Almost half a century out of serious bicycle racing, the premier Italian tire maker is making a return to the road bike with three new nanotechnology infused race tires. They teased us back in May, but now we have the details. Carrying the top-level PZero name from their motorsport racing tires, Pirelli have developed unique Silica nanotech reinforced rubber compounds for a new PZero Velo range, promising an industry-leading balance of low rolling resistance, durability & wet weather grip. Pirelli is exclusively targeting race-level performance, but starting out with a set of reasonably priced road tires aimed at the amateur rider. Take a close look at the PZero Velo, TT & 4S tires after the break where we’ll dig into the SmartNet Silica tech that makes them tick…

We know the Pirelli brand well for performance car & motorcycle tires, but in fact they had been producing some of the first bicycle tires all the way back in the 1890s. They produced Grand Tour winning road tires though the 1960s but eventually moved focus to motorsports. Now after more than two years of development, Pirelli are adapting their expertise back to the bike with a three tire range. The Zero Velo, Zero Velo TT, and Zero Velo 4S hope to give road cyclists new performance clincher options that promise best-in category performance from tires that are competitively priced.

From the outside the tires don’t look much different from what we’ve come to expect with smooth to lightly grooved tread profiles and 23-28mm offerings, but it is inside that they pack a few different tech features that claim to truly boost performance. The key tech of the three tires essentially breaks down to advanced nanotech Silica infused rubber compounds, the integration of technical grooved treads adapted from the motorcycle, and precisely designed tire profile.

The SmartNet Silica is the real standout component of the new tires. The proprietary rubber compound is made up of 22 different elements mixed together, including key Silica nano technology in an application similar to what we saw with Vittoria’s Graphene+. But instead of working with nano-scale graphite, Pirelli is using a synthetic Silica manufactured to create consistently long & narrow nano-sized rods that can be oriented in the total rubber matrix (anisotropicly, or rather aligned with rotation) to do the counter intuitive of both decreasing rolling resistance and improving cornering & wet weather grip.

Everyone in the materials industry these days is talking about nano tech. But even though Pirelli is effectively a newcomer to cycling tires and quite small as a bike tire maker, they have an unsurprisingly strong chemistry & material science capability through their motorsports tire development that could easily cross over to cycling. That seems to have greatly benefited Pirelli’s cycling R&D as they already had the experience and know-how from premium motoring tires applying this same type of nanotech.

Then to create a cycling specific application they took the Functional Groove Design that they developed for motorcycling and again adapted it for the bike. Less about clearing debris away the stepped, variable depth & direction Flash grooves that have almost become a trademark for the brand, actually are designed to provide a controlled amount of flex of the rubber surface to more readily deform and grip the road surface as your corner.

With a smooth rolling center section for the treads, the alternating grooves side-to-side maintain tire stiffness but deform the most through a medium lean man angle for the most impact to road contact, and decrease again to a smooth stable surface for the most support at maximum lean angles.

Pirelli also adapted a tire profile shape from motorcycling as well, developing a 127tpi casing to achieve a contour with two different radii to optimize (and actually be able to change) the shape of the tire’s contact patch at different lean angles. Its something we presume some other tire makers have come to as well through layered tire construction, but the way Pirelli seems to have focused on controlling the tire profile through leaning by way of computer simulation and real world contact patch scanning highlights a unique focus the company has essentially as an outsider to top-level cycling for many years.
Each of the three tires (and just 7 total variants) have been entirely designed & prototyped in Pirelli’s high tech Milan HQ, along side tires destined for F1 cars, Lamborghinis, and Ducatis. From the chemical rubber compositions to tread & casing designs, to the actual production techniques, Pirelli has used decades of motorsport racing expertise to turn the cycling-unique deigns into reality. Pirelli creates all of their own proprietary rubber compounds in their factory in Romania so they can control the technology, then the tires themselves are produced under contract in France by a parter with the existing capacity. That partner appears to be Hutchinson who also makes Mavic tires, and Pirelli says that it has been a mutually beneficial relationship that allows them both to increase the economy of scale of manufacturing road bike tires.

PZero Velo

Of the three tires, the PZero Velo wants to set a new standard for a race-level clincher, designed to balance excellent handling and low rolling resistance efficiency with grip in the wet and even puncture resistance. It achieves most of that through the use of the nanotech SmartNet Silica reinforced rubber, as well as an aramid fiber anti-puncture belt.

It also gets the Flash groove design and the tire profile shaping for consistently high performance through cornering. The flagship PZero Velo is available in 23, 25 & 28mm widths at claimed weights of 195, 210, 230g, respectively. The 23 & 25mm tires are to be available to consumers in August 2017 with a retail price of 43€. The 28mm version is expected to be delivered about one month later, and will sell for ~46€.

