Pirelli Launches Scorpion Tire Range


Pirelli's history with cycling dates back to the Tour de France's golden era. Somewhere in the 1980s, however, the famous Italian manufacturer left cycling to focus upon motorsports. Pirelli recently returned to the sport, initially with their P-Zero road tires, followed by an e-bike offering, but did little to raise the needle for mountain biking until the announcement today, that their racing tire division has developed a range of high performance tires based upon technologies derived from their successful Scorpion motocross program. Pirelli claims 70 world titles - reportedly, the greatest number among all tire makers - working with pro teams from KTM, Honda Yamaha, Suzuki, Husaberg and Cagiva. That's an admiral pedigree, but success on the motocross track does not always translate to a winning mountain bike tire. What we can say for sure, however, is that Pirelli's intimate knowledge of molding, and compounding rubber, in addition to the knowledge gained through successful campaigns in almost all forms of racing is a fantastic starting point from which to launch a competitive mountain bike range.
Meet Pirelli's Scorpion Mountain Bike Range Pirelli did a humongous amount of research before pushing the go button on their Scorpion tire development. Reportedly, they learned that mountain bike categories were all over the map, and that there was a large disparity between the marketing spew that tire makers used to define the purpose and performance of their tire designs and the levels of understanding that even the best riders assimilated on those same subjects. Pirelli decided that simplicity and clarity was essential to their program, so here's how it breaks down:

Four tires: The Scorpion range is comprised of four models, each designed for a specific task. All share the Scorpion name followed by a color-coded letter a red "H" for hard conditions, a yellow "M" for mixed conditions, a blue "S" for soft conditions, and a green "R" for rear-specific.

One Basic Compound: "SmartGRIP" is the name, which refers to Pirelli's discovery of a rubber compound that retains its wet weather grip, while delivering dry-condition tenacity and tear resistance. SmartGRIP is the overarching compound, which is then slightly modified to better suit the performance envelope and knob height of each of the four tire designs. Here's what Pirelli has to say about it:

"As was the case for the SmartNET Silica, which solved the tradeoff between rolling resistance and wet grip on the PZero Velo road tires, so is the SmartGRIP Compound, which in the Scorpion MTB closes the gap between tear resistance and wet grip. In the off-road application, the knobs of the tires profile are mechanically stressed in a much higher way than those of any road tire. The grip properties, therefore, must always be guaranteed, without compromising the rubber’s resistance to tearing.

With an incomparable expertise acquired in the formulation of compounds in over 110 years of competition at the highest levels, Pirelli has solved this critical point, thanks to the new SmartGRIP compound. At the same time, the engineers also customized the properties of the compound, from the static ones (hardness and breaking strength) to the dynamic ones (damping and dynamic stiffness) for each model and size."

- Pirelli press release

Three widths: Scorpion tires were designed for wider rims from the beginning. Well, sort of. Pirelli suggests that the 2.2 inch width offerings are paired with 25-millimeter inner width rims, and states that its 2.4 and 2.6-inch casings are intended to be paired with rims beginning at 30 millimeters inner width. Pirelli supports 29 and 27.5 inch wheels (sorry, no 26), but does not offer all three casing widths in both wheel sizes. Reportedly, each size offering and model are engineered differently for specific performance goals. For instance, the Scorpion H is available in all three options for 29 inch wheels, but only in the 2.4 and 2.6 inch options for 27.5. presumably because the higher volume casings allow smaller wheels to roll faster over choppy terrain.
Pirelli will offer a conventional "Lite" casing (left) and a double reinforced casing with sidewall protection for all four models.

"By basing the new tires’ design on the consistency of each terrain, Pirelli engineers also had to take into account many other variables: from the rider’s riding style to the most recent developments in terms of profiles and rim sizes. Therefore, in the new Scorpion MTB, the construction technology is not the same for all tire sizes: each size earned benefits from a dedicated development." - Pirelli press release

Our Thoughts

We'll have to ride Pirelli's new Scorpion tires to discover first hand if their claims match the performance of what appears to be a well designed tire range. The tread patterns look familiar enough, and that's a good thing. Tire design has been converging for some time. Specialized and Bontrager have enjoyed much success with tread patterns similar to the Scorpion H and M, while Schwalbe and Maxxis have been winning consistently using patterns similar to the R and S models. I am not accusing Pirelli of knocking off someone else's tire designs. After 110 years of racing development, however, they've no-doubt learned that winning designs are built upon the foundations of previous success. The devil is in the details - especially with rubber compounds and vulcanizing presses. Pirelli, with over 1000 engineers and chemists working on their competition tires, have got those bases covered. I hope the Scorpion range delivers, but more interesting to me is the possibility that a new player in the mountain bike tire game may break the industry's monotony monopoly and start innovating solutions to sidewall tears and other nagging issues that our sport's leading tire brands have chosen to ignore for generations past. We shall see. Scorpion tires will start shipping this month.

Find out more about Pirelli Scorpion tires here.