The Japanese tyre manufacturer, Panaracer was one of the first big brands to bring to market a range of gravel-specific tyres. They’re now have a good hold of the market share while the other big hitters of the tyre industry play catch-up.
Measuring 43mm wide and weighing in at 497 grams, the Panaracer GravelKing SK 43c tyres are tubeless compatible and feature a tread pattern designed to excel both on and off the road. Not to be confused with it’s other, more slick namesake, this SK (Small Knob) version is probably the pick of the range for the latest generation of adventure bikes like the Pinnacle Arkose, Mason Bokeh or Kinesis Tripster. As well as the 43mm tested here, the same tread pattern is offered in 26, 32 and 35mm width options if your frame doesn’t offer the clearance required for these.
The tread pattern of the Panaracer GravelKing SK comprises a wide central row of small square knobs, a little like miniaturised version of a Kenda Small Block 8 (old mountain bikers nod thoughtfully as they rekindle memories of the SB8) flanked by longer rectangular blocks on the shoulders.
Mounting the Panaracer GravelKing SK 43’s (that’s the last time I go with the full title…) on our homebrew carbon rims was a challenge I do not wish to repeat. The tyres were a very tight fit and I needed a couple of tyre levers to prise the bead over the rim edge. Its not often that I have to break out the emergency tyres levers but these were incredibly tight.
A quick Google search suggests I’m not alone either. After a couple of hours of swearing and gnashing of teeth and they were on the rims. Tubeless was very easy, probably because they were such a tight fit, I managed to get them seated with a standard track pump. No fancy tubeless inflator was needed for the GravelKings.
Once successfully inflated, I removed the valve core and gave the tyres a generous dose of Stan’s Tubeless Sealant via a syringe to the valve – I wasn’t about to pop the tyre off the rim again after the fight I had getting them on! Over time, the tyres have retained air pressure pretty well and rarely need pumping up before a ride.
What is the ride like?
Comparing the Gravel SK’s to my personal favourite, the Specialized Trigger Pro 37, I noticed straight away that they were a lot more draggy on tarmac. We are of course comparing a semi-slick with a knobbly (albeit Small Knob) tyre here, but the increase in drag was noticeable.
Picture the scene; I’m out cruising the local roads with a couple of ADVNTR buddies, both of whom are on WTB Nano 40c’s and we reach a nice hill to freewheel down. Except that while they are freewheeling, I’m still pedalling in order to keep up!
Off-road is a more positive experience and the Panaracer GravelKing SK’s offer a confidence inspiring ride, both on fireroads and dry to damp trails. Mud isn’t what these tyres were designed for, but I was surprised at how well the tyres cope on muddy trails, a slow and controlled slide rather than totally loosing traction.
Running the tyres at 35psi front, 38psi rear worked well for me as a sweet-spot for both on and off the road without too much compromise either way. Lowering the pressures further allows you to make full use of that capacious volume and float over roots and small rocks. Looking at the amount of thorns I’ve collected in the tyres from my recent rides, I’d say that tubeless is pretty essential when running low pressures off-road to reduce the risk of a flat tyre.
The GravelKing SK is a superb do-it-all tyre for a variety of conditions. Not the fastest on tarmac, but offering plentiful grip for trail exploits. At 2017’s run of the Dirty Reiver, it seemed that everyone was running a GravelKing SK in one of the many sizes available, so clearly the choice of the Gravelista. Reasonably priced and available in both muted black and on-trend Hipster Brown, there’s a look to suit everyone.
Last modified: 24th March 2021