PZero Velo 4S

While the standard tire claims excellent grip in the wet, the PZero Velo 4S or Four Season is said to boost grip even more by about 7% with a slightly stickier rubber compound. It also gets added anti-puncture protection and a more pronounced set of Flash grip grooves.

The 4S is still a fairly light and fast rolling tire. Available again in 23, 25 & 28mm versions it adds just a few grams over the more race focused tire to claimed 205, 220 & 250g, respectively. The two narrower versions should retail for ~46€, while the 28s will be the most expensive tire at 49€, with early August availability for all sizes.

PZero Velo TT

For those looking for the absolute lightest tire, with the lowest straight line rolling resistance the PZero Velo TT could be the choice. The tire keeps the same nanotech Silica rubber compound of the standard tire, but drops the grooves for less resistance (or cornering grip).

Intended mostly for the weight weenie racing against the clock the TT comes in just a 23mm width, with a claimed 165g weight and no anti-puncture protection.

We’ve had a chance to put in a little bit of ride time in on the standard 25mm PZero Velo clincher around the roads and wet/dry Pirelli test track outside of their Milan HQ. So far we’ve come away with a promising first look at the tires’ performance, delivering as advertised on both dry and wet tarmac. Pirelli sees a lot of value in their reputation, and appears to have done their homework with this tire introduction. They’ve intentionally kept the range small to give cyclists a chance to get a first impression what they are capable of.

And pricing has been intentionally set at a reasonable & realistic level. While you might see tires from some companies like Conti or Michelin that have list prices in the ~75€ range but regularly sell online for ~40€, that is something Pirelli doesn’t want. This roughly 43€ cost per tire will stay the same no matter where you look to buy them, offering a real & reliable value to riders.

The choice of this 23-28mm road race & all season range was picked as the type of tires most road riding amateurs are actually using these days, but is clearly though of as a starting point. Pirelli assured us that they have road tubeless tires already in the works, and there was talk about tubulars & discussions with at least two pro teams for the immediate future. When we asked what the thought about wider road tires, CX, XC, and even DH disciplines the answer from the product development side was pretty clearly ‘sure we are working on all of that’. Pretty much every racing discipline seems like fair game for Pirelli, they just aren’t going to jump in until they’ve proven themselves a bit first, and take the time to develop more tires to their own exacting standards.

Keep an eye out and we’ll get more into our first riding impressions in the coming days.

PZeroVelo.com

32 COMMENTS

    • I wouldn’t necessarily say that…

      There are some benefits to road tubeless, but they are not as dramatic as mountain or cross/gravel/adventure/whatever applications.

      The smaller volume of the tire, and general higher pressures for road do mean that the ability to run stupid low pressure like tubeless mtb or cross doesn’t really apply. Nobody is going to want to run thirteen psi in their road tire. Fifty or sixty for some people, sure maybe even some lower than that, but truly silly low pressures aren’t in the picture like cross and mtb.

      Tubeless tires often can truly be a bear to mount on the road side of things, more-so than I’ve seen in mtb or cross/gravel. Like, truly difficult to even get the tire onto the rim in some combinations.

      In a perfect world, tubeless road is great, easily mount the tire, easily seat the tire, toss some sealant in and ride the crap out of it for six months, peel the worn out rear tire off and toss it and start again, never having gotten a flat etc etc. But that certainly hasn’t been my experience with road tubeless – it’s the experience of some, yes. If you use Hutchinson tires on Shimano wheels, then all seems hunky-dory. But other combinations aren’t as easy and the benefits aren’t as dramatic as for other types of riding.

      I’m all in for tubeless in mountain, gravel. Where lower pressures, more grip, better puncture protection, and relatively easy installation seems to be the norm. The road side of things, benefits of tubeless don’t seem to be big enough for me, or lots of others, to fight with it.

      • I agree, my experience riding with high pressure road tubeless is they’re ultimately very high maintenance. What generally seems to happen is they puncture (perhaps more frequently for the lightweight versions without any puncture belt protection), but the sealant generally does generally do a really good job and allows you to keep keep riding/racing, although typically you’ve lost 30psi+ and so the tyre pressure is far from ideal for the rest of the ride. However, next day you pump the tyres back up from say 50psi up to 90psi you want and all seems fine, the old puncture has sealed up fine and holding pressure, but then you go out for a ride and with the movement of the tyre and opens back up again, the tyre pressure drops back to 50psi again, then it finally seals itself up and this process of events keeps repeating itself unless you patch each and every puncture hole on the tyre before each ride.
        Given my experience, I think they’re great for any road riding you really don’t want to stop, perhaps TT and unsupported road racing, but for general training and recreational cycling I’ve ended up doing is repairing tyres at home rather than putting a new inner tube in at the side of the road which isn’t exactly how they’re marketed.

