02 Sep 2019

Italian rubber specialist, Pirelli, has turned its hand towards mountain biking with the launch of the new Scorpion range. To compare and contrast all the options, here's a closer look at some of the Pirelli Scorpion MTB tyres we have on for review right now.

Here we have one of the newest mountain bike tyres on the market – the Pirelli Scorpion MTB. Now there are already a tonne of brands making mountain bike tyres right now, including (take a deep breath…) Maxxis, Schwalbe, Continental, WTB, Kenda, Hutchinson, CST, Specialized, Bontrager, Onza, Panaracer, Vee Tire Co., Goodyear, Vittoria, Terrene, aaaaaand Surly. Phew! And then there’s all the other ones that are escaping our memory right now. But even with all of those options currently saturating the market, everyone still tends to stand up and take notice when a brand like Pirelli decides to throw its hat into the ring.

pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
Pirelli is a well-established name in high-performance automotive rubber, but now it’s turned its hand to mountain biking too.

A Tyre With Sting

The Italian rubber specialist did just that earlier this year when it launched its very first mountain bike tyre, called the Scorpion MTB. Drawing upon its substantial reputation for producing high-performance tyres for F1 and automotive applications, Pirelli is bringing all of its knob-knowledge to the dirt to create an array of premium mountain bike tyres, all under the ‘Scorpion’ label.

But while it may be the only name in Pirelli’s mountain bike lineup, there’s a bit more to the Scorpion than that. With four unique tread patterns, multiple sizes and two casing options, there’s a load of choice to be had. It’s actually a pretty simple system for choosing the right tyre though, so here’s our breakdown of how it all works out, starting with those four tread patterns.

pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
The Scorpion MTB is the only name in Pirelli’s off-road tyre lineup, but there’s actually four different tread patterns within the range.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Pirelli’s big story with its off-road range is that it isn’t calling anything an ‘XC tyre’ or an ‘Enduro tyre’. Instead, Pirelli is offering four different tread styles that are designed to excel in their own special way. The tread pattern is different for each tyre, and Pirelli is encouraging riders to consider their typical trail surface to pick the right tyre, and to mix ‘n’ match between the front and rear wheel. Here’s the dealio:

  • Scorpion H (Hardpack): Pirelli’s lightest and fastest-rolling option, the Scorpion H uses an array of shallow, tightly-grouped tread blocks to provide a smooth and wiggle-free ride on firm and compacted trail surfaces, whether that’s dirt or rock. This speedy tyre is for the XC heads.
  • Scorpion M (Mixed): Using slightly taller knobs with a little more space between them, the Scorpion M provides more traction on loose surfaces. This is the most versatile option from Pirelli, and it’s pitched at both XC and trail riders to be used primarily as a front tyre, but it can be run on the back too.
  • Scorpion S (Soft): With taller knobs, and more space between them, the tread on the Scorpion S is designed to reach down into softer trail surfaces to search out for traction beneath. This makes it ideal for muddy winter rides, though interesting for us Aussies is that it’s supposed to perform equally well on trails covered in thick dust or soft loamy soil. Mmmm, loam.
  • Scorpion R (Rear): With a focus on stability and providing grip under braking and climbing, the Scorpion R is purpose-built for the rear wheel. As such, it gets a wider array of tread blocks through the middle, with reinforced transition and edging knobs for stability under cornering. Pirelli suggests pairing this with a Scorpion M up front for a versatile combo that’ll adapt to a wide range of trail surfaces.
pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
The Scorpion M is an intermediate tyre that’s designed for mixed trail surfaces.
pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
The SmartGRIP rubber compound promises adaptable grip across a wide variety of conditions and trail types.

SmartGRIP For Simpletons

One thing that will also help the decision making process is the fact that each tyre is only available with Pirelli’s SmartGRIP rubber compound. The makeup of the rubber compound does actually vary from tyre-to-tyre, with Pirelli formulating the chemical concoction for each specific application. But instead of asking consumers to remember all of the compound options, it’s just calling each one SmartGRIP to keep things nice and simple. We like simple.

Also of note is that the Scorpion MTB utilises this one single rubber compound for the entirety of the tread blocks. This differs to other high performance tyres, which often utilise two or three rubber compounds that are layered throughout the knobs – often with a firmer base rubber that’s capped with softer rubber layered over the top. According to Pirelli, this layered construction creates a problem as the tyre wears over time, with the softer outer rubber wearing away to expose the much firmer base rubber underneath. Its theory is that a single rubber compound will provide more consistent performance throughout the entire life of the tyre.

pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
The Scorpion R is a rear-specific tyre that Pirelli recommends running with the Scorpion M up front.
pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
The centre tread blocks are staggered in a wide array to provide the climbing and braking traction that’s unique to a rear tyre. Note how all the tread blocks are also linked to reduce tread floppage under hard loads.

