Japanese tire manufacturer Panaracer has been killing it lately. The company joined forces with Stan’s NoTubes to form a gravel team and had one of its sponsored riders win the Lost and Found. Early in the year, the company released a 40c of its popular Gravel King series of tires at NAHBS 2016, and at the same time, has partnered with an ever-growing number of companies to sell its tires under other brands (Sim Works, SOMA Fabrications, Bruce Gordon and Compass to name a few).
But Panaracer isn’t just offering cyclocross and gravel-specific tires to our readers. When we first spotted the unmarked Comet HardPack 38c tire at Interbike years ago, we knew we had to get a set, as it looked like an ideal do-it-all tire for most of the year in dry California.
We previewed the tire when we first received it, finding the $35 60tpi version to weigh 472 grams, a reasonable weight given the 40c ETRTO measurement.
Now we’ve put quite a bit of miles on the pair, and have our full review for you today of this tire that doesn’t quite fit the mold of other gravel tires or cyclocross tires. Whether you’re riding gravel, cyclocross or just exploring the unbeaten path, we bet many of you are riding hard pack surfaces, and the Comet HardPack, as its name indicates, is tailored to those surfaces and doesn’t care about whether you call your bike a gravel bike or cyclocross bike. The tire actually has its roots as a mountain bike tire from Panaracer’s comprehensive line of fatter rubber, and this fact should suggest it’s not a thoroughbred gravel tire but something than can handle rougher terrain and cyclocross courses.
We’re always preaching that tire companies should ignore UCI width rules for cyclocross clinchers, since the vast majority of the market doesn’t race UCI events and could benefit from the better pinch flat resistance and lower rolling resistance (due to lower pressures) afforded by higher volume cyclocross tires.
Panaracer has been listening, and the new 700c version of its mountain bike tire is an attractive, versatile option for cyclocross racers and mixed-terrain riders with bikes that offer good tire clearance, as long as it’s not muddy. And for the crowd that finds itself exploring the rougher, rocky gravel roads that would quickly eat up a 28c or 32c Gravel King, the 38c Comet offers not only more volume and rim protection, but a tread that’s far better in loose conditions.
It’s not a star in the mud, but certainly is ready to tackle a lot more than just hard packed surfaces. Following our normal routes, cyclocross courses and trails, the Panaracer Comet Hard Pack does quite well on grass, soft dirt, tacky dirt and in moderately loose conditions. It’s not the tall knob, loose conditions master that the Panaracer-made 42c Soma Cazadero is (see our review here), but it’s also not 42c. Panaracer describes its Comet mountain bike line of tires as “made to ride all day in XC and hardpack conditions” and we’d have to agree. If anything, the Comet excels on the trail more than on a gravel road.
Thus the Comet 38c has become one of our favorite high-volume cyclocross tires. One important reason we’ve come to appreciate it is because it’s pretty true to size. Our 39mm measurement (35 psi, 17.5mm internal rim) sits right between the 38c listed size and the 40 ETRTO size. This volume, especially when compared to a 33c cyclocross tire, does wonders on the bumpy stuff, and helps you to avoid pinch flats if you run inner tubes. This is the kind of size and tire that we would like more bike companies to stock as OEM equipment when running inner tubes.
We also like the Comet 38c because its tread is quite versatile. It has more grip than the Maxxis Rambler 40c tire we reviewed recently, although isn’t nearly as light or supple (the EXO Rambler is 120tpi casing, while the folding Comet HardPack is 60tpi). It also doesn’t quite roll quite as fast as the Rambler, especially on the pavement, but it has more traction in braking and driving. It’s especially a good front tire, as it has confidence-inspiring grip, cornering and braking. A Rambler rear and Comet front could be a killer dry conditions, high-volume cyclocross setup that we just might have to try.
The Comet is not sold as a tubeless tire. We’d love to see a tubeless version, but have had some success converting it on American Classic and NoTubes rims. Slightly larger diameter rims, or rims with a bead lock, have better chances for a reliable tubeless setup. It’s worth noting that while we rode the Comet tubeless with much success, the tire would always be flat a few days later, so we didn’t quite achieve an air-tight seal. If Panaracer was out to create the ultimate tire, a 120tpi version with a tubeless compatible-bead and casing would something we’d be excited about.
Still, the volume and tread make this tire a winner. Perhaps the best selling point? The MSRP of just $35 for the folding Aramid bead version. That’s about half the price of some other brands’ gravel tires. Still too much coin? There’s also a wire bead 30tpi model for $20 for those on a tight budget.
Like this tread for gravel, and want a matching model for your mountain bike? You’re in luck. The tire is a downsized version of Panaracer’s mountain bike tire and comes in 12 other versions, with six distinct sizes for 26” (1.9”, 2.1” and 2.2” widths), 27.5” (2.0” and 2.2” widths), and 29” (2.1” width) mountain bikes. These models have the same casing and bead pairings as found on 700c version.
An abbreviated version of this review appeared in our Issue 29, along with seven other gravel tires. Pick up your back copy of Issue 29 in print or a digital version today to help you find the best gravel tire for your riding and region.
Panaracer Comet HardPack 38c Gravel Tire Specs:
TPI: 60 (3o tpi wire bead version)
Weight: 471 grams actual
Width: 38mm listed, 40 ETRTO, 39.1mm actual
Tubeless: Not officially, conversion possible but rim choice matters
Other sizes: 29”, 27.5”, 26” mtb versions
More info: panaracer.com