First Impressions: Panaracer Gravelking 700×32 Tires

When Panaracer introduced their Gravelking tires in spring of 2014, the go-anywhere tires generated lots of excitement and positive reviews. Our review of the 28mm Gravelking tire quickly become one of GRAVELBIKE’s most widely read articles. Some riders, however, wanted a larger tire with more aggressive tread than the original Gravelking. In response to those requests, Panaracer will begin offering the Gravelking in a 700x32mm version ($44.95 MSRP) in late November, 2014. gravel grinder Panaracer Gravelking 700x32 tire

While the 32mm Gravelking sports a completely new tread pattern, it retains the same casing, folding Aramid bead, and ZSG (Zero Slip Grip) natural rubber found on the narrower Gravelking tires. Our sample tires weighed 305g and 310g; under Panaracer’s claimed weight of 320g. At maximum pressure (95 psi), the tires measured 32mm-33mm, depending on the rims’ width.

Installing the Gravelking tires was completely uneventful. The tires mounted true and hop-free, with no need for cajoling or aids such as soap-and water. Unlike the narrower Gravelkings, which have a noticeably round cross-section, the 32mm version has a slightly flatter profile. Fitting the 32mm Gravelkings on wider rims (23-26mm outer dimension) produced a distinctly u-shaped casing. We didn’t test the new tires’ ability to be run without tubes, but the beads seated easily on tubeless-compatible rims using only a Blackburn floor pump.

On paved roads, the 32mm Gravelkings rode smoother, faster, and quieter than anticipated. The tightly spaced tread, combined with Panaracer’s supple 126tpi casing yielded a ride that outperformed many tires with less aggressive tread patterns. During hard cornering, we didn’t notice any loss of traction or slippage when transitioning from center to side knobs. Although Panaracer lists a maximum pressure of 95psi for the new Gravelkings, we never ran them above 80 psi on pavement. It’s too soon to comment on long-term durability, but tread wear has been minimal after several weeks of commuting duty.

When it comes to dirt and gravel, the 32mm Gravelking handles like a much wider tire. While it obviously can’t offer the flotation or rim protection afforded by higher-volume tires, it certainly feels wider. Hardpack dirt, and loose-over-hard, is where the new Panaracer tire really shines. Drop the pressure to 50-60 psi, and you can comfortably–and confidently–cruise dirt roads and non-technical trails. In very deep gravel, or soft, loamy soil, the tire’s performance begins to suffer, though. For those conditions, you’re better off choosing a tire with taller, more widely spaced knobs.

Panaracer’s 32mm Gravelking does a great job bridging the gap between traditional road and ‘cross tires. The increased traction doesn’t come with a substantial speed penalty, and the tire transitions easily–and predictably–between paved and unpaved terrain.

Disclosure: Panaracer provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: Blackburn Design Central 100 & 20 Lights

Now that daylight saving time has come to an end for the year, many of us will either start or end our rides in the dark (at least for the next few months). Whether you’re rolling at dawn or dusk, Blackburn Design’s Central 100 and 20 rechargeable LED lights are designed to keep you visible from all directions.

Constructed to ANSI FL-1 standards, the Blackburn Central lights feature extruded alloy shells, micro-USB charging ports, silicone mounting straps, and lens-mounted integrated power switches. Central lights are available individually ($34.99 MSRP), or as a front/rear set ($64.99 MSRP). gravel grinder Blackburn Design Central 100 20 LED blinky blinkie lights

One of the first things we noticed about the Central lights was their compact size. Measuring approximately 75mm x 35mm–and less than 25mm thick (not including the silicone mount)–the lights could easily be stowed in seat packs or slipped into pockets. Don’t let the small format fool you, though, as both models put out an impressive amount of light–100 lumens up front, and 20 lumens in back.

The Central lights fall into Blackburn’s safety light category, but they’re a definite step above typical be-seen lights. Unlike some competitors’ models, which attempt to double as see-by lights, the Central lights throw a bright, consistent wash of light that offers excellent coverage and off-axis visibility (thanks in part to the translucent bezels found on both models). This extended visibility is a real plus, as the silicone mounting strap offers little in the way of angular adjustment.

During our testing, we confirmed the accuracy of Blackburn’s quoted run and recharge times (although we didn’t verify run times past 24 hours). Recharging was simple with the included USB cable; which, by the way, was long enough that it didn’t require any Jenga-like gymnastics. Note that the 100/20 combo includes only one charging cable, so you’ll need an additional cable if you want to charge both lights at the same time. Because these lights don’t rely traditional AA or AAA batteries (which can be swapped out), the built-in fuel gauge provides handy visual feedback on when it’s time for a recharge.

