The main two bicycle valves used today are Presta and Schrader. Which one is better and what are the pros and cons? This article is going to cover some of the differences between the two and hopefully, reduce some of the confusion that newer cyclists often have.
Bicycles’ from department stores or from the cheaper manufacturers are often fitted with a car tire valve that is also known as a Schrader. Normally, road bikes have a long, skinny Presta valve with the knob on top that screws and unscrews.
Presta valves are used only on bicycle inner tubes. You won’t see them on cars or anywhere else. The comparison of Presta vs Schrader inner tubes depends on what you expect, what kind of bike you ride, and what you need from a bicycle inner tube.
The Presta valve is the more slender of the two and is slightly more cumbersome to use, having a locknut instead of a spring to ensure closure. These two features have kept the Presta valve in use on many bicycles.
Presta valves are used almost universally on road bikes. There is a very good likelihood that Presta’s are what you have on your road bike. Mountain bikes can go either way, some use Schrader, some prefer Presta.
Sports and racing bicycles have used Presta valves in the past due to their slender shape and enabled racers to inflate tires with a simple pump with an attached chuck (pump head) and no hose.
Presta valves are not as easy to pump due to the small diameter of the Presta valve, thus requiring a smaller hole in the rim. The size is important for narrow cross-sectional strength is significantly reduced by the size of the stem hole and in narrow rims such as clincher tires leave where there is insufficient space between tire beads for larger Schrader valves.
If your rims are drilled for Presta valves, you can’t use a tube that has an Schrader valve because the stem won’t fit through the hole. You may be able to have your wheels re-drilled with larger holes but it’s not a good idea on road bikes.
Narrow wheels can be significantly weakened by larger valve holes. However, it’s fine to drill out mountain bike rims if so desired because they are much wider.
Presta valves are more commonly used on skinny road bike tires because they are narrower and require a narrower hole in the rim. The valve hole is the weakest part of the rim so the smaller this is the better.
Presta valves need the small head unscrewed (counter-clockwise) before the pump head is placed on to the valve. Then make sure the head is on far enough and pump up your tire.
When you remove the valve head, you then need to tighten the small head all the way down, but not overly tight. Presta valves are a bit more delicate with the post with the threads sometimes bending if you aren’t careful with the pump head.
Almost all Presta valves as of 2017 have a removable core, which can be identified by two wrench flats on the coarse valve cap threads. The benefits of this are that it does not require replacing the tube when the presta nut breaks off and makes it possible to inject sealant (like Slime) into presta tubes.
All you need is a Presta to Schrader adaptor; a good example is the Joe Blow Pro Pump (We have a review on the Joe Blow Pro here), remove the core and hold firmly on the valve.
Presta valves adapt to a higher pressure than Schrader. Road bike tires often exceed 125 pounds, while Schrader tubes top out at about half that. If your tubes have Presta valves, you need a special pressure gauge made just for Presta valves.
Typically, most floor-type pumps for Presta tubes already have them built-in. Presta valves can be used for a release of air pressure by just pressing the unscrewed valve down, allowing for a controlled air pressure release.
If you blow a Presta tube and there’s not a bike shop in town, you may not be able to find a replacement.
Presta stems come in different lengths, so if you have deep carbon rims you can purchase tubes with stems that are long enough to accommodate your rims. However, if you mistakenly purchase Presta tubes with valve stems that are too short, all you can do is to give them to someone who can use them unless you want to go through the hassle of using valve extenders.
Thus far we know we can not use a typical air compressor like they have at gas stations to pump up a Presta valve — but most experienced road riders are prepared for emergency situations, such as a disabled frame pump, by carrying a small, cheap Presta to Schrader valve stem adapter.
This small brass fitting screws on to your Presta valve and allows you to use an air compressor, almost anywhere. Keeping one of them in your kit at all times for emergencies is a great tool if you get stuck without any air in your tires.
If you’re going to purchase an air pump, consider purchasing one with a dual-purpose head. This type of head has both Schrader and Presta heads built-in and you can air up either type of tube.
Most of the standing floor pumps like the Joe Blow Pro Pump that we recently did an article on, already have them, but some of the smaller, frame pumps do not.
It’s very unusual to see Schrader valves on contemporary road bikes and higher-end mountain bikes. In contrast, Schrader valves are more robust, universally used, and have an easily removable core.
Schrader have no valve spring to overcome. Although a valve depressor for Schrader valves can alleviate this, it requires a check valve, impractical to house in lightweight pump heads.
Spring closure makes them simpler to use because one needs only to press the inflation chuck onto them at an automobile service station. For hand pumps, a screwed or lever chuck provides the valve depressor.
The depressor not only makes inflation easier but also is necessary to read backpressure in the tire. The Schrader valve is bombproof, rarely suffering from damage, and works beautifully most of the time.
If your tubes have Schrader valves, you can check your tire pressure by using a standard car tire gauge. This is much easier than a Schrader valve that requires an object to be inserted into the valve to release air.
The diameter of a Schrader valve, 8mm, is greater than the diameter of a Presta valve at only 6 mm. The hole where the valve stem goes through the rim of your wheel is drilled to fit either Schrader or Presta valves.
A Schrader valve is easier to use than a Presta valve. All you need to do is removed the cap from a Schrader, apply the pump head making sure it is placed on far enough as to not let any air leak out, and air up your tire.
If you’re running Schrader tubes and you blow a tire or run out of tubes for any reason, chances are that the local auto parts store or the mom-and-pop general store will have a spare Schrader tube in stock.
Schrader valves have a removable core. That might sound weird to a roadie, but if you’re a mountain biker, or just want extra flat protection, the removable core allows you to add puncture-resistant sealant to your tube. Valve stems on a Presta are typically not removable but they can be found.
What ‘s the Verdict?
Both the Presta vs Schrader have their benefits and shortcomings. It’s not a case of one being better than the other. The logical answer is to address the benefits that suit your bicycle and riding needs.
You can be happy with what you already have, or if the benefits are greater to switch to whatever suits you best – it ultimately comes down to personal preference.