PIRELLI SCORPION RACE DH M TIRES REVIEW
RACE TIRES WITH EVERYDAY PERFORMANCE
Words by Robert Johnston | Photos by Finlay Anderson
Pirelli rejoined the mountain bike world in 2019 with their Scorpion tire range, and since then they’ve been refining and building out their mountain bike range. They’d yet to really take off though, with performance that didn’t quite match the best on offer by other brands. Last year they released their Scorpion Race tire lineup, developed with their pro Downhill and Enduro race teams including the one and only Fabien Barel to offer the best in performance for aggressive riding. We’ve been putting a set to the test for quite a while now, and it’s safe to say they’ve been impressive.
The Pirelli Scorpion Race lineup is a totally different line of tires to their standard Scorpion range, sharing some similarities in the nomenclature but otherwise using a new rubber compound, tread pattern and casing construction to deliver the ultimate in performance for racing and the most aggressive riding.
The Scorpion Race M is available in Enduro and DH (tested) versions, sharing the same tread pattern and rubber compound but with different casing construction to support the different needs of each discipline – Enduro focusing on feeling the terrain below with slightly faster rolling and lighter weight, and DH focusing on supporting the highest loads on the tire.
Scorpion Race M is a tread pattern designed for mixed conditions, from hardpack to slightly soft and loose soils. Focus was made on a predictable break-away of traction as the tire is leaned over, ensuring the rider is able to feel the limits without compromising support. The more central tread is ramped on the leading edges to improve rolling speed, and the angled braking edges are designed to improve precision and predictability when slowing down.
The Scorpion Race tires use the SmartEVO DH compound, which was specifically designed for mountain bike racing applications. The priorities were to produce a rubber compound that would work the best under the most extreme mechanical loads, offering a predictable break-away of traction that allows the rider to enter a “controlled slip”. The SmartEVO DH compound comprises a stiff rubber base designed to offer support and shock absorption, which is covered in a soft 42a rubber on the outside to offer the grip required, regardless of the temperature. Rolling resistance was not forgotten in the development, with the outer layer selected to retain reasonable rolling speed so as not to lose precious seconds against the clock when rolling speed matters.
The Pirelli Scorpion Race DH M tire uses the DualWALL+ carcass construction, whereas the Enduro version uses a lighter and more supple DualWALL carcass. DualWALL+ features two 60tpi layers from bead to bead in a double-ply construction. Down at the bead area there is a rubber insert to prevent pinch flats, and the sidewalls feature another fabric layer to further increase support. The Scorpion Race DH M is offered in 29” or 27.5” in 2.5” width only, with the 29” version tipping the scales at 1,443g (actual). Retail prices sit at $99.90 / £78.99.
Originally, I was able to test the Scorpion Race tires at a Bike Connection Agency event for a couple of days, which gave me some very promising first impressions, and had me extremely excited to get them onto more familiar terrain for some increased trail time. The set I rode for this first ride showed signs of wear to the braking edges quite quickly, so I was very interested to see how the durability of these tires proved to be, and whether they would be exclusively saved for race only or if they could serve as a setup for day-to-day riding. They found their way onto my YT Tues long term test rig, and joined me in the Alps where I managed to get four big days on them logging some solid vert with the most aggressive riding of my year. I also took them for a couple of enduro pedals, and finally a couple of downhill days back in Scotland to conclude testing.
As it turns out, my first impressions on these tires were correct. They are some of the very best I’ve yet to ride for dry to damp conditions. From hardpack and blown out berms in Chatel to tacky and smooth turns in Bernex – and even the loamy steeps of Pleney – the Pirelli Scorpion Race DH M tires provided control and predictability that continually spat me out of a section of trail with my eyes wide open in disbelief at the speed and G-forces I was able to hold. Pirelli has really done something magic with the “controlled slip” pursuit in their development, as though it’s not impossible to break traction with the Scorpion Race DH M tires, there was not a single time throughout testing where it happened unexpectedly. Having such confidence in the point at which a tire breaks and regains traction lets you get loose without so much danger, and the level of traction on offer is high enough across the majority of conditions that you can absolutely rip with these fitted to your bike.
This predictability no doubt comes thanks to the combination of a solid carcass that’s able to withstand high forces without folding, and the tread which balances the soft outer rubber to achieve great grip with the stiffer base which prevents the knobs from folding prematurely. I ran pressures similar to what I’d expect to run in a downhill tire, which produced a slightly stiffer feel in the tire than most, but didn’t lead to excessive deflection or discomfort. They’re nicely damped, but don’t feel overly muted and “dead” on slightly mellower sections of trail. Whether I wanted to square up turns; hit off camber compressions without a thought or generate a quick change of direction to get up high into a corner, the Scorpion Race tires proved time and time again to have my back, and had me full of excitement to try to find their limits. Braking traction in hard to mid soils is similarly excellent, and they have a notable calmness to the times where you’re hard on the anchors.
Once conditions deteriorated back in Scotland I managed to test their wet weather capabilities, and the Scorpion Race M tires finally showed their limits on a couple of particularly gloopy sections of trail. The tread pattern is quite tightly spaced; and though it’s wide enough to do a fine job of cutting through deep loam to find traction, sticky mud will pack into the gaps and can be inclined to stay there at slower speeds, leading to a lack of grip where a wetter condition tire would be in its element. Pirelli offers the Scorpion Race tires in wider spaced “S” and “Mud” options, which would be a better call for the worse weather days. Wet rock and root is handled respectably by the “M” though, limiting the amount of squirm and staying stuck as well as the best of them.
With gravity tires using ultra sticky rubber, you typically accept that there’s going to be a penalty to rolling resistance, and these Pirellis are no different. That said, they didn’t feel to drag quite as much as the likes of a MaxxGrip DH Assegai, but that’s speculative rather than scientific. Much to my surprise, the wear rate hasn’t been quite as extreme as I’d expected, and they’ve still got plenty of life left in them to keep on enjoying their dependability and predictability, though their braking edges are certainly starting to show signs of duress. The carcasses haven’t so much as flinched yet, regardless of how hard I charged through exposed roots; some gnarly rock gardens, and even a full-send run of a loose rock-littered fireroad called “puncture alley” (for quite obvious reasons).
The Wolf’s Last Word
Mr Barel knows a thing or two about what it takes to support riding on the edge, as evidenced by the performance that has been delivered by the Pirelli Scorpion Race DH M tires. With a high level of grip backed up by a great level of predictability and feel, these tires quickly rocketed up to the top of my list when it comes to pushing a bike hard in mixed terrain. Durability proved to be excellent for the carcasses and even respectable for the tread wear, so far they really feel to be a top tier option to me.
Price: $99.90 / £78.99