools. Of course, I went for the tubeless option – and I’ll tell you this much, I had no punctures and there was no leakage of sealing fluid.
The tyres immediately gave me a sense of safety and felt very pleasant in combination with the wide rims on my trail hardtail. The dampening was remarkable, even at an air pressure of about 2 bar, and I noticed directly that both tyres offered full grip in every situation on both sandy and rocky terrain. Even on steep rocky descents, I didn’t slip and always had full control – no matter whether the terrain was dry or wet. To be honest, I didn’t expect that! Especially not since I considered the pressure of about 2 bar recommended by Pirelli quite high for tubeless tyres. The Scorpions rolled very well, but with a width of 2.4″, the rolling resistance is of course not at the level of, let’s say, narrower XC racing tyres. The cornering behaviour was always predictable and the lateral support noticeable. I didn’t push the tyres to their limit, though. Despite the rather tall and widely spaced profile, the tyres‘ self-cleaning performance was top! After completing the circuit, I didn’t notice the effect immediately. Only later did it occur to me that I had been riding through a lot of mud – but there was none of it on the tyres.
Of course, since I‘ve only done a few tests with the tyres so far, I cannot offer any long-term evaluation. Statements about the durability can also only be made after the end of this season. However, the grip level is unlikely to change very much after the first few hundred kilometres (as is the case with some competitor products using a multilayer construction) due to the use of solid material. In my opinion, this makes the Pirelli MTB tyres at least an alternative to the usual suspects.
One more info about the design. The Pirelli Scorpion MTB tyres are always sold with the silver Pirelli logo. The tyres with yellow lettering, which can be seen on one photo, are (initially) reserved for the riders of the professional XC team Trek-Selle San Marco. All in all, my experience with Pirelli‘s Scorpion MTB tyres was very rewarding, and I hope you can give them a try and be as excited as I am!“