First Ride Review | Pirelli Scorpion MTB Tyre – ‘Eliminates Climate Variables’

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Pirelli entering the mountain bike tyre market? That’s pretty big news if you’re a rubber nerd. Pirelli certainly seemed to be pretty excited about it, since the company did a huge photoshoot in California and followed it up with flying journos from across the world to Sicily for just a single day of riding. What was it so excited about? We sent Stu Taylor to find out.


After being asked by Chipps if I would fly out to a secret location in Sicily for a couple of days in the sun riding bikes and in particular to test a new mountain bike tyre from Pirelli, how could I refuse?

So, the fact that it was raining and the planned ride had to be changed due to low level snow at the base of Mount Etna was quite fitting as it was certainly going to put to test Pirell’s claim that their latest line in mountain bike tyres ‘eliminates climate variables’.

Having flown folks in from all over the world, however, the launch organisers might have preferred to have eliminated climate variables altogether – all the stops had been pulled out for a big reveal.

Work in dust!
…And snow!
Race ready.
All conditions? Apparently. This is the M tread, for ‘mixed’ surfaces.

The Scorpion MTB Range

Pirelli wants to make tyre choice simple. What size do you want? What protection do you want? What terrain will you ride? Three questions, answer them, and then choose your front tyre from the range accordingly. The rear tyre is chosen for you – there’s one rear specific mixed terrain option. Though surely someone is going to try swapping front options to the rear?

That gives you four tyres in the range, three front tyres for specific terrain, one for the rear in mixed terrain:

  • Scorpion H – (Hard Terrain – red logo) Low profile tread for riding fast on hard pack, compact surfaces whether wet or dry.
Scorpion MTB H – for hard terrain
  • Scorpion M – (Mixed Terrain – yellow logo) Medium profile ideal for mixed surfaces, hard-pack to sand, pebbles and roots in wet or dry.
M – for mixed terrain.
  • Scorpion S – (Soft Terrain – light blue logo) Tall profile to cut into and grip on loose or soft surfaces in the wet or dry.
Scorpion MTB S – for soft terrain
  • Scorpion R – (Rear Specific – green logo) Medium profile and tread spacing offering durability over mixed terrains in the wet or dry
R – the rear specific tyre, for mixed terrain.

All tyres are tubeless ready. You can choose between standard or light protection for the 2.2in and 2.4in 29er sizes. Lite protection comes with a 120TPI sidewall reinforcement, while the standard protection adds in a 60TPI casing for extra cut resistance.

There’s also a 27.5×2.4in and 27.5×2.6in tyre to follow, plus 29×2.6in tyres too – all available in standard protection only.  The rear specific tyre also comes with standard protection only. The full range of sizes will be released through the course of the year, with details so far as follows:

Additional sizes will be released through the coming year.

We’ve not been able to check all the claimed weights, however the Scorpion MTB H 29×2.4 weighs 910g on our scales of truth, while the R 29×2.2 comes in at 755g – both a fraction over the claimed weights listed above.

Scorpion MTB R 29×2.2
Scorpion MTB H 29×2.4

What’s New About This Tyre?

With a reputation for high performance and a background in pro level racing, Pirelli is a company boasting over 70 titles in just the motocross world. With over thirty years of experience with motorbike tyres it has put all this knowledge together in developing a mountain bike tyre that claims to guarantee top level performance in each guise whatever the conditions.

Not that nobbly.

The new Scorpion MTB tyre range, ‘for unconditional performance’, has been engineered with the development of its new SmartGRIP single compound rubber. This has been designed to offer grip and handling in all weather conditions, be it wet or dry, without losing performance.

Not only are we talking grip, but also damping and the dynamic stiffness of the compound. Each tyre has different grip, handling, damping and protection properties according to its intended use, which Pirelli calls ‘a first Tailored Development’ in the field of bike tyres. The idea being that as bikes have got more capable – they go up and down, they can tackle a wide variety of terrain – choosing a specific tyre for specific conditions goes against the versatility of modern bikes.

To prove the theory Pirelli has developed the Scorpion MTB tyre using over 450 tests, over 800 prototypes, on seven different rim sizes and covering over 30,000km on varied terrain in changing weather and surface conditions.

Mud! Well, Italian levels of mud.

What Is SmartGRIP?

Pirelli isn’t saying too much about exactly how SmartGRIP works (presumably so no one copies it), but it is at the heart of the new MTB tyre range. Engineered to eliminate climate or temperature variables that affect the performance of the tyre, it claims to offer better perf… grip in both wet and dry conditions.

