We travel to Pirelli’s wet weather proving grounds to learn how the Italian tire brand engineers its motorcycle tires. Watch the Inside Pirelli’s Vizzola Proving Grounds Video.
For the final chapter of our three-part Pirelli tire testing saga, we visit the Italian company’s wet weather proving grounds near Milan, Italy, to understand how it develops its motorcycle tires, including the Angel ST sport touring tire. Be sure to read the Inside Pirelli’s Siracusa Proving Grounds and Testing Pirelli Street Motorcycle Tires in Sicily features for more insight on its unique testing protocol on the road and track.
WET WEATHER TESTING
Situated in northern Italy, adjacent to Milan’s Malpensa airport, is Pirelli’s Vizzola proving grounds. Built in the late ‘60s, Vizzola is Pirelli’s primary wet weather test track for cars and motorcycles. There it has the ability to simulate rain drenched roadways in a controlled environment. The facility is comprised of a basic west loop and larger, multiple configuration east loop. The two road courses are linked by a one kilometer-long straightaway for high-speed testing.
The pavement is lined with an underground sprinkler system allowing engineers to douse the track with water to replicate various road conditions ranging from damp pavement to streams of standing water. In contrast to the dilapidated surface of Pirelli’s Siracusa test track, the pavement here is in better shape allowing for more accurate assessment of the tires character on less extreme surfaces. Sophisticated testing equipment allow engineers to measure parameters and log data while it performs its battery of tests. Still, much of Pirelli’s testing is done via the more classic “seat of your pants” method.
“If you are going to develop for example a sport touring product, it is much more important [to understand] not the true performance but the feeling that you can achieve immediately in [challenging] conditions,” says Pirelli’s lead test rider, Alessandro Abate.
(Top) Pirelli’s Salvo Pennisi (left) explains some of the testing methods at the Vizzola proving grounds. (Bottom) Pirelli’s advanced testing methodology that incorporates new age technology and old school seat-of-the-pants feel is one of the primary reasons why its tires are superior.
And immediate, seat-of-our-pants feel is just what we got as Pirelli allowed us to (rain) suit up and experience its Pirelli Angel Sport Touring Front Tire and Pirelli Angel Sport Touring Rear Tire in full wet conditions on a production Honda CBR1000RR and Suzuki Bandit 1250. Right away it became clear that Pirelli spent considerable effort to get just the right amount of “feel” from its rubber.
Similar to its street, sport and road race offerings, the Angel ST does deliver a high level of feel—especially for a high-mileage sport touring tire. The carcass has added flex compared to other brands’ offerings and this movement translates into superior interaction between the motorcycle and rider. The extra sensitivity helped us get comfortable on a foreign road, tire and motorcycle more quickly, and let us flirt closer with the limit in terms of lean angle and how hard/fast we could load the tire with the throttle or brakes.
Grip from both ends surprised us with the rear tire able to hook-up so much that you could pull a small wheelie during acceleration when the bike was straight. Considering the CBR has right around 150 horsepower, a fist full of throttle was enough to break the tire loose at high rpm, but if you showed some restraint and were smooth with your right wrist, the tire stayed connected driving forward with zero slip. Braking performance was also impressive with a firm, but smooth, two finger pull on the front brake lever netting a quick stop with minimal lever pulse signaling ABS intervention.
Although we weren’t comfortable enough to get our knee down, remember, this is a sport touring tire rolling over asphalt with standing water on it. That said the Angel ST’s allowed ample lean and was communicative with a gentle wiggle from the back when we asked too much mid-corner.
After spending considerable time riding in Italy on the same roads and tracks Pirelli tests its class-leading tires on, it becomes quite obvious why its products are head-and-shoulders above the rest. With a comprehensive testing protocol, vast resources including multiple test tracks, and most importantly the skill and expertise of its Italian testing staff, there’s little doubt Pirelli will continue to produce excellent products that make riding not only safer, but more enjoyable too.
(Left) The tread pattern on the Angel ST tires has the ability to disperse large volumes of water equating to great grip on wet road surfaces. (Center) This is the main control tower and garage at Pirelli’s Vizzola proving grounds. (Right) The Angel ST tires deliver an astounding amount of road feel for a sport touring tire.