Pirelli's new Supersport tire delivers race-like performance for the aggressive street rider.
The countryside around Spain's Motorland Aragon racetrack looks more like a place you would expect to see in the American Southwest than in old Europe. Mesas and warm colored cap rock formations fill the semi-arid, rolling landscape, but instead of ghost towns and abandoned mines, the ruins from the past are older, much older. The nearby city of Zaragoza still boasts the ruins of the Roman wall that once surrounded it.
Castle ruins from the middle ages stand above hill tops as testament to the ebb and flow of the Christians and Moors who traded possession of the land in southern Spain for centuries. While traveling through this part of the world not far from the Mediterranean Sea, it's easy to daydream about Roman legions on the march, or plate-mail clad knights preparing for yet another crusade. But that image seems strange set against the landscape's New Mexican or southern Arizona feel. It's no wonder that so many Spaghetti Western films were shot here in the 60's and 70's.
The site of the grandstands at Motorland Aragon jolted me out a daydream about some ancient relic I was trying to remember which bore the name of Aragon. Was it a holy hand grenade? Or a magic sword of some kind, forged to slay a bothersome dragon?
No, for this fantasy the weapons that awaited were the modern two-wheeled kind, and I was about to test out Pirelli's all new Diablo Rosso III Sport tires on the hallowed race course at Aragon on a mind blowing collection of the latest sport and naked street bikes.
The DIABLO ROSSO III was designed for the latest generation of high-power street bikes equipped with the latest tech and electronic control systems. The new tire's design leans on Pirelli's experience from 12 years as the Official Tire Supplier of the FIM Superbike World Championship. Which is basically pros racing on the same production sport bikes that you and I can go out and buy.
Pirelli organized the day into two sessions. Half the day would be spent on the track at Aragon and the other would be on a 100 mile street ride through the surrounding countryside. But for me there was a rub. As it turns out, I had left my drivers license at home; forgetting to remove it when I scanned it in preparation for this very trip. As a result I would have to forgo the street riding part of the day, but that was just fine by me.
I hate being that guy, you know, the one that does something bone-headed like forgetting his drivers license on an international trip where there would be riding involved. But getting 6 sessions on the world famous Aragon race track instead of 3 sounded like a good deal. It's not often that being a dumb-ass pays off so well.
The track was quiet. Work crews were cleaning up the previous day's FIM Superbike World Championship race. Outside the track's GP garages were dozens of different naked sport bikes from most of the major manufacturers. Through the garages, lined up along the hot pit were the track bikes. In all there were 65 bikes to ride. The idea was to give us the opportunity to get a feel for the new Italian rubber across a variety of machine types. I decided that I would focus my efforts on three machines, the BMW S1000RR, KTM 1290 Super Duke R and the MV Agusta F3 800.
Pirelli's motto is, “We sell what we race, we race what we sell.” With more than a decade providing tires and technical support to FIM Superbike World Championship teams, that isn't just some marketing slogan. The tire technologies developed for the world's best production motorcycle racers has a direct trickle down effect to Pirelli's consumer products. Which means that the new DIABLO ROSSO III is directly based on the same materials, structure and compound mixing process as they use for Superbike tires. Emphasizing sporty handling, grip and durability.
DIABLO ROSSO III is based on Pirelli's DOT race tire, the Diablo Supercorsa. Sharing the racier big brother's taller profile with a more road-oriented version of the tread pattern, which makes for a tire that's right at home on a twisty canyon road or at a track day.
And a track day is exactly where I intended to see what the tire could do. The first bike I took on the course was the BMW S1000RR. While I've never ridden the RR before, I did have loads of experience riding the XR model based on the same engine platform. I'm familiar with BMW's electronics menu system and figured that the up and down quick shifter would be a nice feature on the track. After a parade lap behind a pace car, we pulled back into the hot pit and lined up for the staggered starts of our 20 minute sessions.
A new bike on a new track isn't exactly the best way to pay attention to how well a tire is doing. Featuring prominently on the MotoGP race calendar, Motorland Aragon isn't just any track. At just over 3 miles in length the course follows the hilly geography of the region to full effect, which gives it an elevation difference of 164 ft. Its steepest section topples down a stomach-dropping corkscrew at a 7.4% decline. With 17 turns, 10 to the right and 7 to the left, the world-class race course also has a long (nearly 3/4 mile) downhill straight-away. All of this comes together for a race circuit that is both technical and very fast.
