Interview with Metzeler’s Silvio Frare, Piero Misani, and Salvo Pennisi

Sep 26, 2017 View Comments by

From Track to Trail: Motorcycle Tires for Every Rider

Founded in 1863, the German motorcycle tire company Metzeler has more than 150 years of experience under its belt. The company started in Munich as a producer of rubber and plastic products (including toys and surgical gear), expanding to aviation in 1890 and motorcycle, bicycle, and car tires in 1892. After its factory was destroyed during World War II, reconstruction began immediately. With it came a change in focus: the company developed the first tubeless tire in Europe, then started producing only motorcycle tires. Since then, Metzeler has continued to offer innovative, award-winning solutions for every style of rider—and not without having a little fun. With a rich racing heritage dating back to the 1920s, the Pirelli-owned manufacturer regularly sends its team around the globe to test products on everything from mountains and volcanoes to famous racetracks. We spoke with Piero Misani, head of R&D; Salvo Pennisi, head of testing; and Silvio Frare, central marketing manager.

RoadRUNNER: Tell us about yourselves. How long have you been riding and what brought you to Metzeler?
Salvo Pennisi: I started riding at 12 on a little Ducati Rolly 50. I joined the Pirelli Group in 1984 and Metzeler in 1986.
Silvio Frare: I started riding at nine, messing up my sister’s moped by venturing into the woods close to my parents’ house, only to come home black and blue all over, and I spent my adolescence racing bikes in the countryside. Tires were not my biggest concern at that time. Then a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and seven years as a motorcycle designer for Yamaha brought me closer to every component, and I joined Metzeler in early 2013.
Piero Misani: I started riding when I was 12; my first bike was a Moto Guzzi Dingo 50cc. In the last 46 years, I haven’t stopped riding or enjoying motorcycles. This passion brought me to work for the Pirelli Group in 1985 and later to Metzeler, which also gave me the opportunity to work in Germany.

What is your R&D process like? How does the idea for a new tire start, and what goes into testing?
Silvio: The idea for a new tire may start from market findings (new consumer trends or new bikes), the refresh of an existing range, a development required for racing, or a change in the competitive racing scene.
Salvo: As far as testing is concerned, road racing tires must cover a narrow and well-defined performance range. This includes warm-up, performance/lap time and consistency, riding speed and precision, and also versatility in relation to different motorcycles geometries, new materials, and compound development strictly connected to superbike championships. This is why we can say we sell what we race, and race what we sell.

In the ADV segment, testing consists of multiple ratings, riding, performance, comfort, noise, wet performance, versatility of use, and mileage.

Speaking of—why are all tires black? Can they be produced in other colors?
Silvio: The black color comes from carbon black, a filler added to rubber compounds that provides heat dissipation and other capabilities. Different colors can be given to the rubber constituting the sidewalls; Metzeler offers several products with this technology, including orange and while walls.

Metzeler and Honda set three awesome world records in South America this year when testing the new MC 360, riding nearly 19,500 feet above sea level in less than 24 hours. Salvo, what was your favorite part of the journey?
Salvo: It is difficult to identify one particular moment. All the organized Metzeler-Honda activities were impeccable, from the first tests on Mount Etna in Italy, to the physical training at the Italian Air Force’s aerospace center in Rome. In Chile, every moment was fantastic, shared with magnificent companions. The journey was a source of personal satisfaction, and the result of perfect technical/human synergy.

What differentiates Metzeler from other tire manufacturers?
Salvo: Metzeler has always been careful to offer a reliable product to the market, tires that are highly adaptable to any condition, versatile on various motorcycles, with an excellent miles-for-money ratio and benchmark performance. It is the brand’s solidity that attests to its success

Metzeler has a racing heritage that dates back to 1925. How is this integrated into the company today?
Salvo: Metzeler’s heritage is always present in its testing. We are proud to continue to test our products at locations like the Nürburgring racetrack in Germany and the Targa Florio roads around Sicily, all places where Metzeler has written history.

What are some other big trends in motorcycle tire technologies?
Silvio: The most relevant feature from a performance point of view is the capability of tires to deliver consistent performance coupled with the latest evolution of engines, lean-sensitive ABS, and traction control. From an operational point of view, our efforts will continue to focus on quality and low environmental impact.

