A very versatile tyre that eats gravel for breakfast and transitions well between off-road and on-road terrain.
By Hannah Bussey published
The shear joy of finding a gravel tyre that’s beefy enough for grip in the gloop, but will also run rapidly on the road. The retro Panaracer GravelKing stole our hearts when it got us out of trouble on a ‘bitten off more than could chew” ride in the Peak District.
The all round performance balancing act has been executed so well that it had to have a spot in Editor’s Choice 2019.
When it comes to tyres, I'm a creature of habit. I have a love/ hate releationship with testing them. I love the idea of finding the ultimate compound and grip, but live in fear of actually discovering where the grip runs out. So it's often one of the things I swiftly swop out on test bikes in favour of a pair that I'm accustomed too, and besides it gives me a better benchmark for understanding if it's bike or tyres that is (or isn't) performing.
So when the Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre came my way, it was with some apprehension that I stripped off the WTB Cross Boss tubeless ready tyres on the Vitus Energie VR Cyclocross bike to re-dress it in this new rubber.
The obvious first talking point it the colour way of these Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre is, which, to me anyway, is clearly a nod to the fully old school cyclocross Michelin Wild Gippers treads that were then glued to Dugast tubular casings. Michelin’s famous mint green tires haven’t been produced in almost 20 years, but had, and still have, an almost cult like following in the Cyclocross scene.
The colour and off-road ability is where the similarity ends, as even with the Gravelkings boasts of grip with those small knobs, means that these are hardly the mud tyres mentioned above. The mint green is also part of a limited colour run, which also offers a azure blue, so unless you're quick, it'll be standard edition black.
The Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre is in fact a blend of both road and off-road worlds. It's actually pitched as a more aggressive version than the standard Gravelking tyre, with the knobbly side walls boasting extra grip.
Panaracer says that at the centre of the tubeless compatible tyre runs a compound, Zero Slip Grip Natural Compound, that has the same low rolling resistance as the premium compounds, such as the ZSG Active Evo Compound, which Panaracer say produces a more malleable sticky tyre, ideal when grip is your only concern, but would wear out on the road pretty rapidly.
The Natural Compound on the other hand, has been specificity designed with enhanced wear resistance, which Panaracer believe makes it perfect for a long lasting tyre, without totally sacrificing ride quality or grip.
For those who have read a few other reviews of mine recently, you'll know that currently, I can be mostly found in The Peak District hills about South Manchester and Cheshire. It's a beaut of a location to ride, but a hard core test of all riding terrain for any cycling products, so the Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre did not by any means have an easy ride.
The combination of genuine gravel trails, cobbles, off road and on road riding gave the tyres, not just a good going over for each geographical element, but also how well they transition from one to another, and I have to say I was really impressed with the balancing act that the Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre managed to perform.
The grip was totally sufficient for all but out and out mud. The greasy rocky/ grass decent round the back of Brick Works was unexpectedly well executed. As a solo rider in the middle of nowhere, I often spook myself when riding techy stuff, so to find that just letting go of the brakes and managing to stay upright surpassed my expectations.
Looking back, they also did an impressive job of getting me up to a section of the ride that I affectionally call 'THE GATE' for the first time since I've been dabbling with the hardcore cross/ gravel style loop I've designed. It's basically a gate that has no business being in the middle of a really steep section of bridal way through a field. It all looks benign enough, until you get within 50meters where the grassy incline rises up ridiculously steep to a point where you have to stay seated in order to retain traction, and zig zag riding to reduce the steepness is prevented by unwelcomed tuffs of moorland grasses and rushes blocking the way, making this a straight run climb, and says a lot about a how much tyre with what looks like minimal central grip can do.
This central file-tread pattern is also noticeably swift on the paved road. On one of my rides, I happened to stumble out of the bridal way just as a local club run was being broken up buy the testing road of Brick Works. My faffing with yet another gate meant I missed the opportunity to jump straight in with the fragmented bunch of riders, but this did give me targets to aim for once I was back on the bike. As they were all out on road machines meaning I wasn't expected to reel anyone in, so to get to the top, and take my turning for another long section of off-roading having passed half a dozen or so riders was pleasantly surprising.
It was the same ride that along the undulated next off-road section, across the tops of Sponds Hill, that I also managed to hit the rim pretty hard off rocks. I had forgotten that, although the Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre are tubeless ready, I'd set them up with tubes. I like to run a pretty low PSI too, so hearing the familiar 'ding' I immediately expected a rear pinch flat, but one didn't arrive. I can't say for sure that it was totally the anti-flat casing that prevented it occurring, but it did make me warm to the tyres even more.
Price wise, the £39.99 for the Panaracer Gravelking SK TLC gravel tyre sits it at the upper end of the price point for generically branded gravel tyres, but compared to similarly knobbly peers, it's fairly middle ground.
So there are cheaper options on the market, but having the true go anywhere option of gravel, road and off road really gives these great versatility and means you can opt for one pair over three, making them really good value.
Hannah Bussey is Cycling Weekly’s longest serving Tech writer, having started with the Magazine back in 2011.
She's specialises on the technical side of all things cycling, including Pro Peloton Team kit having covered multiple seasons of the Spring Classics, and Grand Tours for both print and websites. Prior to joining Cycling Weekly, Hannah was a successful road and track racer, competing in UCI races across the world, and has raced in most of Europe, China, Pakistan and New Zealand. For fun, she's ridden LEJoG unaided, a lap of Majorca in a day, win 24 hour mountain bike race and tackle famous mountain passes in the French Alps, Pyrenees, Dolomites and Himalayas. She lives just outside the Peak District National Park near Manchester UK with her partner, daughter and a small but beautifully formed bike collection.
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