For the first few laps I was a little lost after mistaking a long sweeper on the back of the course for the long back straight. The result was at least a couple major Oh Shit! moments back where the false straight dumped into a blind, hard left-hander in front of the track's famous stone wall. Add in the BMW S1000 RR's 199 horsepower dialed up to ludicrous (race) mode and I got brief periods of abject terror when that long straight I thought I was on suddenly vanished past the crest of a blind hill. From full-on to a fist full of brakes the BMW became completely discombobulated as I tried to bring it out of hyperspace to make the turn. The good news was the beemer is better than me and the Pirelli DIABLO ROSSO III front tire handled the extreme (panicked) braking incredibly well. Even under the most abusive deceleration the feedback from the front tire was superb, always letting me know how the front was doing while staying planted as I used my body to test out some of Newton's laws.
This great front tire performance is achieved though a single 100% silica compound that is paired with Pirelli's unique steel belted technology. Pirelli engineers and test riders conduct rigorous research and testing to figure out this kind of thing; which I know is true as a result of nearly weeding a brand new BMW. The rear tire of the DIABLO ROSSO III has a bi-compound make-up, using a new, high percentage silica compound, that, in addition to being grippy, also delivers more mileage than the typical Supersport/sport bike tire.
Turn-in and Cornering
Having reached my personal limit of shits to scare out of myself on the literbike, I switched to one of the more exotic machines Pirelli had provided for us, the MV Agusta F3 800. The 798cc, triple drips with sex appeal and aggressive styling. It's one of those motorcycles that looks fast while sitting its side stand. Its three exhaust tips look like they were cut from the steam organ at Satan's cathedral. Better still is the tuned scream they emit when you really get on the F3's gas. The sound is like a haunting musical triplet that evokes a sense of rage and lust, courage and fear. It strikes a dissonant mezzo forte harmony that is all at once a low, roaring growl and terrified, high pitched scream.
Stranger still is that while the MV Agusta F3 800 is able to derail me into digressions of poetic allegory, I found it much more approachable than the Bavarian brute (BMW S1000RR). It's sort of like when you get the courage to chat up a woman who outclasses you by an order of magnitude. When you finally get over being intimated by her exotic European style, long legs and cosmopolitan sensibility, you realize that she's not so different than the other women you've had the good fortune to know. Except of course for the exotic European style, long legs and cosmopolitan sensibility part. There I go again. Okay, back to the bike.
I found the MV Agusta F3 more comfortable than the BMW. At 6'3", folding my legs up onto high rearsets can make all the moving around required for track riding difficult. The Stock set-up on the MV afforded a more vertical space between the foot pegs and the saddle. Also, tracking a motorcycle with more sensible displacement means you spend less time trying not to crap your leathers while trying to slow down into turns, and more time setting up and taking the faster lines around the track. Especially at a place like Aragon, where the straights are long and the corners tight. I'm always amazed how guys on much slower bikes are able to overtake me on a track. They're able to hold and carry corner speed without scrubbing off their momentum.
While the MV Agusta F3 800 is no slouch in the speed department, its acceleration toward a corner is far more manageable than the steam catapult carrier shot you get on the BMW S1000RR. Less time at re-entry speeds on the front wheel meant I could get a better feel for how the Pirelli Diablo Rosso III did in the handling and turn-in department. Against all the dirty tricks Motorland Aragon threw at me, the Diablo Rosso III was simply superb. Its tall sport-oriented profile exhibited quick turn-in tendencies and great traction while leaned over, which added to my confidence on the track with each successive lap.
Pirelli Engineers were able to accomplish this in a number of ways. The front Diablo Rosso III tire features a multi-radius design which accounts for the good handling I experienced with turn-in and transitions. Compared with the Pirelli's previous DIABLO ROSSO™ II, the III's profile is higher in the central part and wider at the sides to provide a larger contact area for more stick in the lean.
At the same time the height of the sidewall is higher by about 3mm, allowing for more flexibility of the sidewall which adds grip while accelerating out of corners. The rear tire of the Diablo Rosso III has a similar geometry to the front, making for balanced lean and traction at both ends of the motorcycle.
Another reason the DIABLO ROSSO III is able to handle the abuses of aggressive riding is because it maintains its shape under load. It's common for track riders and racers to run lower pressures on that track that you would on the street. With less pressure, the tire is more compliant and compresses to allow for a larger contact patch on the ground. The problem is that tires that do not hold their shape, especially under heavy load, can actually fold in on themselves at the contact patch, creating a concave pocket, leaving even less traction. The radial casing of the DIABLO ROSSO III does not suffer from this problem because they are rigid enough to sustain their profile when you most need traction. All of this adds up to tires that provide confidence that they're going to hold the road, letting you focus on setting up for your next pass instead of worrying about that front wheel washing out or the indignity of a low-side.
