Angel or Devil?

It’s a timeless motif. And lest you think the Angel/Devil dichotomy was limited to skanky stripper silhouettes on the back windows of pickup trucks… Pirelli has seized the Angel/Devil theme as the marketing pitch for its latest sport-touring motorcycle tire – the Pirelli Angel ST. Motorcycle USA headed back east to Asheville, North Carolina for the official North American introduction and discover whether these tires have a halo or horns… or both.

Replacing the Diablo Strada, the new Angel ST represents Pirelli’s latest take at blending the high-performance demands of sport riding with the high-mileage durability of motorcycle touring. Citing the increasing amount of riders sourcing their mounts for long-distance treks, Pirelli specified three areas where its new tire needed to perform: confident grip in the wet and dry, solid value and high mileage. The Milan-based firm identifies this combination as a new tire category entirely, with a correspondingly nifty acronym – EMS (Extended Mileage Sport).

And here’s where the Angle and Demon thing kicks in… The Angel delivers the safety and durability required for long-distance touring, while the Demon supplies the grippy high-performance demands of sportier handling. This makes the Angel ST “the first tire with a double soul!”, as Pirelli’s marketers enthusiastically put it – exclamation point and all.

Schizophrenic Tread

How far is Pirelli pushing this Angel/Demon angle? It’s literally in the tire! Pirelli designed the actual tread to feature an angel, replete with halo, which fades to a demon after 650 miles of wear. Have your head cocked a little bit, wondering if I’m putting you on? Now you know how I felt during the technical presentation. No, seriously, you can see the little angel right there, stamped into the tire surface. As for the demon that appears later, you need a good-humored imagination to make it out, but, sure we’ll buy into it… it’s a demon, why not?

The tread pattern, aside from contributing the Angel/Demon aesthetics, features new variable groove depth and width for maximum water drainage while riding straight up and down and at lean angles. The front tread pattern is meant to disperse water for the rear in a straight line, with the rear wicking away the wet stuff on its own in the turns. The short grooves at the crown of the tire are designed to improve stability.

A more compact tread design (compared to the Diablo Strada) puts more rubber to the road, for better grip. Road-hugging performance is further aided by a new tire profile, with progressively more contact the further the lean angle than its predecessor thanks to EPT – Enhanced Patch Technology (another helpful acronym!). Pirelli’s 0-degree radial steel belt fabrication provides the tire construction, but the true star of the show is an all-new tire compound. A new silica content increases stability, safety and mileage, while an enhanced resin increases traction in braking and acceleration – you know, typical angel and demon stuff. All the Angel ST improvements add up to claimed performance increases of 3% lean, 9% braking and 8% corner exit compared to the Strada.

Another critical factor for a sport-touring tire is durability. Will the Angel ST perform long after the adorable little angel has be ground to oblivion over a couple thousand miles of pavement? Considering Pirelli has bagged more than 50 racing titles in the past two years (and continues to develop technology through its exclusive supply of the World Superbike Championship) it’s not surprising the Angel ST would prove its mettle at the racetrack. On Northern Italy’s Nardo ring Pirelli broke seven FIM 24 Hour endurance records with the Angel ST, the new rubber shod on a Suzuki Hayabusa and Kawasaki Concours 14. The motorcycles averaged 130mph for almost 3200 miles on one set of tires, en route to their impressive results, and claims promise the Pirelli tires should perform well past the 7500 mile mark.

Devilish Road Performance and Wet Angels

Alright, so the marketing department did its job, but how does the actual Angel ST perform on the road? We drew our judgments during two days of riding in scenic North Carolina aboard the Blue Ridge Parkway and other lesser known, but no less beautiful, highways surrounding Asheville, NC.

Our testing troop obliterated Angel ST chicken strips on the sporty backroads of Southern Appalachia, the new rubber mated to Triumph’s test fleet of Speed Triples, Tigers and Sprint STs. Dodging wild turkeys kept us on our toes, and the proliferation of random gravel tossed on the roads dialed down the mph in the blind corners – but the Angel STs were metaphorically rock solid, delivering reliable grip and feel. The front in particular inspired confidence in the corners.

Tires, it seems to me, are one of those elements in the riding equation that are doing their job best if you don’t notice them. And even making a conscious effort to scrutinize, no glaring fault manifested with the Angel STs. Stability at high and low speeds? Check. Firm, planted feel in a lean? Check. No hinky sensations initiating turn-in? Check. Good traction and braking? Yeah, that too.

As if to sample the full range of performance claims, Pirelli somehow arranged for heavy rain on Day 2 to test the Angel ST in the wet. Again, the Angels shined, delivering protection and reliability in the slippery conditions. As for water dispersal, watching the rider in front of me rip through the wet roads and occasional standing puddles, I could see the effectiveness of the Angel ST’s tread spray first hand – the front in particular.

I felt quite confident of the front tire in the wet. My only hiccups on our entire test ride, two brief rear end wiggles, were due to my sloppiness in rolling over a damp painted line and some rough road conditions – neither of which I can blame on the tire. As for braking power in the wet, one Pirelli staffer felt enough confidence in his product to rip a stoppie on the shiny wet roadway.

The tires worked well aboard the three-bike Triumph range and the Angel STs will be available on a wide array of mounts. Of the three we rode (Speed Triple, Tiger and Sprint ST) we felt the most comfortable aboard the true sport-tourer of the lot – the Sprint ST. Surprisingly enough, when we last sampled Triumph’s range two years ago we tapped the Tiger as our most confident performer – but whether our change in preference is due to the tire or our own fickleness (I’d lean toward the latter) we cannot say for certain.

So does the Angel ST exceed the performance of its predecessor? Is there really 3% more lean angle? Gosh, honestly I would have guessed it was more a more modest 2.5%… I’m being slightly snide here, as making tire comparisons is troublesome without back-to-back rides on similar tires with the same machine. All our bikes were shod with Angels only, no Diablo Strada or other competitors to compare with, yet praise for the new Angels is well deserved and we see no reason to question Pirelli’s performance claims based off our trouble-free rides. (For more in depth tire evaluations stay tuned for the much-anticipated Motorcycle USA Tire Comparison Test)

As for durability, I tried to get 7500 miles in our two test rides, but came up about, oh, seven thousand and something short… Again we’ll have to take Pirelli’s word for it. On the plus side, the folks at Milan have a hell of a story to back up their distance claims thanks to those seven FIM records snagged at the Nardo Ring.

The Angel STs are available now in the US, after launching earlier this year in Europe. Initial sizes are limited to 120/70 and 120/60 for 17-inch fronts and 160/60, 180/55 and 190/50 for 17-inch rears, with more sizes and 18-inch options on the way.