PANARACER’S GRAVELKING SK IS A GREAT ALL-ROUNDER WITH SOME GNAR LIMITATIONS
Words and Images - James Raison
The booming gravel bike market has included a corresponding boom in gravel tyres. Oh for the simple days of balancing speed, punctures, and poverty when choosing your road tyres! The gravel bike tyre industry is here to make you balance weather, type of gravel, widths from 30-50mm and beyond, more patterns than Russell Crowe’s wall in A Beautiful Mind, two different wheel sizes, tubeless and non-tubeless, and different TPIs. Maybe you should go directly to the King (ugh… I’m not proud of that attempt at a joke).
I was lucky enough to get two sets Panaracer Gravelking SKs with the Grove R.A.D (read the review of that gravel party bike) in 700c x 35mm and 650b x 48 mm. They’ve become a hot commodity on gravel builds. Should you whack them on your gravel grinder? Let’s dive in and find out.
Panaracer’s “GravelKing” moniker refers to a range of their tyres from the full slick GravelKing to the lightly knobbly mixte-tread GravelKing SK, the mud and slop fighting GravelKing EXT, and the more all-terrain GravelKing AC. There’s a ton of widths and thicker casing options across the range. My sets were bog-standard GravelKing SKs with:
AX-α low rolling resistance casing
35 mm: 380 g
48 mm: 540 g
Dapper brown sidewalls
The Gravelking SKs have a distinctive tread pattern with small and densely clustered knobs through the centre, and a dots-and-dashes pattern around the shoulder. It’s an aggressive layout that promises fast rolling and grip on lighter shifty and slidey surfaces. It very much delivers on these promises.
MOUNTING AND TUBELESS SETUP
Few things make me happier than reporting a tyre is easy to set up tubeless. I’ve had some bloody-thumbed swearing fits at road tubeless tyres recently but these were a dawdle. I got both sets of Gravelking SKs onto the rims without levers. The 35 mm seated (to a set of AlexRims Boondocks 3) so easily with my Bontrager Flash Charger that I used a standard low-volume floor pump for the 48 mm (on a set of Hunt Adventure Carbons). They seated perfectly too.
Since seating, there’s been nothing of note to report. One of the 48 mm tyres went flat overnight but pumped straight back up the next day. Sometimes tubeless needs to deflate a couple of times before settling in properly. They hold air and haven’t burped despite being ploughed into many blunt objects.
Ok, let’s talk about how the Gravelking SKs ride from smoothest to loosey goosey-est surfaces.
The maturation of gravel tyres has led to some uncannily fast tarmac rolling. The Gravelking SKs are quick on the road. Not quite as speedy as Schwalbe’s G-Ones which are borderline road-tyre quick, but pleasingly rapid nonetheless. You could argue that smooth tarmac speed isn’t overly important, but even the most committed gravel rider finds themselves on sealed roads sometimes. It’s nice to feel like you’re chewing up the lame transitional roads quickly between your hits of vitamin G.
The Gravelking SKs love hard-packed gravel roads. Their speedy tread pattern can properly fly on the compacted gravel surfaces that are ubiquitous around Adelaide and into the surrounding regions where I took the Grove. Occasional forays into sand and along powdery clay sections saw them maintain their grip quite well. Surfaces that are fine enough to find the small gaps between the knobs are where the tyres are most comfortable.
There’s a discernable limit to the Gravelking SK’s grip though and it comes with speed and gravel density. The tight, low-profile knobblies don’t bite into thick gravel so you end up skating across the top. Sending it down thick gravel with a head of steam leads to some exciting “controlled” slides. I say controlled because any slide that doesn’t end in a crash can retrospectively be considered as such. I had some close calls.
Strangely, I found myself sliding the 48 mm tyres more. The extra contact patch and lower pressures embolden you into dialling up the aggression. That hubris sometimes led me towards the edge of roads and trails with one foot dangling to bring it back. It’s simultaneously a good laugh, but a moment that made me wish for more bite. It’s most nerve-wracking on unfamiliar roads and trails where you need to maintain speed carefully because it can be tough to reign in slides on steep descents.
Panaracer’s GravelKing AC could be a more suitable option for riders wanting more control on loose gravel or trails. Its tread pattern has much more space between the knobs, meaning they’re likely more controllable than the Gravelking SKs.
Both tyre widths got some running in slushy conditions and they fared better than I expect from gravel tyres. The 35 mm were certainly more capable that the Maxxis Mud Wrestlers I used a couple of years ago. I ploughed the 48 mm tyres through some sloppy mud and was pleasantly surprised with their bite. Again, these aren’t great mud tyres as such but certainly better than other gravel tyres I’ve used.
Ride quality is decent overall but the tyre is more focused on dependability. There’s a moderate amount of sidewall flex to soak up bumps and vibrations. I’ve ridden both more and less supple gravel tyres. I settled on roughly 35 psi front and 40 psi rear in the 35 mm tyres and 20 psi front and 25 psi rear in the 48 mm. It’s enough to give some cushion without feeling spongy.
It’s easy to see why Panaracer’s Gravelking SKs have become a popular on gravel builds and shop floor spec bikes. They look awesome, roll quickly, and give you decent grip to cover most of your gravel needs. I’ve taken them on everything from tarmac to single track and found them solid performers in most situations. Those who don’t like the occasional “controlled” slide might want to look elsewhere though.
I’ve added the GravelKing SKs to my review hitlist to see what Panaracer serves up for people wanting more control.
Disclosure statement: These tyres were sent with the Grove R.A.D. It’s not a paid review and we don’t make any money from sales of Panaracer products.