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There’s a lot of talk about what is the perfect gravel bike for different kinds of conditions. While that’s interesting to debate, we’d say the thing you should worry about most is which tires you’re using. Think of tires as footwear for your bike. You no doubt have a closet full of shoes for different purposes. From hiking boots to sandals, each serves a unique purpose (even if that purpose is wearing some cool-looking sneakers). Likewise, different tires are made for different conditions and can completely transform how your bike rides. Choosing the right tire can make all the difference between struggling over a certain terrain and thriving.
Panaracer’s latest release, the GravelKing SS, is a natural extension of the brand’s lineup of gravel tires. SS stands for Semi-Slick, and slots into the GravelKing range between the standard, slick GravelKing and the knobby GravelKing SK. The center features a mostly smooth diamond pattern, but as you move out to the edges the sides have more-aggressive tread. The smooth center tread allows you to go all-out over dry and smooth conditions where less tread is needed for control. But with the addition of the side tread, you can carry that speed into corners with ample control. Similarly, these tires let you transition between different kinds of terrain, from tarmac to off-road, with more confidence.
The SS seems to be at home on many gravel courses that have sprung up around the country. Jeff Zell at Panaracer said the brand “performed extensive testing with our gravel team in events like The Mid South, The Hondo, Georgia Grinduro and others where the SS tire really shines.”
Pairing side tread with a smooth center is not necessarily a new idea—we’ve seen similar concepts from other brands—but Panaracer executes the concept beautifully, with just the right amount of side tread. Its 126-tpi casing provides a noticeably supple ride. And coupled with Panaracer’s proprietary ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) compound, this tire offers plenty of control over looser terrain.
The SS also continues the reasonable pricing we’ve come to love from Panaracer. Like other GravelKing tires, the SS costs just $50 each. If you want additional puncture protection over the nylon puncture-resistant belt in the SS, the SS+ adds in a bead-to-bead layer of Panaracer’s ProTite material, reducing your number of flats and dreaded sidewall cuts. Those tires cost just $10 more, at $60 each. There are six sizes available: 700×28, 32, 35, 38 and 43, as well as 650bx48. And each size is available with black or brown sidewalls.
$50–$60 (each); 6 sizes; 2 sidewall colors; panaracerusa.com