We don’t have much more information on the SmartGRIP compound, probably because Pirelli doesn’t want to give away too much of its special sauce. The company is happy to make some pretty bold claims about that special sauce though, stating that SmartGRIP creates “a mix that offers absolute grip, durability and smoothness”. Going further, it also reckons the rubber is ambivalent about whether the conditions are wet or dry. “It’s finally no longer necessary to select a different tread in the event of poor weather.

Pretty humble those Italians eh?

Big Wheels & Little Wheels

Pirelli will be offering all four Scorpion MTB models in both 27.5in and 29in diameters, with most options coming in 2.2in, 2.4in and 2.6in widths.

Right now in Australia though, FE Sports (Pirelli’s Australian distributor) only has the Scorpion MTB range in the 29in diameter, in the 2.2in and 2.4in widths. We’re told that 27.5in tyres, and the wider 2.6in size, will be coming sometime later this year.

pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire bicycle bike
The Scorpion MTB range also comes in a wider 2.4in size that’s better suited to trail bikes and rims with a 30mm inner width.

Casing Options

Once you’ve picked your tyre size and tread pattern, you’ll also be able to choose between the standard casing or the LITE casing. Unsurprisingly, the LITE version is lighter, with a thinner and more supple construction. If you’re racing, or your local trails aren’t so tough on tyres and wheels, then the LITE casing is the faster rolling option. For heavier riders and those who ride on rockier and more demanding terrain, the standard casing is the way to go.

With the exception of the 2.2in LITE tyres, Pirelli also adds sidewall reinforcement to the Scorpion MTB tyres, with strips of 120tpi Nylon used to brace the sides of the tyre from being slashed open by hungry rocks and sharp tree stumps. The additional reinforcement also helps to keep the tyre more stable at lower pressures.

The only tyre that you won’t get a casing choice with is the Scorpion R. Being a rear-specific tyre that’s designed to be more durable and more stable under load, it only comes in the standard casing.

pirelli scorpion mtb tyre tire
We’ve got the Scorpion M and R tyres in both a 2.2in and 2.4in combo. You can also choose between a standard or a LITE casing. We went with the standard casing, which is heavier but more robust.

And What Do We Have Here Mate?

We’ve just received a bunch of Pirelli Scorpion MTB tyres in for testing. Having been offered the full range, we decided to go with the Scorpion M as a front tyre, and the Scorpion R on the back. This is to suit our local dry and rocky trails, which vary from sun-baked hardpack through to sandy and loose-over-hard.

We’ve got that combo in both 2.2in and 2.4in sizes, which will give us the opportunity to test them out on a variety of different XC and trail bikes. Read on for the full specs on each tyre.

fox float 32 step-cast kashima factory pirelli scorpion mtb m tyre tire
We’re running the Scorpion M as a front tyre on the front of our XC test bike.

Pirelli Scorpion M 29×2.2in Tyre

  • Medium profile tread pattern
  • Designed for mixed conditions, from hard to soft, dry or wet
  • SmartGRIP rubber compound
  • Optimised for 25mm wide rims
  • 120tpi Nylon casing w/120tpi sidewall reinforcement
  • Measured width: 2.27in (57.82mm)
  • Confirmed weight: 743g
  • RRP: $89
The 2.4in Scorpion M plumps up nicely on the Curve Dirt Hoops, which have a 30mm inner width as recommended.

Pirelli Scorpion M 29×2.4in Tyre

  • Medium profile tread pattern
  • Designed for mixed conditions, from hard to soft, dry or wet
  • SmartGRIP rubber compound
  • Optimised for 30mm wide rims
  • 60tpi Nylon casing w/120tpi sidewall reinforcement
  • Measured width: 2.44in (62.13mm)
  • Confirmed weight: 914g
  • RRP: $95
pirelli scorpion mtb r tyre tire
The rear-specific Scorpion R comes in at 773g for the 29×2.2in size.

Pirelli Scorpion R 29×2.2in Tyre

  • Rear specific tread pattern with medium profile
  • Designed for mixed conditions, from hard to soft, dry or wet
  • SmartGRIP rubber compound
  • Optimised for 25mm wide rims
  • 120tpi Nylon casing w/120tpi sidewall reinforcement
  • Measured width: 2.25in (57.17mm)
  • Confirmed weight: 773g
  • RRP: $89
pirelli scorpion mtb m tyre tire
Using a more robust 60tpi casing with sidewall reinforcement, the 2.4in wide Scorpion R has a substantial amount of rubber.

Pirelli Scorpion R 29×2.4in Tyre

  • Rear specific tread pattern with medium profile
  • Designed for mixed conditions, from hard to soft, dry or wet
  • SmartGRIP rubber compound
  • Optimised for 30mm wide rims
  • 60tpi Nylon casing w/120tpi sidewall reinforcement
  • Measured width: 2.45in (62.21mm)
  • Confirmed weight: 900g
  • RRP: $95

And there you go – that’s a bit of a rundown on the Pirelli Scorpion MTB tyre range, and a closer look at some of the tyres we’ve currently got strapped to our test bikes. Got any questions for us about the tyres? Make sure you drop them into the comments below! And if you want to check out further availability of the Pirelli tyre range in Australia, head to the FE Sports website.