    • The problem with road tubeless is that the conflicting demands of having a light supple casing for low rolling resistance, is negated by the need to make the casing more puncture resistant. Then dd in the weight of sealant and the rolling resistance it adds at the usable pressure the tyre needs to be run at and the benefits just aren’t as dramatic as for an MTB. Road bikes have very different needs. I think tubeless works great on tyres from 38mm and larger where the in use tyre pressure is much lower.

      • I (respectfully) disagree with the need to make a road tubeless tire more puncture resistant. In fact, a tubeless tire can be made thinner than it’s tubed counterpart, as the sealant does the job of closing small punctures.

        I will whole heartedly agree with you that most current road tubeless tires are heavier and many of those don’t ride nearly as well as a tubed version of the same tire, but I would stay that has more to do with beefed up sidewalls than adding material to the casing or treat for puncture resistance.

    • I would guess tubular tyres, they have a lot of the advantages of tubeless and tubeless tyres are not much easier to fit than tubs. I would really like 700x50c tubless road tyres that can run at low-ish pressures, they would be wonderful over the many, many potholes of England.

    • Let me solve the puzzle for you: these are business decisions by the companies you mentioned. Continental and Michelin make great road clinchers which probably outsell all road tubeless offerings combined. So why should they spend the R & D and marketing budgets trying and (likely) failing to establish a market for road tubeless after Schwalbe, Maxxis and Hutchinson have failed to do so? In our shop we very rarely see flats on high quality clinchers provided the following is true: the tire is properly inflated and the tire still has a crown.

      And I don’t think that the adoption of tubeless is slow when it is compared with other evolutions such as electronic shifting, road disc, 9/10/11/12 speed, thru axle standards, tapered steerers, etc. I, for one, am happy that the industry isn’t forcing a new standard on shops and consumers.

      • “In our shop we very rarely see flats on high quality clinchers provided the following is true: the tire is properly inflated and the tire still has a crown.”

        I think this is more down to the fact that the majority of people riding high quality clinchers change their own tubes. We don’t see many in our shop either, but I definitely see them on group rides and at races.

    • My experience is sealant doesn’t work at the pressures required in road tyres. Once the tyre has a hole and sealant has blocked it up, tyre pressure is lower and it works. Pump back up to 90-100psi again and the sealant eventually gives way and the same hole opens back up, you essentially re-puncture, the psi drops, then the sealant fills the hole and the process repeats time and time again until you actually put a patch on the tyre so it can maintain high psi throughout a ride. They have their place, but generally all you end up doing is riding on low pressure once they puncture and patching a difficult to remove tyre full of sealant more frequently, just at home instead of out on the street.

  1. Unmounting my Pro Ones from a wide rim is the only painful task. Difficult to mount, but not that bad. Sealant is only messy the very first time you work with it. Tires with my low-volume Lezyne floor pump. Practically immune to flats from tread punctures under 5mm. Dynaplugs cover punctures a bit wider than that. I have only had one flat in a year since converting to tubeless, and that was because I ran over a screw that was about 6mm wide.

    • Quick (and genuine) question regarding the Dynaplugs: have you had to use one on the tread of a road tire? I’ve only used them on knobby MTB tires, but I could imagine that the plug would cause a noticeable bump when you roll over that part of a smooth road tire.

    • Pro Ones have been far from immune to punctures in my experience. I’d say even with 30mm of Schwalbe Doc Blu sealant they won’t hold much more than 60psi unless repaired with a patch. You can get home on them or finish the race, but in my experience, the sealant is a temporary fix and even the smallest pin holes won’t be fixed long-term without a patch. The sealant plug always fails on a future ride it seems.

  2. I agree with the original poster. It is crazy that these tire companies are not devoting more attention to tubeless. Why is it that roadies and the road industry take so long to adopt better technology. Tubeless is better. Disc brakes are better.

      • Come on. Let’s be real here. How many people are riding tubular. Pros. Maybe 2% of the rest of the population. Tubeless provides way less flats than tubular and way less hassle if you get a puncture. Also, tubeless can roll better in certain situation and you are seeing some pros run them in certain races. Also, as they become ubiquitous they will be half the price of cottons and tubulars. Tubeless and disc brakes will be standard in 5 years. You cannot stand in the way of progress.

      • I run my 25mm Pro Ones at 77/85psi. You sure they aren’t as supple as cotton casing tubulars at that point? I’ll take the extra rim weight in exchange for flat protection, ease of repairing a flat in the middle of a ride, real-world suppleness from lower tire pressures and lower costs altogether ($38 for Pro Ones)

        • Many of the top rolling tires are tubeless and that typically means the most supple too. Then…rare flats. There are barely any negatives.
          Tubulars? Great for racing if you get a flat, and they’re surely lighter, but they’re all slower than the good tubeless tires you can buy now.

