On two wheels and four, the need for speed is at the heart of Italian sporting culture. And, more often than not, those wheels are wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a tradition now taking hold in the world of cycling, as professional and amateur riders alike enjoy an F1-inspired performance boost.
From its unique logo to its heritage pushing the boundaries of tire design, Pirelli embodies style, technology and relentless innovation. He has enjoyed success at the highest level and in a wide range of top sporting disciplines.
Worldwide tire partner of the FIA Formula 1 World Championship for more than a decade, Pirelli is also the exclusive supplier of the FIA World Rally Championship and the FIM Superbike World Championship, and has powered countless champions to glory under some of the most demanding conditions imaginable.
This same spirit can be found in its latest range of cycling products. Professional Pirelli-shod teams now compete at the highest levels of road cycling, as well as in gravel and cross-country, enduro and downhill mountain biking disciplines.
Some of the biggest names in cycling, including two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar, Paris-Roubaix Women winner Elisa Longo Borghini and former world road champion Mads Pedersen, now benefit from the same technology that powered Lewis Hamilton to worldwide success in F1.
For all this association with motorsport, Pirelli’s history in cycling goes back just as far, with a significant number of competitors in the very first Giro d’Italia in 1909 running its tires in a race that started in Milan, the hometown of the company.
When Edoardo Bianchi was looking for a tire supplier with a spirit of innovation equal to his own, he knew where to turn, leading to the formation of the first Bianchi-Pirelli team for the 1914 Giro d’Italia. partnerships followed, including victories in the 1950s in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France for Fausto Coppi in the classic Bianchi-Pirelli blue and white colors.
In 2018, Pirelli made a triumphant return to the world of competitive cycling, with no less than three professional teams now using its tires in the UCI WorldTour, including Trek-Segafredo, AG2R Citroën and UAE Team Emirates.
Today, Pirelli’s line of road bike tires encompasses everything from tires for commuters to racing tubulars, many of which use technology straight out of motorsport.
“Pirelli has had an identity deeply linked to racing since its inception 150 years ago,” explains Samuele Bressan, global marketing manager for Pirelli’s cycling division, “so it’s deeply embedded in the corporate culture that , at all levels, it is always at the center of any decision.
Fueling this mindset is a dedication to innovation dating back to the very origins of the company, with more than 2,000 people now working in its Milan-based research and development department alone.
“Our global R&D is structured and crosses all disciplines, from motorsport and passenger car tires, to those for motorcycles and cycling,” explains Bressan. “There are engineers working in all divisions, including the compounding department, which works on everything from F1 to cycling from day to day. The same goes for others, including materials, chemistry labs and field testing.
knowledge and instinct
Check out the specs of products like the critically acclaimed P-Zero Race TLR and you’ll see a plethora of branded patented technologies, including SmartNET Silica, SmartEVO Compound and TechWALL enclosures, most of which are directly influenced by lore. -make Pirelli in motorsport.
Choosing SmartNET Silica as a specific example, this motorsport-inspired compound uses elongated molecules rather than the circular molecules found in most tires.
“By orienting these rods in the rolling direction of the tire, we obtain a mechanical advantage in terms of rolling and energy dispersion, which makes it possible to adjust the entire formulation”, explains Bressan. “In terms of pure rider feel, it’s hard to discern – you just have a tire that’s faster and with more grip at the same time.”
This combination of science and instinct is what makes tire design so fascinating and challenging. That’s why Pirelli engineers work hand-in-hand with professional cyclists to help ‘tune’ a tire that offers both a subjective and objective level.
“We work on the basis of evidence,” says Bressan, “but pro athletes are always pushing for improvements, however small, and the feel of the tire must also give them control and the ability to push the limit. But at the same time, there’s no point building a tire based on feel if there isn’t solid data that proves it’s faster too.
Find the right balance
Balancing this creative tension between feedback from the pros and what the engineers can offer is well understood by Pirelli, given the similar relationships it has with top competitors in F1, superbike racing and rallying. It’s just one of the ways a tire suited to Pogačar’s or Hamilton’s keen senses can deliver the same performance benefits to riders and drivers of all skill levels.
While many of the patented technologies that Pirelli has developed over the years for motorsport have found applications in its road cycling tyres, there are also specific benefits when engineers adapt things like the SmartEVO compound used in all the P-Zero range.
“Due to the low weight of our product, we can use almost any polymer we want, regardless of their complexity,” says Bressan. “The price impact on the final product is therefore almost negligible, so we are in a very positive situation where we have at our disposal the full availability of our newest and most advanced polymers.”
The very specific requirements of motorcycle racing tires also translate perfectly to human-powered two-wheelers, even on the most “everyday” products such as Angel Urban commuter tires. “The cross-section takes up that typical shape of motorcycle tires, with a high-shouldered tread,” adds Bressan.
Forged in competition
“In our case, this is also proprietary, as the radius proportion and ratios are defined and patented. A more obvious example you can see is the tread pattern, which is nearly identical and simply redesigned for the lower forces of a bike.
Pirelli’s return to the cycling market amid a widespread switch to tubeless technology also presents a fantastic opportunity to seize the technical lead.
“From our side, the switch to tubeless is of course good in terms of pure performance,” says Bressan. “Tubeless is faster and the most capable technology, so it makes sense to focus on that.”
For some pro teams, tubulars still reign supreme, and Pirelli’s innovative P-Zero Race Tub SL, with its lightweight TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane) interior, is still part of the product line, with particular emphasis on the weight reduction demanded by WorldTour riders.
Few people outside of this field can actually use such tires these days and the tide is turning to tubeless in the peloton as well. Lizzie Deignan (2021) and Longo Borghini (2022) won Paris-Roubaix Women on 30mm Pirelli P-Zero Race TLR tubeless tyres.
However, for Pirelli it is also a matter of pride – and a reflection of a culture forged in competition – that tubulars, as a specialist product, should receive as much attention as the mainstream equivalents in the range. P-Zero Race.
That this high-performance range performs so well with demanding cyclists comes as no surprise to Pirelli, given that in the automotive world its equivalent P-Zero tires account for almost three-quarters of its global sales, underscoring its status as a premium supplier.
Given that a fair number of motorsport fans are also cycling enthusiasts (and vice-versa), the brand recognition of products such as the P-Zero means it was only natural to transfer that name from the automobile to cycling. Along with the colour-coded sidewall logos, the all-weather P-Zero Race 4S features the same blue stripes as the equivalent F1 rain tyres.
It all goes to show that, while Pirelli may seem like a relative newcomer to the cycling market to some, the company brings with it a long-standing appreciation of the sport, informed by its wider involvement in similar motorsport disciplines.
This culture, the aforementioned need for speed and an understanding of how to deliver it to the world’s most demanding customers is why the Pirelli logo is the perfect finishing touch for any dream bike build. Because, let’s face it, with a set of P-Zero tires, you follow in the footsteps of champions.