Using knowledge taken from the SmartNET compound developed on Pirelli’s PZero Velo road bike tyre, the SmartGRIP compound on the Scorpion MTB gives grip in wet conditions. However, since during off road riding the tyre knobs are mechanically stressed with a much higher force than road riding, the compounded needed to have a greater resistance to tearing – which Pirelli believes it has delivered in this new SmartGRIP technology.

Stu, mechanically stressing some knobs.
Pirelli, explaining the testing and development of SmartGRIP.

Performance & Appearance

SmartGRIP has enabled Pirelli to create a tyre using a single compound, whereas most tyres use up to three compounds. The advantage of this is a slight weight saving, increased elongation stiffness (meaning the tyre holds its shape with less movement and squirming whilst at travelling at speeds) and also overall strength in the tyre – Pirelli says you won’t see any side knobs being torn off. All this claims to give a reduced wear and much higher performance for longer, throughout the overall life of the tyre.

Working alongside SmartGRIP is the tread pattern, where each tyre has been engineered for maximum efficiency with a range of different angles, shapes and heights of knobs. Even on the same model but different width, the tread is slightly different. With the increased footprint of a wider tyre the tread pattern has been modified accordingly without sacrificing – that word again – ‘performance’.

R for Rear not Rad.
Race team tyre colours, coming to the public soon.

Branding on the tyre is surprisingly subtle in an off white with the only colour coming from the letter indicating the model of Scorpion, be that red, blue, yellow or green.

I did spot the famous Pirelli yellow on some Scorpion Tyres shod upon a top end XC bike, but it turns out these are Pirelli race team tyres. These should be available to the public within around three months of the launch, for me they look so much more ‘performance’ and so on the Pirelli brand.

Initial Testing

With the unexpected cold whether and after Chipps’ promise of sunshine I found myself layering up two days of kit into one in preparation for the revised test loop.

My test rig for the new tyres was a Canyon Lux 100mm full suspension XC bike, set up with a 29×2.2in Scorpion M up front running at 25psi air pressure, and 29×2.2in Scorpion R at the rear with 27 psi – pretty standard pressures.

After a short spin out on the road we were soon reminded of what lay steaming under the snow above us as the surface changed to volcanic rock that had been spat out of Mount Etna in years gone by. The trail conditions ahead for testing were dry with an undulating mix of pebbles and volcanic matter – a good start to get the rolling feel of the Scorpion.

Initial thoughts were fairly straight forward: it rolled well and carried nice speed contouring with the flow of the trail.

Stu leading the pack.
Sticky.

Encountering our first tricky loose climbs the tyre performed as expected – especially due to the performance claims from Pirelli – keeping a good stable grip, conforming to the ground and over rocks without fuss.

Eager for the trail to roughen up a bit and point downhill with the opportunity to really push the tyre, we approached an old town from above on a short narrow track laden with rubble, rocks and other random objects that would test the puncture resistance of the tyre. I had also just discovered my brakes were setup Euro style: the wrong way around! Death grip it was, point and shoot.

With little care for line choice, bike or tyre, I smashed it down into the little town avoiding the brakes until I reached the tarmac, relieved at no panic braking OTBs. The brakes were promptly swapped, oh and yes, the tyre survived.

Before the brake swap or after?

On the first real fast singletrack test for the Scorpion it performed well, sitting composed and holding up well in loose corners feeling with any sideways action feeling predictable. When the chance arose to take some rowdy lines through baby’s head sized rock gardens the tyre felt confident, working with the bike and scooting through without a backwards glance.

Between the unfamiliar trails, the revised test loop, and the relatively dry and mud-less conditions, it’s hard to make too many judgements about the ‘all conditions’ claims of these tyres. While the front tyres can be selected to suit different terrain, the one-rear-tyre-to-rule-them-all looks especially interesting. We did hear whisperings that perhaps something a little more enduro could be on the cards, but this was barroom chat rather than part of the formal presentation, so we can’t be sure what may or may not be coming next.

We’re interested to see how these perform in mud. This is the H tyre.

Overall

Overall the Scorpion MTB delivered on performance but needs to be taken back to British soils to be really tested for the UK market and to find out how well the SmartGRIP performs throughout the range and across different tyre sizes. This was such a short test for the tyre, and the conditions seemed perfect for the Scorpion MTB. For a fuller picture I want to test this tyre back home in the English Lake District, where rides can throw everything at you in one go: mud, wet roots and rocks, regardless of the weather. I look forward to testing in the coming weeks…or have I just heralded the start of another unprecedented dry season?

Sorry about the weather, Stu.

Disclosure

Stu’s travel and accommodation were provided by Pirelli.

Review Info

Brand: Pirelli
Product: Scorpion MTB
From: Pirelli
Price: from £46.99
Tested: by Stu Taylor for 1 ride
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