Sometimes in spite of perfectly laid plans, the weather has other ideas for your ride. That was to be the case during the launch of the Pirelli Scorpion tires. While our host had planned an epic ride on the slopes of Mt. Etna, a freak snow storm blanketed the lava fields with simply too much of the white stuff to make it happen.
It was on to ‘Plan B’ then. Instead of ascending towards the summit, we would descend towards the sea. Making the most of the Sicilian countryside, we linked up sections of singletrack, fire road, forgotten cycle paths, city streets, and the occasional orange grove. The route wasn’t that much of a departure for an XC tire, but it certainly wasn’t the volcano heavy cross country ride we had imagined. However, there was still plenty to be discovered about the new tires that were fitted to our bikes.
Personally, I was on the Santa Cruz Blur TR we recently got in for testing which was then outfitted with Pirelli Scorpions. You have to admit, it sounds cool to say that. Larger tire samples were limited so my bike was fitted with a 29 x 2.2″ Mixed Condition tire up front, and a 29 x 2.2 Rear specific tire out back.
In spite of their relatively low volume, the tires instantly had a notably positive ride feel. They just seemed to have that silky smooth ride that often comes from supple casings and softer rubber. For pressures, I ended up around 22 psi up front and 25 psi in the rear as measured with a Blackburn Honest Digital gauge. While a lot of the ride was going to be hardpack or even pavement, there was still a lot of moisture on the ground from the storms, with plenty of loose volcanic stone, mud, and sand to keep things interesting.
And that volcanic stone did indeed make things interesting. Short of mounting the biggest, most aggressive tires to try and claw your way through it, scree fields of lava are almost like sand pits in cross. You start out with a line in mind, but in the end you just go with it and surf your way through it. Unlike sand, the lava is extremely abrasive and seems to wear down tires quickly. Because of this, it’s hard to comment on the durability of the SmartGRIP rubber compound. At the end of the ride, there were a number of tires that looked like they had far more than a single ride on them. But then again, I’ve been on other rides where brand new tires from other manufacturers literally had the knobs ripped off by the end of the first ride. The Pirellis were still in great shape, just more abraded than expected – which could be entirely due to the volcanic rock sections.
We’ll have to wait to make any judgement on durability until after we’ve had plenty of time on the tires on our own turf.
On the positive side, the grip provided by my tires seemed far better than expected, regardless of the terrain. During one section we crossed a creek and then tackled a long “rock garden” which seemed more like an uphill rock filled drainage or creek. In spite of the wet, mud covered tires, the Scorpions locked onto the rocks turning what could have been a tricky section into an easy cruise. That surprising grip continued throughout the ride, providing trail worthy traction out of a light weight XC tire.
Usually, giving a gaggle of journalists a fleet of bikes with new parts leads to a number of flats. But in this case, I believe there was only one among the group. Which is pretty impressive considering the amount of man made debris scattered along the roads, cycle tracks, and fire roads. Not to mention that lava rock is generally not smooth and forgiving. All of our tires were set up tubeless, and judging by how quickly the Pirelli techs were popping tires on and off, they seem to set up quite well.
Overall, my first ride on the Pirelli Scorpions was overwhelmingly positive. Pirelli seems to have come out of the gate with a very competitive tire that seems to check most of the right boxes. The one unknown seems to be their durability, but as mentioned that’s something that will need to be tested further – away from an active volcano. As a result, I’m really looking forward to testing some of the larger options in the line, and will report back down the trail!
For the full story on the Scorpion launch, check out the first post here.