Pirelli tyres: inside the P Zero Race tyre family

Pirelli is one of few brands to successfully navigate from motorsport to cycling. We take a close look at the technology behind Pirelli's latest range of tyres

We’re all going out for rides perched on top of science projects. We’re not supposed to notice it — that’s the whole point of bike design, after all, to simply make it a good ride without necessitating much of any thought from the rider. Pirelli has a long history of science projects that turned out just right. It’s easy to tell because most of us haven’t thought about it. The P Zero Race tyre lineup is another science project gone right.

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Pirelli leaned on decades of experience in the automotive world and translated much of the rubber compounding and design specifically to cycling. That happened a few years ago. A lot has changed since then.

“Chemicals have improved across the board in the last four years, so there are compounds that are simply better,” says Samuele Bressan, head of Global Marketing for Pirelli. 

So the P Zero Velo tyre lineup has been redesigned and replaced completely, with the P Zero Race tyres. Not surprisingly, the compound has gotten a significant makeover.

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Rubber compounds

Pirelli’s first modern foray into bicycle tyres four years ago centered on the SmartNet Silica compound. A particular type of Silica is engineered at the molecular level to enhance energy efficiency. It also allows for better interaction with other components in the compound, according to Pirelli. 

That translates to high grip and high rolling efficiency for the rider.  

That was good back then, but Bressan says the new SmartEvo compound blows it out of the water.

That’s a function of functionalized polymers. “You insert pieces of polymers into the main polymer chain,” says Bressan. “You take a polymer that has one main characteristic, and insert it” to complement the functions of the rest of the chain.

That means Pirelli sought out the often-unattainable trinity of wet grip, low rolling resistance, and mechanical strength that slows down wear. 

“SmartNet Silica is still pretty good,” says Bressan, “but not as advanced with combining the grip with the rolling resistance. Combining the two is the most difficult thing, so you need more complex chemicals.”

You’re likely to notice that in wet conditions. While grip in dry conditions is often a mechanical aspect of the tyre, grip in wet conditions relies on the chemical makeup of the tyre. Pirelli learned this from designing auto tyres, and translated the knowledge to the cycling world. The tricky part is, of course, combining that knowledge with the unique design challenges that come with cycling — namely, creating the combination of grip and durability in an extremely lightweight package. 


The new range of P Zero race tyres have been developed with wider rims in mind. On top of that, European tyre and Rim Technical Organization (ETRTO) sizing standards have changed.

That means the old 25mm tyre is going to measure out to the same actual width as the new 28mm tyre. That doesn’t change much for the consumer, aside from having to remember to buy the 28mm tyre instead of the 25mm tyre to get the same actual width. 

In practical terms, keep in mind that with wider tyres, you’ll be able to lower your tyre pressure in order to get the best combination of low rolling resistance, grip, and comfort. This also increases puncture protection, since the width of the puncture protection area is wider, too.

P Zero Race TLR 

All of those adjustments in the lab bring us to P Zero Race. The P Zero tyre lineup has been redeveloped completely, says Bressan, and as a family of tyres, P Zero Race now has a lot more to offer just about any type of rider.

And the lineup is fairly extensive. There is of course a P Zero Race Tub SL, which is a tubular tyre meant for the likes of WorldTour riders. It features a TPU tube and a 320 TPI corespun casing with Aramid reinforcing fibers. 

The top of the line P Zero Race TLR and TLR SL offer tubeless functionality in a race tyre; the SL means superlight to accommodate the gram-counters among us. Both tyres benefit from Pirelli’s SmartEvo compound. The P Zero Race TLR gets Pirelli’s Techwall+ Road construction, which uses multiple layer construction to add strength and puncture protection. The TLR SL gets the Techwall Road treatment instead, which reduces the number of layers to keep weight to a minimum.

Shop Pirelli P Zero Race TLR

All told, the SL version is about 20 grams lighter than the regular TLR version in a size 28mm tyre, though weights can vary if you get the classicwall sidewall colour.

P Zero Race tube type

Pirelli recognizes not all riders have made the leap to tubeless. That’s where the P Zero Race tyres come into play.

Like the P Zero Race TLR tyres, the P Zero Race tyres utilize the SmartEvo compound. But the P Zero Race gets a TechBelt Road casing. This offers exceptional puncture protection by adding a highly cut-resistant fiber to the casing structure.

The P Zero Race tyre is about 20 grams lighter than the Race TLR SL tyre, but keep in mind you’ll add weight when you add an inner tube.

Shop Pirelli P Zero Race

Other Pirelli family members

Pirelli offers a host of other tyres in its road lineup, as well as two gravel tyre offerings. These aren’t new offerings, and aside from the gravel tyres, all of them still use the SmartNet Silica compound.

The fastest tyre in the range, the P Zero Velo TT remains the tyre of choice for time trials. At 165g, this is a tyre which is all about speed, but best saved for smooth tarmac on drier days.

The P Zero Velo 4S is the tyre of choice for cold, wet races. It offers exceptional grip so you can maintain control in adverse weather conditions. 

The Cinturato Velo tyre remains in the Pirelli lineup for riders looking for the most protection and durability possible. It is available as either a tubeless or a tube-type tyre. If you’re a long-distance rider, or the kind of cyclist who likes to hit some gravel roads occasionally, the Cinturato Velo is purpose-built for you.

If gravel’s your game, Pirelli offers two Cinturato Gravel tyres, distinguishable by the H or M demarcation. H stands for Hardpack (harder terrain) and M for Mixed; these indicate the intended terrain use. There are also cyclocross tread patterns available for each that limit tyre width to the UCI-friendly 33c. Should you feel in the mood for some international competition.

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