Tough, trustworthy, dry-intermediate gravel tyres in a ton of sizes.
- Light but tough, puncture-resistant and with a long tread life
- Mid-sized skin wall versions ride well
- Predictable gravel grip without growl on the road
- Reasonable price
- Smaller and larger versions can’t match premium competitors for speed and smoothness
- Blocks fast in muddy conditions and side rails don’t like roots
Japanese tyre specialists Panaracer were early into the gravel bike game and its gone full-on with sizing and tread options. The SK (Small Knob) is the super reliable and versatile King of its rubber royal family but performance varies significantly with size and sidewall type.
All the tyres use the same AX-Alpha carcass construction with an anti-puncture wrap from rim wall to rim wall. You can then choose between a more flexible brown ‘skin wall’ or standard black wall version. Either way, you get Panaracer’s ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) rubber compound moulded into the original Gravel King tread with short tightly packed squares bordered by a double row of long dash, dot, dash ribs on the shoulders. There are file tread Gravel King and bigger block tread EXT versions on the same carcass as well as Plus versions which add a cut-resistant ‘Pro Tite Shield’ layer into the mix for the same weight. There are tubed versions too if you can’t ever see a switch to sealant or tubeless in your future.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve worked our way through several of the GK size options and it’s important to note that they perform surprisingly differently on the road and trail. The 32 is a surprisingly light dirty road/limited clearance tyre that’s fast enough for winter club runs if you suck wheel a bit more than normal. It’s predictable on winter roads and hooks up well in dry gravel conditions. It’s slightly numb compared to the latest, much more expensive tyres from Continental and Schwalbe, but more alive than a lot of similarly priced competition. Sizes are all genuine when measured and it’s stable enough to drop very low on pressure to add more float and grip when needed.
At the other end of the spectrum, the all-black 43mm is similarly stable right down to 30psi and has a heavily damped feel that feels indestructible on rockier trails. So far it’s lived up to that promise too and we’ve confidently pushed it harder than other similarly sized tyres. Even without the extra plus layer the ride feel is definitely steel toe capped boot rather than trail running shoe and with a weight over 500g, it’s not a friend of fast acceleration.
Ridden back to back with the 43, the 38 skin wall is the clear real sweet spot for on/off-road work. Panaracer promises us construction is very similar between the wall colours and identical otherwise but if you’re a real tyre feel Princess then these are the Kings you want to be marrying. Even with the smaller volume, they felt smoother and faster than the 43s with a real ‘skim’ rather than ‘thud’ sensation that flattered even relatively basic alloy frames.
Whatever size and sensation floats your boat, tread life is excellent and puncture proofing has been really good. Grip is trustworthy on asphalt even when wet and grimy and you can work them hard right onto the shoulder rails in gravel and rocky conditions. Roots can send them skating though and the tight-packed tread soon fills and slips in sticky conditions so you’ll be wanting something more cyclo-cross styled if you’re playing in the woods or wilds in winter.
- Weight: 540g (700x43c black wall) to 310g (700x32c skin wall)
- Sizes: 700x32/35/38/43/50, 27.5 x 1.75/1.9/2.1in
- Tubeless: Yes
- Bead: Foldable