The Rain in Spain Falls Mainly on the...Track
There had been a lot of scuttlebutt in the press pool about the possibility of rain for the ride day. Since along with not bothering to bring my driver's license on the trip, I also didn't bother to activate international service on my cellphone, I was unencumbered by regularly checking weather forecasts. No brains, no headache, right? Plus I don't have one of those fancy rain suits that fit over my race leathers. As much as I was hoping to experience the bliss of ignorance, the rain came exactly as predicted.
At first, a light sprinkling combined with all the dust and copious amounts of rubber left on the track from the previous day's FIM World Superbike race to make for a very slippery riding surface. Which, as it turns out, is a perfect way to evaluate a set of motorcycle tires.
As the skies continued to darken and the light rain became a steady drizzle, the morning group of journalists returned from the road ride portion and the track group readied to head out into the countryside. I was starting to get to know the track and was excited to start an afternoon round of laps. Wet leathers, soggy boots and squishy gloves be damned, I didn't come half-way around the world to sit in a lounge and watch other people get track time at Motorland Aragon.
For the afternoon round, I chose to ride the KTM 1290 Super Duke R. While the naked heavy weight isn't your normal choice of machine for a track day, I reasoned that its wide handlebars and upright position would make for easier handling in the rain. Plus it would strike a good contrast against the BMW and MV Agusta sportbikes for testing the DIABLO ROSSO IIIs.
For its size and endless amounts of power the KTM 1290 Super Duke R feels remarkably light. Even at a standstill the big street fighter is easy to handle, rocking effortlessly off of the side-stand, it feels light between your legs. The latest generation of KTMs also have excellent electronic rider aid systems to help manage the 180 HP the burly Austrian twin dishes out. I would be counting on those systems as conditions at Aragon began to change as the rain came down. Dialing the Super Duke into its rain mode was a painless affair with its intuitive 4-way D pad-style controls. Tapping the starter the KTM barked to life, it's Akrapovic slip-on delivering a rumble that warmed me up against the chilly drizzle.
Rolling out onto the course, I took it extra easy for the first couple laps. In addition to the track being wet, the KTM was slung with a fresh pair of DIABLO ROSSO IIIs which hadn't been scrubbed in yet. This was the only time I felt any slippage from the new Pirelli's, but as the tires heated they began to stick to the track even in the wet. As the laps ticked by, I began to pick up speed and the DIABLO ROSSO IIIs were living up tho their claimed performance in the wet conditions. I also noticed that I wasn't passed once during that first afternoon session at Aragon. No doubt because I had the experience or riding the track all morning and the faster guys were going extra slow because of the rain.
The tire's surefootedness exhibited in the wet was aided by their distinctive “flash” pattern on the tread. The sporty looking, compact tread groove design delivered excellent water drainage and helped my confidence as I pushed them harder into and out of corners on the KTM. Once warmed up, the traction and control they exhibited was consistent lap after lap.
The consistency I felt from the from the ROSSO IIIs is no accident. During the development of the tire, Pirelli engineers measure tire temperatures at different stages of use. Designed to warm up quickly, they also maintain consistent temperatures from lap number 5 to lap number 20. While slide-rule wielding engineer-stuff is boring, it all adds up to being able to do the really exciting stuff on the road and on the track.
By the end of the day at Aragon my leathers were soaked through and my socks squished with water in my boots, but that couldn't keep me from grinning beneath my fogged-up face shield. Not only did we have the opportunity to ride an amazing selection of sport bikes on an iconic race track, but did so on the latest generation of high performance sport tires whose DNA has been handed down from years of professional racing experience, and made available to all of us in the form of Pirelli's incredible DIABLO ROSSO III.
Availability and sizes of DIABLO ROSSO III
FRONT - REAR
110/70 ZR 17 M/C 54W TL 150/60 ZR 17 M/C 66W TL
120/60 ZR 17 M/C (55W) TL 160/60 ZR 17 M/C (69W) TL
120/70 ZR 17 M/C (58W) TL 180/55 ZR 17 M/C (73W) TL
180/60 ZR 17 M/C (75W) TL
190/50 ZR 17 M/C (73W) TL
190/55 ZR 17 M/C (75W) TL
200/55 ZR 17 M/C (78W) TL