About two weeks ago I decided to move over to tubeless, and that’s been a journey in it’s own right. However, I also took the opportunity to try out some tires that are all the rage in the gravel world, the Panaracer GravelKing SK+. I’ve had them mounted for just under 100 miles and wanted to share my first impressions.
The GravelKing’s are touted as a great tire for both pavement and dirt and they come in a variety of styles, some of which are brightly colored and highly eye-catching. I chose the SK+ model which is their more aggressive tread (SK) and comes with more puncture resistance (+). Unfortunately, this model wasn’t available in any flashy colors so I had to settle for boring black.
I detailed some of my issues getting them mounted in my tubeless post, and that might be due to the thicker rubber on the + version. It really needed a strong blast of air to get them to form up, which required a very strong compressor. They’ve been mounted for a couple weeks now, and I’m still losing a couple psi in the front tire, and seeing occasional seepage, but it’s very slow. I think it will just take a while to get any tiny areas fully coated, but I don’t foresee any major issues that will cause them to deflate quickly.
Taking them out for rides, I enjoy how quiet they are compared to the Teravail Rutlands I took off the rims. They’re smooth on the asphalt and rolling resistance seems low. Handling on pavement felt fine, though I’m riding a light touring bike at moderate speeds, so I’m usually never in highly maneuverable situations. None of this sound be surprising, as just about any bike tire can handle American suburbia. The real questions came in when riding off road.
I have a short bit of gravel path near my house, and as luck would have it there is some road construction on our streets. This gave me a few different dirt options to try. The tires are rated at 60 psi max for tubeless, but since I like a more supple ride I aimed for upper 30s in the front and low 40s on the back. I’ve taken them out on my regular coffee ride a few times and hit the gravel path. My first impression was that they were fine. Nothing astounding, but competent. On my return trips I go up a short, steep, gravel hill. At these pressures I was still getting some slight and momentary spinning out, but nothing too dramatic.
When I went through the road construction areas (don’t worry it was still open to cars and pedestrians and workers had gone home for the day) they had laid down some sandy dirt for a surface while they worked. This dirt was loose and light and I immediately could feel the biggest issue that people complain about with these tires… sand. Trying to navigate a few hundred feel of this loose sandy dirt was just annoying enough to be noticeable. I had a few small kick outs and getting adequate push-off resulted in some spin. Needless to say I quickly learned that I couldn’t just barrel through this and had to take my time. I was hoping for better.
My disappointment didn’t end on dirt though. The other night I was riding in a group and we went down a street that was paved with concrete. The concrete slabs were embedded with grooves to help with snow and ice in the winter time. However, the tread of the GravelKings was absolutely no help on these. I felt like I was riding on ice with a flat tire. I felt the tires sliding around and giving me almost no grip. I watched as the rest of my group rode on with little effort while I urgently looked down at my tires to ensure that I hadn’t just completely deflated. After realizing what was going on I felt better, but I still didn’t feel confident until we got past this area.
Finally, last night I decided to try the gravel path again, but this time drop the pressure down to 27 in the front and 30 in the back. I can’t find a minimum rating for the GravelKings on their site, but I figured I was probably OK if I kept it north of 20-25. The slightly lower pressure did feel better, but I really don’t want to keep the tires this low when a fair amount of my riding is on pavement. If there’s a happy medium with the GK’s I haven’t found it yet.
Given all of this, I’m not really enamored with the Panaracer GravelKing SK+ tires. They’re all over social media, and a ton of influencers rock their gear, but they didn’t do it for me. In reality these tires are probably perfectly fine, but there’s nothing quite like disappointment when you have high expectations. I wanted something more than I got (given the level of hype surrounding them) and what I ended up with were pretty bland ‘kinda-commuter-kinda-gravel-sorta-dirt’ tires.
I’m not sure if I’ll keep these or figure out something different, but I do feel that I’ve learned a valuable lesson about the bike tire hype train.