Mountain bikers are pretty spoilt for choice in the market for tyres. Although we have a plethora of features and combinations – tread patterns, casings, compounds – it doesn’t make it easy for a rider to choose. These are all features that count when it comes to a tyre being the first point of contact to the trail. So, when a new-to-the-market tyre manufacturer wants to enter the game of grip, they’d either want to be offering the best of these features or a great value, easy-to-pick tiered lineup. Although they are no stranger to the tyre game, the Italian giant Pirelli has come forward with a range of mountain bikes tyres that might just get the best of both worlds.
Pirelli has recognised the market demand for high performing and versatile tyres as part of an easy to understand lineup. The result is a choice of Hard, Mixed, Soft, and Rear specific tread patterns that are all constructed with Pirelli’s SmartGrip compound and your choice of their Standard abrasion resistant casing or LITE (you guessed it) lighter fast rolling casing. Once you know what tread pattern will work best for your application, you just have to pick your tyre width, and then a Standard or LITE casing. The SmartGrip compound piqued my interest. Pirelli have developed a rubber tread compound that is consistent on all parts of the tyre. This means you get the same grip whether you have the middle, intermediate, or shoulder tread activated on the trail regardless of wet or dry, or how worn the thread itself may be. This tech from the exclusive Formula 1 supplier of tyres for the past 9 years was waiting to rock my world.
I have raced brands to the likes of Mitas, Kenda, Schwalbe, Maxxis and most recently the Bontrager XR3 Team Issue. These were on my Trek Top Fuel, and I am grateful to have the swapped on a set of Pirelli Scorpion Hard Terrain Lite 29”x2.4” tyres from Pushys Online and FE Sports to try at the training ground. I have been doing training race laps every weekend at Gap Creek Reserve in Brisbane. Gap Creek is a great trail network with varying terrain. In a macro view it has fireroad gravel, loose over hard descents, and damp valley segments. The micro view highlights berm-to-loose-to-flat corners, wet creek crossings, and rooted singletrail. Also having trained here continuously for the last 2 months, I would better be able to feel a change from a tyre swap as such.
When trying new tyres I’m always cautious of a different footprint, yet ready to exploit the fresh rubber. My race lap starts with 800m of singletrack climb to 1km of fireroad and I was impressed at how well these tyres rolled. Next is a steep single track climb that is lurking to claim quivering sidewalls. I was aware the Bontrager XR platform may have developed a sense of sidewall carelessness in my riding as I am a fan of the abrasion and cut resistance in this manner. The Scorpions had no problem burping and scuffing rocks and stumps on the “Stairway to Heaven” and I was comforted onward. Cresting my lap into the descent, I was ready to adapt to a different feel of traction. Call me naive, but I was inspired by the Scorpions within the first five corners. So inspired in fact, I went on to beat my PB on a 8 minute 32 second descent Strava segment by 19 seconds by my last of four laps. Leaning the tyre into its shoulder tread is unambiguous. A rider can be quite assertive in getting it there without breaking traction. When it came to slowing down, it was easy to recognise the tread is not afraid to collect dirt for a gradual and uninterrupted deceleration. I‘m the first person to say it is the rider that makes the difference, not the gear. However, had this been any other tyre, I’m not sure I would have found such confidence in them so quickly on the first ride to use my skills to exploit them for a 4% time gain on the first hour of riding them.
To discount a fluke performance, I ventured back to my training ground the next Sunday. This particular Sunday made for the most varying trail conditions I have experienced at Gap Creek so far. All trail features were accentuated: where it was rocky it was rockier, slippery was slippier and damp was definitely not drier. This is exactly the kind of terrain where Pirelli’s SmartGrip comes alive. From the experience I have had with tyres, I have never personally felt such prediction and consistency of grip over such varied terrain. Not only in a macro segment of dry fireroad to rocky singletrail, but even more noticeable in the micro of a bermed hardpack corner with a surprising void of malleable clay at the apex. I could direct my front wheel with great precision and confidence that I could ride more true to my desired riding line. This is a feature I feel sets the Pirellis a step ahead of other single, dual and even triple compound tyres. In rough uncertain terrain, the control on offer by the SmartGrip is refreshing to a rider pushing the limits.
A tyre provides varying opportunities of traction in different terrain and trail conditions. It’s up to the rider’s skill at leveraging a tyre’s advantages and minimising the effect of its disadvantages as to how much traction they can get at any one time. To come full circle around that concept, it is up to the research and development that has gone into a tyre as to how easy it is for the rider to get that traction. I believe Pirelli has brought an incredibly well researched tyre range to market that makes it easy for riders to get maximum traction in varying trail conditions. With their impressive and predictable performance, the Pirelli Scorpion range will not be a stranger to my bike(s) in the future. Introduce yourself to the range at Pushys Online supplied by FE Sports!
By Kaiden Carter – Pushys sponsored athlete
Categories: Product Review