If you have been into riding bikes for a while you must have noticed the difference between bicycle tire valves. There are just main types; presta and schrander valves and your bike may have any one of them.
Bicycles tires, wheels, and inner tubes vary tremendously between different types of bicycles.
One of the more meaningful distinctions that you’ll run into is the type of valve used to inflate the tire or tube. While there aren’t a lot of advantages or disadvantages to the mechanical operation of either type of valve.
Having an unfamiliar valve can be an embarrassing problem that might keep you from inflating your bike’s tire without proper knowledge or equipment.
Trying to use a new valve for the first time?
Need to decide what type of valve you want on your new inner tubes? Here’s everything you need to know about Presta valves, Schrader valves, and the important differences between them.
We’ll go over adapters, functionality, and more so that we pump up our tires and replace tubes the right way.
Table of Contents
What Bicycle Tire Valves Are There?
Almost every bicycle tire uses one of two valve types: a Presta valve or a Schrader valve. Presta valves are common on higher-end bicycles of all types, but they’re virtually mandatory on road bikes with thin rims.
Schrader valves, by contrast, tend to be found on less expensive bicycles with wide tires. This means you’ll see them on cruisers, mountain bikes, and hybrids, especially if they’re entry-level options.
Presta valves feature threaded metal stems that are topped with a threaded nut.
This nut can be loosened to allow the valve mechanism to be pushed down, allowing air to be let in or out of the tube or tire. Presta valve stems are thinner than Schrader valve stems.
Since bike rims have to have a hole to accommodate the valve, Presta valves work well on thin rims and tires. The smaller the hole, the less the structural integrity of the rim is compromised.
On extra thin road bike wheels, this can be a major concern.
If you’ve inflated the tires on a car, you’re probably familiar with a Schrader valve. These valves have an internal mechanism that must be depressed to allow air in or out of the tire.
Schrader valve tips are much more universal than Presta valve tips, so it’s a bit easier to inflate a tire system with Schrader valves in an unfamiliar locale.
Schrader stems are thicker than Presta stems, necessitating larger holes in your bike’s rims to fit the valve.
In bikes with wide rims, like cruisers, hybrids, and mountain bikes, this isn’t much of a concern, but it can be a dealbreaker for road bikes.
Presta vs Schrader Valves – What Is The Difference?
Functionally, Presta and Schrader valves are near-identical. Both keep air in your tire, allow you to let air out in a controlled manner, and allow you to pump your tires up when they start to go flat.
The biggest difference between Presta and Schrader valves is the size of the valve stem.
Presta valves have much thinner valve stems than Schrader valves, which allows them to fit through a much smaller hole. Since road bikes tend to have very thin rims, this smaller hole is a big advantage.
A bigger hole could compromise the structural integrity of your bike’s wheels and result in damage or crashes.
The other big difference comes in the form of compatibility.
Cars tend to use Schrader valves on their tires, meaning any pump or gauge that works with a car’s tires can work on bike tires equipped with Schrader valves.
This means you can use a compressor in your garage, ride your bike to a gas station, or use equipment you already have lying around on your bike.
Presta valves, by contrast, will need either a dedicated bike pump or an adapter to be inflated. Most bicycle-centric equipment is compatible with both systems, but you should still double-check.
Finally, it’s very easy to let air out of a Presta valve. Letting air out of a Schrader valve is possible, of course, but it’s much more difficult without tubes.
You can simply unscrew the nut on top of a Presta valve and lightly tap the valve head to let out air in controlled bursts. With a Schrader valve, you’ll have to use a tool to depress the valve head inside of the core.
This process tends to be more difficult to control !
Which is Better Presta or Schrader Valve?
Bicyclists tend to prefer Presta over Schrader when they have the option, but it’s usually not a strong preference.
Presta and Schrader valves are very, very similar at performing key valve duties like keeping air in and allowing you to manipulate the air pressure of your tire in a controlled way.
The differences outlined above are pretty much the only differences: Schrader valves are thicker, Presta valves are a bit easier to manipulate by hand, and Schrader valves work with more pumps and gauges.