      • That’s not true any longer. The Schwalbe Pro One tubeless tire has the 7th lowest rolling resistance of any road tires tested at BicyclerollingResistance.com. Care to guess which has the lowest rolling resistance? The Vittoria Corsa Speed Open TLR, another tubeless tire. The Corsa Speed is weight competitive with virtually any of the tires tested. The Schwalbe is competitive, too, when you consider that clinchers require the additional weight of inner tubes. The last point, well, the number say that the minimal differences in weight are really insignificant when you consider that moment of inertia is the key metric, and when it comes to bicycle wheels, moment of inertia is already pretty small. More pointedly, even large changes in moment of inertia don’t result in large changes in bicycle acceleration.

    • And I hope the side walls are stronger the PZero Rosso on my car. Those things seem to be a nail magnet and always trying to absorb it through the sidewall

      • Try the Michelin Pilot Super Sport or PSS Cup. The PSS has almost become a cliche but it’s a really good tire. Wears like Iron, good sidewalls, grip for days, fairly cheap, whats not to like.

        Just don’t mount the slicks backwards or they might explode.

        • I had a set of Michelin Pilot Sport 3s mounted to my Honda Jazz (aka Fit). The only real criticism I could level at them was that they were slightly noisy. Otherwise they were a do-everything tire – daily commute, trackdays, road trips. They lasted four years, at which point I ran them almost bald. Relatively expensive in my country, but damn worth every penny!

  3. I’d buy these just to have Pirelli tires. I don’t really care about who/what/why has +/- 1% rolling resistance. Chuck some light weight tubes in and away we go.

  4. I’ll wait for tests first.
    Rolling resistance must be at least 90% as good as Continental 4000sII for me to try for other quality such as grip, suppleness and durability

  5. I really wish these were tubeless. I’ve been using tubeless for 5 years and you really would have to pay me actual significant money to even run tubes in anything ever again.

    As far as tubulars being more supple than tubeless, maybe. I have tubulars too, I can’t tell. But they tubeless are faster.

    I still race tubulars in CX, because they are more reliable. Although I have found tire/rim combos for tubeless that work perfect.

  6. Oh – not tubeless, so so last century.

    And “This roughly 43€ cost per tire will stay the same no matter where you look to buy them” smacks of retail price fixing, which is illegal. Maybe what you meant to explain was that the RRP is reasonably close to the wholesale price. What that means is that fewer shops will stock it as no big builit-in profit margin. That’s just the way retail has to work now

    • Sorry, that is not retail price fixing. Any manufacturer can price their product and force retailers both online and at brick&mortor to sell at the required price. Just so you don’t have to look it up, price fixing is when you collude with the competition to price at the same levels with the intended purpose of artificially keeping competitive pricing high.

      • First of all, manufacturers who set minimum transaction prices are absolutely engaging in price fixing. All “price fixing” means is “setting a fixed price.” This is pretty much illegal in Europe. (I’m betting SteveP is from Europe, since he used the abbreviation “RRP,” which is the British equivalent to the American “MSRP.”)

        It was illegal in the US for nearly 100 years. That changed in 2007 when the US Supreme Court issued the Leegin decsion. Since then, federal law allows manufacturers to dictate transaction prices as long as it’s only “vertical” (manufacturer-to-dealer) price fixing. “Horizontal” price fixing (among competitors, whether manufacturers or dealers) is still illegal in the US. On top of that, some states have made vertical price fixing illegal, so the idea that minimum advertised prices (MAPs) are legal throughout the US simply isn’t true.

        Both vertical price fixing and horizontal price fixing are price fixing. Both are illegal in Europe, and one recently became legal in the US. While I appreciate Matt’s concern that we needn’t look anything up, it still pays to check.

        I’m not a lawyer; if I’ve gotten anything wrong here, I’d welcome an attorney’s correction.

        • Thanks – and just to add – yes, the US used to be a leader in capitalism and free markets but recently retreated, with some states (NY, CA) being a bit more aggressive on how MAP is applied, etc. Retail price fixing is simply that – “fixing” a retail price and is not legal (even in the US – where while not automatically a breach of federal law, still breaks many state laws). What now happens in the US is a Minimum Advertised Price. The rationale is that the distributor provides “services and incentives” (kickbacks, bonuses.. whatever – money) to a retailer based on units moved and adhering to MAP. Sell (well, advertise) below MAP and you lose the benefits (and no doubt any future orders get “lost” as well.)

          Ironically (since Americans still delude themselves that they have free trade) the EU is much more aggressive – note Specialized (or Lawyerized, as I call them) and other anti-competitive retailers’ products are available online in the UK and EU but are restricted to store-only in the less free-market USA. Just look at what has happened with some US distributors who “broke the rules” – cut off – no supply. Welcome to the sales “pogrom” comrade!

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resale_price_maintenance

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