Fast-rolling and capable of tackling bad road conditions and even venturing away from the tarmac, Panaracer's new Gravel King tyres are a really good option for the winter with rugged durability and great traction.
The Gravel Kings are brand new in Panaracer's range this year and as the name indicates, they're aimed at the growing (or has it already grown?) gravel riding and race scene that is big over in the US. However what Panaracer have created here are very versatile tyres that are ideal for the demands of UK cycling, whether you're after reliable winter training tyres, or rubber for touring or daily commuting.
Riding the Gravel Kings reminded me of the excellent Vittoria Open Pave tyres, and both have a similar file tread pattern. This is to provide more traction when heading off-road, and on trails where a slick tyre might otherwise slip and struggle, the Gravel Kings powered through.
We had a really dry summer and autumn which provided perfect conditions for exploring the many bridleways and byways that lace through the Cotswolds, and if you enjoy a bit of off-road cycling and the sense of discovery that comes from just following a path with no idea where it might lead, the Gravel Kings are the perfect tyre choice.
See a bridleway, not sure where it goes but what the hell, just point the bike along it and barrel through the woods and see where it takes you. You can sometimes get away with doing that on a regular road tyre, but the file tread pattern, bigger volume and toughness of the Gravel Kings add vital peace of mind when such adventures take over.
The Gravel Kings are available in three sizes, 23, 26 and 28mm widths. It's the two larger sizes that are undoubtedly going to interest most people, especially if you've got the clearance for the bigger tyres. The latest endurance bikes such as Cannondale's Synapse and Trek Domane have room for tyres like these. The 26mm version, which I tested, is a good balance of width and weight that will appeal to many people, but if you're planning longer off-road excursions or fancy tough touring tyres, the 28mm will be of more interest.
On the subject of tyre width, it's worth pointing out that you won't necessarily get the tyre width that it says on the sidewall: I mounted the 26mm Gravel Kings to a pair of Mavic Aksium wheels, a narrow rim by modern standards, and the tyres actually measured 24mm across at their widest point. Rim width is as, if not more, important than the tyre width. Something to be aware of.
Gravel Kings are constructed from the same ZSG Natural Compound that Panaracer uses in their other road tyres, along with an Anti-Flat 126tpi casing to ward off punctures. In regular road riding mode the tyres felt reasonably responsive and perfectly competent at a range of cruising speeds, but lack the fizz of road race tyres. Where they excel is in providing confidence in poor conditions, whether the roads are soaked with rain or covered with a slick layer of fallen leaves. This makes them really good British winter tyres.
For straying away from the road on gravel tracks, singletrack, bridleways or dirt tracks, the Gravel Kings cope impressively well, providing plenty of useful traction. They're not the most supple tyres out there (Vittoria's Pave tyres best them in this department) but they are durable. The Anti-Flat casing works well, and there are few signs of the abuse I've given them when heading off the beaten path. There are no cuts or slices out of the rubber, and the wear rate is similarly impressive.
Don't let the gravel tag put you off, these are excellent tyres for British winter cycling with poor road surfaces caked in mud, water and grit. And of course, if you do want to venture off the beaten path or even have any eye on some gravel riding or racing, they are more than capable. Don't discount them as gravel-only tyres because they're so much more than that.
Really good UK winter tyres for poor riding conditions; capable of going off-road too
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Make and model: Panaracer Gravelking 700 x 26 C Folding Black tyre
Size tested: 26mm
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Cyclists are looking to expand their cycling horizons. That includes roads that may not be suited for normal road tires. Our Gravel King tire solves that problem. Three widths to suit any rider's tastes. Natural rubber compound, puncture protection breaker and a special low rolling resistance casing make the Gravel King a go-anywhere tire.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) Natural Compound
AX-A - Advanced Extra Alpha Cord
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Perfect as a winter tyre if that's what you're after, but perfectly adept at straying off the smooth road into the woods.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Durable and rugged.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Not the most responsive or supple feeling tyre.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Want a reliable and durable tyre for winter cycling? Look no further. Also ideal if you've got your eyes on some gravel riding or racing.
Age: 31 Height: 180 Weight: 67
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo cross, commuting, touring, mtb,
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.