If you’re considering which type of valve to purchase, try to stick with the one that your bike’s wheels recommend. If your bike came with one valve type, keep using it.
Presta valve stems can fit through the bigger holes that Schrader valves demand, but they’ll wiggle a lot and can be damaged by the loose fit.
You can fill the gap with a carefully sized o-ring, sure, but it’s probably best to just stick with a Schrader valve and skip the hassle. Similarly, some cyclists will occasionally drill out the Presta-sized holes in their rims to accommodate Schrader stems.
This shouldn’t be something you undertake lightly, as it’ll make your rim much weaker around the expanded hole.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a situation where you need a Schrader valve for easy compatibility with local pumps, it’s a thing you can do.
Again, if sticking with Presta tubes is an option, you should probably do that instead. It’s a lot less dangerous and nearly hassle-free.
Most Pumps Will Accommodate Either Valve
As long as your pump is designed to work with bicycles in the US, you do not need a special pump to inflate a Presta valve. Many larger floor pumps have two holes: one for Schrader valves and one for Presta valves.
Some have a lever you can use to change which valve your pump fits. Hand pumps and some small floor pumps often have an internal part that you can reverse to fit the other type of valve.
You can usually disassemble these pumps by hand to access the part, reverse it, and then re-assemble the pump in a matter of seconds.
Check out the instructions for your particular pump to check if it has this sort of functionality.
Pumps and gauges that were designed for cars, however, might not have the ability to work with Presta valves. If you find yourself wanting to use these accessories, consider purchasing an adapter.
Adapters screw on top of your Presta valve and allow it to work flawlessly with any pump that can fit a Schrader valve.
Inflating a Presta Valve
To inflate a Presta valve, follow these steps:
- If your Presta valve has a plastic cap, remove it
- Unscrew the nut on top of your Presta valve. It’s usually a golden color, and you want to loosen the nut. You should be able to tap on the top of your valve and let a bit of air out now.
- If you haven’t already, adjust your bike pump to be in Presta mode. This might involve turning a lever, reversing a part, or simply using a smaller hole.
- Fit your pump on top of your valve. If there’s a lever to lock it in place, turn the lever to do so. If not, simply hold the pump firmly in place while you operate it.
- Operate the pump to inflate the tire to your desired pressure
- Unlock the pump (if you locked it), remove it, and screw the nut down so it locks in place. You shouldn’t be able to depress the valve on your bike and let air out.
- If your valve had a plastic cap, screw it back on.
Inflating a Schrader Valve
To inflate a Schrader valve, follow these steps:
- If your valve has a plastic cap, remove it
- If you need to, adjust your bike pump to be in Schrader mode. This might involve turning a lever, reversing a part, or simply using the bigger hole.
- Fit the pump head on top of your valve. If it can be locked in place, do so.
- Operate the pump to your desired PSI
- Unlock the pump (if necessary), and remove it quickly, being careful to let out as little air as possible.
- If your valve had a plastic cap, screw it back on.
A number of companies produce very inexpensive adapters that you screw on your Presta valve system to enable it to work with Schrader pumps and gauges.
These adapters enable you to have all of the advantages of Schrader valves without replacing them. They can be left on your bike while you ride, removed after each use, or kept in your trail bag for emergencies.
To use an adapter, open your Presta valve by unscrewing the nut, then simply screw the adapter on top. That’s it. When you’re done, unscrew the adapter and close the valve by screwing the nut back in.
If you’d like, you can return the adapter to the top of the valve and screw it in so you don’t lose it.
Adapter packs like this and one from HZJD available on amazon are very inexpensive online. You’ll get more adapters than you need for just a few dollars, giving you lots of flexibility with what pumps and stems you use on your bicycles.
Bikes with skinny wheels and fancy tires tend to come with Presta valves, while cheaper bikes with thick tires usually use Schrader valves.
There aren’t a lot of good reasons to switch from one valve type to the other, especially because most bike-centric parts can easily accommodate both valves.
In general, stick with the type of valve your bike came with. If compatibility is an issue, consider purchasing a cheap pack of adapters to let you use your car pumps and gauges on your bike’s Presta valves.