What about flat free tires for motorcycles?
Piero: In car tires in the past decade we have seen an increasing interest in flat free tires versus the run flat concept; meaning, building tires with a stiffer sidewall that will support the whole wheel assembly for a limited distance and at limited speed. This concept, unfortunately, is difficult to apply to a motorcycle tire on which the crown area deflects when underinflated or with no tire pressure due to puncture; trying to increase the stiffness of this part leads not only to deteriorated driving characteristics, but to the overheating of tread in normal running condition.

What mistakes do you see riders making in the tires they choose? What advice would you offer them?
Salvo: Often riders just choose the most grippy tire available. My advice is to consider the real utilization you need.
Silvio: Agreed. Consumers sometimes choose a tire based on an aspirational or idealistic mindset, neglecting the actual use they plan to make of it. This causes commuters to buy hyper-performance race-replica tires to go back and forth from their job in traffic, and 2,000-mile-per-year cruisers to buy tires based on the unproven extra mileage declared by the manufacturer. As a result, the former will wear the tire out in four months, and the latter will ride for 10 years with a tire that delivers unexciting performance.

This year you hosted the fifth annual Metzeler Village at the Isle of Man TT. What was the best part of the event?
Silvio: Considering the IOMTT is the most important road race in the world, our presence on the island is one of the pillars of our identity. The Metzeler Village is a friendly space open to all motorcyclists who come to the island, and the best part is that we set up so close to the riders.

What is your vision for the future of Metzeler? What should we expect to see from the company?
Silvio: Our mission is to continuously develop products on the cutting edge of motorcycle technology to meet, and possibly anticipate, the needs and expectations of motorcyclists. Most of us are enthusiastic motorcycle riders ourselves. If we remain consistent and constant in authentically developing and servicing our products, I expect Metzeler will one day become the first choice for every motorcyclist.

How do you predict motorcycle tires will change in the next 10, 25, and 50 years?
Salvo: Economy and environmental issues will most impact the development of tires in the future.
What’s the easiest way for new customers to test out a pair of Metzeler tires? Are there demo opportunities in North America?
Silvio: At this time, we do not have a demo program in the U.S., however for a few years we have offered a 30-day guarantee on our DOT street tires. The nuts and bolts of the guarantee is that you can purchase a Metzeler tire, ride on it for up to 30 days or until 1/32-inch of the original tread depth is used (usually 200-500 miles depending on the model of tire and bike), and if it doesn’t perform to your expectations, you can contact Metzeler’s customer service department, return the tire, and we will refund the cost of the tire. Labor is not included in this offer. During my time here, I have only known about two tires being returned on this program.

When not working, what are your favorite things to do? If we passed you on the street, what would you be riding?
Silvio: My wife and I had a baby three months ago and bought and started to renovate our first house, so you’d find me plastering bathrooms, changing diapers, and reading fairy tales. We love nature, good wine, and good movies. My other beloved ones are a Triumph Bonneville 790 Special and a 1991 Suzuki GSX-R750.
Piero: Even outside of work, two wheels remain my favorite hobby, whether sweating while riding my road race bicycle in the hills, or enjoying leaning with my motorcycle. I have owned every possible motorcycle brand, from Japanese to German. Currently, if you try to pass me on the street, you will see me on a white Italian bike …


Silvio Frare
A postgraduate mechanical engineer, I am chasing the dream of becoming a full-fledged professional in the world of motorcycles, a fundamental part of my life. Months ago, my wife Francesca—my official pillion—gave birth to my firstborn, G.L., and we bought and started to renovate our first house. My hope is to continue cultivating that unique set of feelings that bikes give to me, no matter if on a track, off-road, or at my desk.

Piero Misani
I’m an aeronautic engineer who decided suddenly to switch from an interesting job at Agusta Helicopters to the world of motorcycles to follow my passion. Finally I “landed” at Pirelli, starting at R&D Moto, moving to Metzeler, then progressively enlarging my experience and responsibility in R&D and manufacturing both for motorcycles and cars. Currently I am responsible for operations in the moto business unit.

Salvo Pennisi
As Metzeler’s head of testing, I work closely with R&D, traveling the globe and riding thousands of miles to put our products to the limit. Working with design and manufacturing, collaborating with brands like BMW and Ducati, and studying the constantly evolving technology of tires—these are some of the best parts of the job.

Photography: Metzeler


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