Panaracer Gravelking SK
Panaracer offers 4 tread options that share the Gravelking name. The mixed-tread Gravelking, the SS that you can think of as a semi-slick option, the SK – a more semi knobbly tread and finally, the most aggressive option, the EXT.
Available in a range of colours, in both tan and black sidewalls, and sizes that span the range from 700 x 26c through to a voluminous 650b x 48, you’re sure to find a Gravelking that not only fits your bike but complements your style too!
Panaracer describes the Gravelking SK as ‘the tyre you need for the more hardcore roads’ and as a ‘go-anywhere tyre’. I tested that claim during a 600km jaunt from the Holme-next-the-Sea to Lyme Regis following ancient trails across flint, chalk, woodland single-track trails and even, the occasional stretch of tarmac.
My set up
I rode the Gravelking SK in the 700 x 38c variant, which tip the scales at 420g each. I paired those with my Hunt 4 Season wheelset (19mm internal rim width) and sealed the deal with 70ml of Muc-Off No Puncture tubeless sealant in each wheel. That combo, at 35psi, comes up 40mm wide.
The initial set-up was super easy. I used a homemade air-reservoir and the tyres popped onto the rims with a very satisfactory ‘tang!’. Even without sealant, they held pressure surprisingly well, and once the sealant was added there was almost no bubbling or leakage. Pretty impressive, considering the rims are not brand-new.
Square is not a shape generally associated with tyres
The middle of the tyre is formed of tightly packed squares whereas the shoulders are a looser, but more aggressive, square and rectangle pattern. This means these tyres roll fast on the road and give bags of assurance in the corners and softer stuff. However, it’s on farm-tracks and gravel roads that these tyres come into their own – and they absolutely fly.
I’ve had the SKs on my gravel bike for over a year now. I don’t have any other wheelsets if the conditions get bad, these either do the job, or I get off and push, and I haven’t done that due to lack of traction yet.
I’d already ridden more than 1000km on my SKs before I even set-off on my big ride across the south of England. In all that time, I’ve had only one issue with the SKs, and that was my own error – otherwise, its been miles of smiles.
The tyre killer
Flint is, without doubt, the No1 cause of tyre injuries where I usually ride (Norfolk). It’s everywhere, and I got the Gravelkings after yet another Schwalbe fell victim to those sharp shards.
On my big ride, I thought I’d escape the flint once I left Norfolk, but it was flint from coast to coast. Despite that, the casings are holding up well, and there’s no evidence of cuts or slashes on either tyre. All the same, I am far from blasé and tend to pick a careful track when it gets very flinty.
As I crossed beneath Cambridge, things got decidedly sandy. Very sandy in fact, and although it would be misleading to say the SKs made light work of it, they definitely performed as well as could be expected. Even in the deepest sections, the SKs were generally able to hold a good line and provided as much traction as I needed.
I was fortunate, the trail conditions were pretty dry all the way. In deep mud, you do need to apply power pretty consistently, and at low torque, to maintain traction. Even then, you need to be agile on the bike to really work these tyres. That said, the tread isn’t so deep that mud clings, so what traction you do have, you seem to keep.
If the SKs could be said to be perfect anywhere, it was on the Ridgeway heading south from Devizes. Hardpacked tracks and forest firebreaks made for some almost road-bike type speeds. In these conditions, the SKs roll really fast, provide heaps of traction and respond really quickly.
If the Gravelking has an Achilles heel, it would be its sticky rubber that, combined with the tight tread in the middle, becomes a problem when things get damp. If it’s really wet, this isn’t an issue, but if its just damp – the rubber seems to become super tacky and any little bit of sharp flint sticks to the tyres, then gets gripped in the tight tread and can work through the casing. I was running tubeless, so the Muc-Off sealant dealt with this without a problem, but if you were to run these with an inner tube, you’re going to have punctures.
Toward the end of my ride, as I neared Lyme Regis, I ended up taking a few longer roads sections. As the tread would suggest, the SKs roll nicely on the road, and you can maintain good speeds with relatively little effort. They not as responsive as they are on hardpacked gravel, but they help you munch up the miles efficiently and provide loads of confidence when cornering.
In my view, performance is no longer enough, I’m looking to make more sustainable and ethical choices when buying products. Looking at Panaracer’s website I saw no Sustainability Policy or report, no evidence that they were externally certified, that they were innovating beyond traditional performance metrics -i.e. that they were making better products for the planet. Although they used minimal packaging, it was, unfortunately, single-use-plastic.
Panaracer may already be addressing issues of sustainability in which case, they may wish to start communicating what they’re doing otherwise I feel they need to step their game up in this regard.
I have been really impressed with these tyres. They’ve withstood everything thrown at them over 1000km of general use and a 600km bikepacking trip across the bridleways and hardpacked tracks spanning the south of England. I would happily use them in anything but deep mud or snow.
They’re good on the road, but excel on dry farm and forestry tracks, so much so you can look down at your computer and be shocked to see how far you’ve gone and how fast you’ve got there.
When I do come to replace these, I will consider the SK Plus, which is an even tougher variant, but I am entirely confident that the Gravelking SK tyre is an excellent choice, in performance terms, for pretty much anything I’m likely to ride.
My only reservation, although it is a significant one, is the lack of evidenced sustainability.