Pirelli, the Italian tire manufacturer synonymous with motorsport, is re-entering the road cycling world after a long absence. They are starting with three road tires all wearing the iconic ‘P Zero’ label, the same name given to Pirelli’s F1 tires. There is the Pirelli P Zero Velo, a lightweight race clincher, the P Zero Velo TT, a super lightweight race day/time trial tire and the P Zero Velo 4S, a tire intended for riding in any weather.
It’s exciting to see a brand with Pirelli’s history and know-how get back into cycling, but two facts disappointed us immediately. Firstly, Pirelli is not making any tubeless tires. Secondly, and we know this is trivial but it still seems like a lost opportunity, the tires do not have the iconic Pirelli logo seen on its motorsports tires. That would have just been ultra-cool.
The P Zero Velo tires rely on Pirelli’s new SmartNet Silica compound to provide good grip, even in the wet, with very low rolling resistance – although the bench testing we have seen does not show rolling resistance numbers any lower than the competition. Silica is nothing new in tires, but Pirelli claim to have a found a way to arrange microscopic rods of silica longitudinally, rather than randomly, to reduce heat build up as well as increase tire life. The tires, except for the fully slick P Zero Velo TT, use Pirelli’s ‘Functional Groove’ design tread, which the brand claims works at both motorsports and cycling speeds. Finally, the treads profile has different radii for the side wall and the crown to improve handling.
The tires are light, and rely only on an aramid belt under the tread to protect the 127tpi casing from puncture. Even the four season tire does not have a bead-to-bead puncture protection. The P Zero Velo and Velo 4S tires come in 23, 25 and 28mm widths, while the P Zero TT is 23mm only. The Velo tire weighs just 195grams in 23mm and our 28mm test tires hit 221grams on the scale, less than the 230grams advertised. The Velo 4S hits just 205grams in 23mm and an impressive 250grams for the 28mm. The 23mm only P Zero Velo TT is only 165grams, but truly race day specific. Pirelli uses the same color coding system it uses in motorsports. The P Zero Velo has silver highlights meaning it is a medium-soft compound, the P Zero Velo TT is red, for super-soft, while the 4S tire is blue meaning a wet weather compound.
Setting wheels up with the new Pirelli tires is incredibly easy. Just pulling the P Zero Velo 28mm tires out of the box reveals an incredibly supple casing with soft, sticky rubber. Mounting requires very little effort and no tire levers. On our scale it was nice to see the tires come in 9 grams below the advertised weight as noted above. That did get us wondering, many tires save weight by claiming to be wider than they actually are. Happily, the 28mm P Zero Velo tires measured 28.5mm at 95psi on our Irwin 58mm Aon TLR wheels, which have an 18mm internal width. As we get the tires on the road it will be interesting to see just how long they last and how well they fight punctures. They feel so soft and sticky in the hand that we’ll be surprised if they last very long on the road.
All in all, the launch of these new tires is both promising and underwhelming. On one hand, they seem very old fashioned. They are not tubeless and come in typical widths – is anyone still buy 23mm tires? – but they feel amazing in the hand and Pirelli’s knowledge and research capability is undeniable. Now, if only they had the ‘iconic’ Pirelli graphics. Stay tuned for a full road test in the near future.