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Building Velo

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When you're working on something revolutionary, there are a range of new regulations and structures you have to deal with. This is something Pirelli learned when they began developing the new PZero Velo line, a range created to bring high-performance racing bike tyres back to the world of cycling. When we talked about it with Piero Misani, R&D and Industrial Director of Pirelli, he was up-front about the process behind the creation of this new range: "Since Pirelli was already market leader for motorbike wheels, we were able to get to work knowing that we're already experts in our field, we have the technology, we know what we're doing - and calmly get to work. Firstly, though, you need to start by thinking about the consumer and trying to understand their needs. This is key when considering the product development of a new product such as Velo. It's true that we're the market leader when it comes to automobile wheels, but the target market is different. This new approach will give us greater certainty that we can achieve the aims we've set for ourselves. The first step in doing this is to ensure that our aims are consistent with what consumers want".

Production for bikes and motorbikes is the same, but while Pirelli can anticipate and predict users' wants and need in the motorbike sector, when it came to Velo they had to start from scratch, taking a blank canvas in an environment which they are testing for the first time in a number of years. "It's difficult returning to a market you left a while before in a sector like premium road racing - top-of-the-range stuff, really - which developed a lot while we weren't on the market. We had to start by understanding what is needed, and what our competitors can do. Our starting point, then, was to investigate not just consumers, but also our competitors, and trying to synthesise these two pieces of information so that we could get together with our marketing group and sketch an outline of how the product had to perform. We have this in common with other businesses; if you can identify what your product has to be able to do, that's half the job done. Translating this into a specific product is something Pirelli is great at, because they have always invested in innovation". Think of it as a sort of benchmark of wants where investigating operators on the same market, understanding the performance and skill level they have backing them up, and what and how your competitors are offering the market Pirelli is getting back to. "From a technical perspective, we start by identifying the levers best-placed to give us the results we want. Clearly, we're dealing with totally new levers, since we're talking about products that use materials which are less reinforced and that are different from the materials we're used to dealing with in the car and motorbike sector. You have to remember that one of the tyres we're working on weighs around 200 grams".

We're dealing with an ultra-light product made fully from textiles and, in particular, threads, which aren't even remotely similar to those used in the consumer sector. One of the new challenges Pirelli has faced was finding new suppliers: "We got to work thinking about which factors would allow us to boost our quality further. As always, we focused on being distinctive and being ahead of our competitors. While it's true that we're entering a new market now, we want to be a market leader from day one, we're in it to win it". It's a matter of skill and striving for perfection; it doesn't matter whether you're going into a market that has changed a lot over the years: if you're Pirelli, you want to hit the ground running, so you can become a top-of-the-range market leader.

"That's an outline of how we think when we're approaching the market, how to develop the product. We go through various steps in defining the product, its geometry, by which I mean the sections, the moulds, choosing the reinforcement material and, lastly, the compounds". They work in stages, one following on from the other: an initial study, then a follow-up. Using simulations is crucial when making the first steps: "We start by outlining a mould of the new product; we can start ordering the physical equipment and experimenting with materials". When doing this for Velo, Pirelli looked for a third-party producer and found one in France. This process starts with the instructions from P, and goes through a series of interwoven production processes. It's strange listening to Misani talk about this as though we were in a spy film: "Going to the production centre and starting work on the optimum process for translating prototypes into reliable products that are qualitatively up to scratch, going through all those steps is a big undertaking. We have to do all this and keep our knowledge on competence and working methods up-to-date. We have to do this without trying to change the reality we're faced with.  To set ourselves apart we came up with a range of processes in the French factory, and took others forward elsewhere too. We know that when it comes to tyres it's the materials that make the difference, and in particular the tread compounds are the first thing we identified as being separate. We worked using an initial batch of tread materials Slatina developed for us, supplying the compound directly to our French suppliers so we could have something different and a competitive advantage that others aren't able to fully replicate". We put ourselves on display and hid ourselves at the same time, which allowed us to obtain the best possible product while concealing its underlying processes. It was like a race, where the favourite hides at the back of the group before sprinting forward when it's least expected. This is how Pirelli managed to create a tyre that meets consumer expectations in terms of performance.

"Cycling is tiring, and how smooth your wheel is - which, when it comes to bike tyres, means resistance to rolling - is very important. Crucial, even. This is something we're familiar with from the automotive sector, because it' actually one of the key parameters requested from any car manufacturer. This helped us at Velo to keep focus on how to help athletes. We have to keep in mind things like the client's breath intake, heart rate, and muscular lactic acid production. Reduced rolling resistance means you can be faster, go further and perform better, depending on the cyclist's physical condition". This alone isn't enough, though; you have to be able to verify the bike's potential in all weather conditions, on flat roads and on steep hills. "Here, too, our knowledge of materials, which we turned to again here, is being put to use when developing the Velo range so we can be sure Pirelli tyres are high-performance even when wet, without there being any trade-off between rolling resistance and wet resistance - they perform well in all conditions". 

Then the work needs to be tested. This is where the test team comes into play, faced with the challenge of bringing together methodology and experimentation. "Being able to properly test these tyres is crucial. Experimenting isn't just a matter of responding to technicians, thumbs up if everything's fine, thumbs down otherwise. It's a question of gradually improving the product's performance by providing feedback that can be implemented as structural changes in materials immediately". The end result is more than satisfactory: not just the internal vehicle fleet is surveyed, but so too are opinion leaders in market tests. These are qualified people who have given their seal of approval to the end product's quality. These are objective tests, research and indoor checks which have been created by developing specific machinery and methodologies. All of this means that the importance and reliability of the Velo range in terms of wet grip, smoothness and overall performance are ensured. Expectations are running high. There are 3 product lines -  0Velo time trial, for speed; P0Velo RR, with large volumes, and the Four Seasons, which is reliable in any condition -. These are the best products on the market. They are all made using circular twin wheels, new ones made in-house by Pirelli which can be used whatever the weather. From heavy rain to low temperatures in Northern Europe, Velo is not afraid of extreme situations. These tyres immediately became market leaders, and set themselves apart in the road bike sector from the minute they were launched.

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Over a century of know-how in the racing world is finally available to those who ride to race themselves.
With P Zero Velo, cycling performance now meets the reliability, the road handling and the grip of Pirelli.
Because the performance of a tyre is also yours.