Long Term Review: Panaracer Gravel King 700×32

The Panaracer Gravel King’s marketing copy reads:

“For cyclists are looking to expand their cycling horizons. That includes roads that may not be suited for normal road tires.”

The Gravel King line up includes a 2 tread patterns and a variety of sizes. Sizes 23-28 are semi slick road tires with a diamond center tread and alternating tread on the sides. It’s a fast rolling but tough road tire that can be used in a variety of applications, but seems best suited as a fast rolling training tire for rough pavement and to extend the ride beyond paved roads.

Gravelking

I reviewed the 700×32 version of this tire which is a higher volume tire which features a series of small squares as a center tread and a very minimal lugging on the sides. At the time I reviewed this tire this was largest volume of Gravel King, but since reviewing this a 700×40 is in production

IMG_20160514_120148

This tire is in the newer category of “gravel tires,” higher volume 700c tires that offer better rolling resistance and durability than traditional cyclocross tires. It’s the answer to a problem a lot of cyclists have had. My personal anecdote of this problem is I live in the Boston area where there are small parcels of excellent conversation land with single track that’s not quite gnarly enough for a mountain bike, but plenty enjoyable on a cyclocross bike. Occasionally there’s a bit of roadwork in-between the various parks and it’s conceivable to do rides of 30-70+ miles alternating between road and trails. In the past I’ve used cyclocross tires and the issue that I’ve had is cyclocross tires are not suited to long durations on the road. They are fun on the trails, but the rolling resistance on the pavement is terrible and you wear through tires quickly.

File treads were often the answer as they worked well on pavement, however in more technical trails they did not provide enough grip, Often file treads were made in smaller volumes so they were not suited to rock or rooty New England trails. With more bike consumers requesting “go anywhere” adventure bikes, tire manufacturers have been quick to make higher volume tires with fast rolling resistance.

As a mountain bike racer, I was excited to try the Gravel Kings as I find road riding to be a monotonous but necessary part of training. I was hoping they’d be quick enough on the road for continuous efforts but burly enough that I could take them off road.

While looking at the tread pattern in the bike shop I assumed they’d be fast in a straight line but offer the bear minimum of cornering traction. On the first ride it was remarkable how fast these tires were on the road. They were a bit slower than wide slick tire, but significantly faster than a standard CX tread pattern with significantly less noise. You could even lean into corners like you would on a road tire, something that can be precarious on a a tire with high knobs. The gravel kings do squirm a bit on pavement,  however this understandable on a 700×32 tire inflated at 35psi.

On the dirt they were equally as fast. Due to the tightly spaced tread pattern, these tires have a bizarre habit of flinging gravel everywhere. You might feel it on your leg, or hear small rocks pinging against your top tube. After getting comfortable with these tires I proceeded to try and push them to the limit of adhesion. the Gravel King offers very little in the way of climbing traction, so when the dirt gets loose you have to weight the rear wheel. It’s easy to get used to but occasionally have had to walk steep climbs. This tire is clearly not intended for mud or slick surfaces but in the late fall and early spring I’ve taken the gravel king into snow, ice and mud. It does slide around as expected, but is predictable.

This tire is aptly named the Gravel King, however in New England we have more roots and rocks than gravel roads.  These tires are not rated as tubeless ready, however set up easily and without failure. I typically run 35-40psi on tubeless (I’m about 155 lbs), and hit the rim occasionally when riding the bike through roots and rocks. If I ran the pressure any lower than this I would find the rim more often and I’m certain I’d sacrifice on-road performance. At the time the 700×40 was not available, however I’m anxious to try them as I imagine you could carry more speed through the rough stuff.

Despite the times I’ve hit the rim I’ve never burped the tire or flatted. I was having an issue with the rim tape on my rear wheel and was running a tube for a bit at just over 40psi. I only flatted once in the rear when the tire was inflated with a tube due to a piece of metal wire that would have brought the demise of any tire. After putting new tubeless tape on the rear wheel the tire sealed and mounted without fail. I’ve never experienced a sidewall cut in the tire, which is remarkable due to how rocky it is where I ride. After nearly a 1000 miles of road and trail use the gravel kings are only showing the tiniest bit of wear and tear. They have plenty of life left in them.

The gravel king is a 5 star tire.The tire handles a variety of surfaces well and is extremely predictable when cornering. It leaves a little to be desired in terms of climbing traction, however this can be solved with technique. For how competent this tire is off-road, it’s extremely fast on the pavement and has a long wear life. It works well with tubes or with tubeless rims and sealent. This truly is a tire that can go just about anywhere, I cannot wait to try the higher volume version after I wear these out. I imagine that this will take a while, so I’ll be patient.

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