Blackburn’s Central lights are a good choice for riders seeking versatile, well-built, rechargeable be-seen lights. The silicone mounting straps and wire attachment clips offer a variety of secure mounting options, and the lights’ sturdy alloy shells have survived being dropped and stepped on. Most importantly, though, Central lights do a damn good job of keeping you visible–whether it’s from the front, rear, or side.

Central 100 Central 20
Lumens 100 20
Weight 60g 60g
Modes High, low, strobe High, steady flash, strobe
Run Times 3.2 hours (high), 7 hours (low), 21 hours (strobe) 25 hours (high), 42 hours (flash), 76 hours (strobe)
Recharge Time 4 hours 4 hours

Disclosure: Blackburn Design provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.

First Impressions: SRAM Force 22 Components

When SRAM redesigned their Force 22 group, the company leveraged its top-end Red 22 line for many of the new group’s features. Among Force 22’s improvements are twenty-two usable gears and Yaw™ front shifting. The redesigned Force line also features trickled-down enhancements such as improved ergonomics, reduced weight, and updated aesthetics. GRAVELBIKE spent the last six months putting the Force 22 group to the test on Colorado’s roads and trails. gravel grinder SRAM Force 22 WiFLi rear derailleur 11 speed cassette

SRAM’s Force 22 drivetrain on the Black Mountain Cycles test bike.

Like SRAM’s Red 22 group, Force 22 boasts twenty-two usable gears. Whether you’re in the small or large chainring, you can access all eleven cogs without trimming the front derailleur. This trim-free shifting is made possible by SRAM’s Yaw front derailleur. Unlike most derailleurs, the Yaw cage rotates in line with chain, improving shifting speed and precision, eliminating the need for shifter trim. If you were taught to always avoid cross-chaining, this new paradigm may take a few rides to get used to. We rarely used the small chainring/small cog combo, but being able to easily–and safely–shift up to the largest cog while in the big chainring proved to be valuable on more than one occasion.

Knowing that terrain, riding style, and even fitness can vary, SRAM provides three cassette options for the Force 22 group. The 11-speed PG 1170 cassette is available in 11-26, 11-28, and 11-32 ratios, with rear derailleurs offered in short- and medium-cage (WiFLi) versions. For our testing, we matched an 11-32 cassette with the company’s Force 22 carbon cranks (34/50 chainrings). Thanks to the cassette’s cog spacing (11,12,13,14,15,17,19,22,25,28,32), this combination worked equally well for fast-paced road riding and off-road exploration. The Force 22 rear derailleur ($115 MSRP) may lack some of the carbon and titanium bits found on the pricier ($380 MSRP) Red 22 model, but the Force 22 unit never missed a shift. gravel grinder SRAM Force 22 WiFLi rear derailleur 11 speed cassette

Force 22 mid-cage derailleur with WiFLi (11-32) cassette.

SRAM’s Force 22 group now includes hydraulic and mechanical brake options, and the company offers DoubleTap® levers for both types of braking systems. Like SRAM’s Red 22 levers, the redesigned Force 22 levers feature SRAM’s ZeroLoss™ shifting technology, which results in faster shifts, front or rear. The Force 22’s ergonomics are a huge step up from earlier versions, as is the ability to quickly and easily adjust the brake and shift levers’ reach. We tested the mechanical Force 22 levers with a variety of brakes, including Avid’s BB7 road discs, and deep-drop calipers from Grand Cru and TRP. Whether paired with disc or rim brakes, the Force 22 levers offered plenty of power and modulation. gravel grinder SRAM Force 22 WiFLi rear derailleur 11 speed cassette

The ErgoFit textured body shows virtually no wear despite almost daily use.

Despite all the technological advancements found in the Force 22 group, installation and setup proved no more difficult than competitors’ products. The Yaw front derailleur came with a sticker warning us to follow the user manual for proper setup, but we found those instructions to be clear and easy to follow. Once everything was dialed in, the Force 22 drivetrain required essentially zero tweaking to keep it running properly (even when swapping rear wheels and cassettes). After six months of riding in a variety of terrain and weather, we found the 11-speed system extremely reliable, with chain and cassette wear on par with 10-speed drivetrains.

Are SRAM’s Force 22 components suitable for the gravel or dirt-road rider? We certainly think so. The group’s wide range of gearing options, combined with mechanical and hydraulic-brake compatibility make it a logical choice for a variety of setups. We’ve actually come to prefer the DoubleTap levers’ ergonomics, and are more than a little spoiled by the system’s trim-free front shifting. Despite being only slightly heavier than the company’s top-tier Red 22 line, Force 22 has proven sturdy enough for a trouble-free daily use.

Disclosure: SRAM provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.