Few tire brands have Pirelli’s legacy. The Italian company has been making tires since 1872 and in that time it has won multiple motorsport World Championships.
Although Pirelli’s presence in the best mountain bike tires market is relatively new, debuting in 2019, it has significant R&D resources to draw upon. Pirelli’s engineers have also shown great awareness of the unique challenges presented by mountain bike tire design, in application and in scale. In fact, the brand contracted former downhill World Champion and perhaps the most technically literate elite mountain biker, Fabien Barel, as a consultant, to assist in developing its gravity tire range.
A novelty of Pirelli’s mountain bike tire offering is the single name, denoting a multitude of tires: Scorpion. All of Pirelli’s tires are Scorpions, with the individual market segments denoted by a range of suffixes.
So how do Pirelli’s history and meaningful R&D assets benefit mountain bikers? The SmartGRIP compound is its sophisticated rubber formulation, which combines traditionally opposing tire characteristics. SmartGRIP delivers excellent tear-resistance for optimal mechanical grip on dry trails, whilst also retaining superior chemical grip on wet surfaces. Pirelli prides itself on marketing mountain bike tires that work strongly across a range of climatic conditions.
Scroll down to see Bike Perfect's roundup of Pirelli’s range of MTB tires this year, or if you're a bit confused by all the different casing options, jump to Pirelli tires explained.
Pirelli XC tires
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Targeted at dedicated XC and XCO racers, the Scorpion XC RC is a raceday special. Only available in the 29x2.2in size, it features a very mild tread pattern, which reduces rolling resistance.
What it might lack in outright descending grip, is balanced by incredible efficiency. At only 610g, the Scorpion XC RC, in the LITE casing, delivers incredible rolling responsiveness to any pedal input.
That low rotating mass will also save you from premature fatigue during a long race. It might be a narrow tire by contemporary XC standards, but with a 120TPI casing, the Scorpion XC RC is supple, offering good cornering support.
This is a great option to use as a front tire, with the XC RC aft. Pirelli’s Scorpion XC S offers the larger 2.4in casing as an option.
Beyond its larger available air volume for those XC riders who are seeing the value of a 2.4in tire on wider rims, there are tougher casings too. Pirelli’s Scorpion XC S can be combined with the ProWALL casing, featuring an additional layer of nylon fabric, protecting the tire’s sidewall.
Designers at Pirelli have also spread the Scorpion XC S’s tread pattern a touch, to allow for larger knobs and more dynamic space, to deliver self-cleaning rotation.
Pirelli trail tires
Only available in the wide 2.4in casing, Pirelli’s Scorpion Trail S is a trail riding tire, for soft conditions.
If your local singletrack is always loamy, or dusty, the large tread blocks and alternating shoulder knobs of this tire will provide good cornering confidence.
Recognizing that a wider trail tire is more at risk of sniper roots and rocks striking the sidewall, Pirelli uses a 60TPI casing for the Scorpion Trail S.
As with most Pirelli tires, it features the brand’s ProWALL casing reinforcement, boosting puncture production and cornering support through high-speed berms.
This is a Pirelli mountain bike tire that could classify as ideal for downcountry. It has a faster rolling tread than other Scorpion Trail variants, with larger edge blocks for cornering grip and a milder center tread, to speed along hardpack trails.
The 60TPI casing gives relatively good puncture protection but the real appeal of the Scorpion Trail H is its blend of aggregate rolling speed and edge confidence when leaning the bike over.
If you are a rider who lives in a warm climate with hardpack trails, these are good tires for bikes up to 130mm of travel.
Pirelli Enduro tires
Immediately noticeable is the wide pattern tread block spacing. This creates an increased point loading on the individual tread blocks, allowing the Scorpion Enduro S to really dig into terrain, harvesting all available grip.
The shoulder tread blocks are an alternating arrangement of larger and smaller shapes, with a distinct swish-sipe, to create gradual breakaway close to the limit.
If you wish to run lower pressures, Pirelli’s HardWALL bead-to-bead rubber insert provides additional support and cornering stability.
This is a slightly faster-rolling enduro tire, which works well as both a front or rear tire.
With the 60TPI casing and robust Pirelli puncture protection, you can fit an Enduro M with confidence on the rear of your long-travel bike. Meanwhile the tread pattern has an interesting series of bridges linking the individual tread blocks, which assist in shedding mud.
An unusual alternative with the Pirelli enduro tire, is to run it up front on shorter travel bikes with progressive geometry. Downcountry riders wanting a front tire with all the toughness and efficient rolling you’d expect from an enduro category product, might find the Enduro M ideal.
Pirelli tires explained
LITE: As the name says, this is Pirelli’s lightest mountain bike tire casing.
It delivers the lowest overall weight and rotational mass, with greater sidewall cut exposure. Aimed at XC racers who are obsessed with keeping those grams to a minimum.
ProWALL: This is what you’ll find on many of Pirelli’s mountain bike tires in the XC and trail category.
The brand’s ProWALL reinforcement adds a layer of nylon fabric. Benefits? You gain additional sidewall puncture protection and a bit more structural support when railing berms at high speed.
HardWALL: Pirelli’s most robust structure, applied to its Enduro range. To shield the tire in highly technical terrain, where rocks and sniper roots abound, Pirelli’s HardWALL adds bead-to-bead protection.
Engineers at Pirelli devised a rubber insert, which sits above the bead and spreads across, giving you greater puncture protection, no matter which angle you might be cornering at.
Pirelli's XC tires are mostly a selection of 120TPI casings. This structure gives that very precise terrain feedback, especially at lower tire pressures, and better vertical compliance for a softer overall ride.
On the more aggressive riding Trail and Enduro tires, there are also 60TPI casings, which are tougher.