The Panaracer Gravel King series of tyres have had a great reputation for years - often spoken about in reverent tones on internet forums and by those who ride them. Until now, I hadn't had the chance to spend any time on them to find out if the hype was justified.
Panaracer have been producing tyres in Japan since the 50s. Their name was legendary in the early days of mountain biking; producing the first front/rear specific tread patterns with their creatively named Smoke/Dart combo, then the red-sidewalled Fire XC, which were ubiquitous on the trails and race courses of the late 90s. Panaracer then seemed to drop off the radar in the MTB scene, but kept churning out their range of road and 'adventure' tyres -gaining a cult following along the way.
The SK version sits in the middle of the Gravel King line-up as far as tread pattern goes, making it probably the most versatile tyre in the range. It mixes a fast-rolling centre strip with tightly-packed square 'knobs', which offer a bit more traction on loose surfaces than a completely smooth centre would. This helps with climbing and braking and gave a bit more confidence on damp trails too. Heading to the sides of the casing, two rows of alternatively-spaced and bigger squares offer good cornering grip, and never let go under hard turns in loose gravel and/or wet dirt. On the road, I was pleasantly surprised at how well they rolled, with very limited drag or tyre buzz from the centre blocks.
Our tyres came for our 27.5 wheeled test bike, and of course are all available in 700c versions also. We were on the 1.75” wide model, or 650B x 43c. I've been running 47c wide tyres on this bike, and was curious to see if the narrower tyres would give up anything off-road, while gaining on-road. Short answer, no - the lack of extra width was not an issue at all, set up tubeless and run at low pressures (25-35 PSI) they are comfortable yet stable without any sidewall flex or squirm at all. Pump them up harder if you're hitting the road or hardpack, and they'll roll fast and smooth all day while retaining some of the comfort.
Getting the tyres seated and sealed wasn't an issue, they went up first time and have held air well, even after sitting untouched for a week. It's difficult to say how well they will wear, but they are looking like new after a couple hundred kilometres of mixed surface riding. There is a more robust 'Plus' version of the SK available, and all models come with a tanwall option, which I kinda was disappointed not to get, but the black casings look pretty boss as well.
And just having that name, Panaracer, on the side of your tyres, will always have a bit of a caché about it. That they are a great tyre too, is the icing on the cake.
Distributed by Panaracer NZ | RRP: $64
Reviewed by Brett Kennedy