Last year I tested the 28mm Panaracer Gravelking tyre and found it ideal for rough roads and winter cycling, but Panaracer have since added a 32mm version with a knobbly tread pattern and it excels on dry gravel tracks.
Its name and time of launch suggest it's been inspired by the growing gravel riding and racing scene, hugely popular over in the US where there are miles upon miles of gravel tracks. While the UK can't boast the same number (though Wales and Scotland have a fair few) and gravel racing hasn't made the trip across the Atlantic just yet, the idea of mixing up road rides with a dose of off-road terrain has caught on. As well as Panaracer meeting this demand, bike manufacturers are also stepping up with a new category of road bikes with big tyre clearance (check out our buyer's guide to adventure and gravel bikes).
The Gravelking can handle dirt and mud yet is a reasonably swift tyre on the road too. First impressions are that it looks very similar to some cyclo-cross tyres, and at 32mm wide it is inside the UCI's maximum width rule for 'cross racing, if you care about such matters. It's constructed with a 126tpi (threads per inch) casing and weighs 310g. That's a pretty good weight for a tyre of this size and build; there are plenty of much lighter cyclo-cross tyres in a similar width, but Panaracer have given the Gravelking a beefy sidewall and build to ensure it can cope with some abuse.
The tyre tread features rows of low-profile blocks along the central section, with longer blocks on the shoulders. It's reasonably close in appearance to other cyclo-cross tyres, but the Panaracer does have a lower profile than most of the popular dry weather CX tyre choices.
That close arrangement of central blocks ensures the tyre zips along the road at a decent lick. You certainly notice the weight when making sudden turns, but it's only just over 60g heavier than the 28mm Gravelking, so the penalty isn't a huge one. The big volume provides plenty of comfort and, run at a low pressure, ensures the Gravelking just soaks up every ripple and divot in the road. You don't get as much cushioning as some of the much wider tyres, and you can't take quite the same liberties when busting along a rocky track, but it balances the demands of a tyre that is speedy on the road with enough capability when heading into the trees.
It's on mixed surface riding that the Gravelking excels. Ride along the road for a while, spot a bridleway sign, turn off the road and just head down a narrow dusty (or more likely squidgy) track and simply see where it goes. The tyre opens up your riding choice loads, so if you want to explore away from your usual roads, the Gravelking gives you the ability and confidence to do just that. Durability has been good, too, with the tough sidewall standing up to punishment when riding through rocky terrain and running low pressures to find traction in softer conditions.
I found some gravel tracks in the shape of the Fosse Way through the Cotswolds, and mixed in some bridleways and muddy tree-lined trails in the local woods, where I usually take a mountain bike, to make a nice testing loop. The Gravelking, as expected, excelled best in the dry, and on the dusty Fosse Way it ripped along the loose gravel with plenty of control. The tyre also does well on the dirt but can struggle when it's muddy - on the flat, momentum and a smidgen less pressure can get you through, but it can be a bit squirmy. It's worth experimenting with tyre pressure to suit your weight, and also the ratio of road to trail you expect to encounter. I happily took on a 100km ride recently with a third of it on trails and in the woods and it was one of the most enjoyable outings I've done in a long while.
While the Gravelking isn't as fast as a regular slick tyre, if you desire the ability to add in a good dose of gravel, dirt or grassy track to your riding, this tyre provides the ideal blend of traction and durability for most trails you'll encounter in the UK. You could use them for summer cyclo-cross racing, they're fast and light enough, but you could happily use them on a tour, audax ride or on one of the new breed of adventure/gravel bikes and go explore some trails.
A fast and capable gravel tyre ideal for exploring trails and good for cyclo-cross too
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Panaracer Gravel King
Size tested: 700 x 32
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?
Panaracer say: "Looking for a tire that's more tread aggressive and wider than the mixte-tread narrower Gravelking? The 32 might just be the tire you need for the more hardcore roads. Aggressive knobs, natural rubber compound, puncture protection breaker and a special low rolling resistance casing make the Gravelking a go-anywhere tire."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
SIZES BEAD ETRO TPI WEIGHT
700 x 32c Aramid 32-622 126 320g.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Really good tyre for mixing up road and off-road terrain, with good rolling speed and reasonable weight. Comfort is good too.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Plenty of grip and comfort on dry gravel tracks and singletrack, but they do struggle in the wet.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
For their intended application there's nothing to dislike. They're going to work best if they suit your local trails and tracks and the amount of off-road riding you want to do.
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?
While they're not as fast as a regular slick tyre, if you want the ability to add in a good dose of gravel, dirt or grassy trail to your riding, the Panaracer Gravelking tyres provide the ideal blend of traction and durability for most trails you'll encounter in the UK. They're fast and light enough for summer cyclo-cross racing, but you could also use them touring, on an audax ride, or stick them on one of the new breed of adventure/gravel bikes and go explore some trails.
About the tester
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, mountain biking
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.