Jim is an accomplished triathlete and endurance cyclist, and has raced in more than 35 USAT-certified races. He is also an avid trail runner and endurance gravel bike rider. Jim is a founder of Complete Tri and frequent writer on triathlon and cycling.
I’ve seen it a few times. I get someone setup on their beginner road bike, their first one ever. They start looking over the bike, and get to the wheels, look at the valve, and ask “what’s this?!”
There are two main types of bike wheel valves: The Schrader valve and the Presta valve. Both serve the same purpose of controlling air flow in and out of the tire, but there is a reason the two are used in very different situations.
The Schrader valve is the most common valve found on general bikes, and it is probably the one you had on your bikes as a kid or the commuter bike you ride around town. It’s also the same type of valve used on car tires. It’s a sturdy, all-purpose valve that’s easy to use and can handle high pressure. You’ll recognize it by its wider stem and a spring-loaded valve core that is kind of recessed in the center. Schrader valves are the ones found on more entry-level bikes, cheaper mountain bikes, and kids’ bikes.
The Presta valve, also known as a French valve, is the one that you will find on nearly every road or tri bike. It is a narrower valve that’s increasingly used on higher-end mountain bikes too. It has a threaded stem with a locking nut that you need to unscrew before inflating the tire. The Presta valve is designed for high-pressure tires and it can dial-in the PSI (pounds per square inch) more precisely than the Schrader valve. It’s also lighter and more aerodynamic, making it a popular choice among road cyclists or anyone who has a higher-performance bike.
Design and Functionality
For years growing up, all I knew was the Schrader Valve from my mountain bikes and BMX bikes. This is what many might consider the standard bike tire valve. This valve has a simple design consisting of a metal stem with a rubber seal that is pressed against the valve opening to prevent air from escaping. The valve is opened by depressing a spring-loaded pin in the center of the valve stem, allowing air to flow in or out.
Schrader valves are commonly used on tires for mountain bikes, BMX bikes, and some hybrid and cruiser bikes. They are also used on car tires, air compressors, and some inflatable toys.
Compatibility and Sizing
When it comes to compatibility and sizing, Schrader valves are generally easier to work with than Presta valves. They are compatible with most pumps and can be inflated at gas stations or with a standard air compressor. Schrader valves are available in two sizes: standard and large. Standard Schrader valves have a diameter of 8mm, while large Schrader valves have a diameter of 10mm.
Advantages and Disadvantages
A big advantage of Schrader valves is their durability. They are stubby and strong, so less prone to damage from debris and can withstand more knocking around than Presta valves. Schrader valves are also compatible with almost any air pump, like those found at gas stations, so they can be an advantage if you need to pump your tire while on the go. However, Schrader valves are heavier and bulkier than Presta valves, which can be a disadvantage for road cyclists who prioritize weight savings. Additionally, Schrader valves require a larger hole in the rim, which can weaken the rim over time.
Design and Functionality
I am exclusively using Presta valves these days on all my bikes. It is a slender valve that is commonly found on high-performance bikes. The valve has a threaded stem that allows it to be securely fastened to the rim of the wheel. The valve core is also removable, which makes it easy to add or remove air from the tire.
Presta valves are the valves you see on road bikes, gravel bikes, higher-end mountain bikes, and other high-performance bikes. They are also used in tubeless tire setups. Because of their design, Presta valves can handle higher pressure than Schrader valves, making them right for any tire that needs higher pressure like a road bike tire. They can also let air out of the tire with great precision, an advantage if you are trying to dial-in your PSI very precisely.
Compatibility and Sizing
When it comes to compatibility, Presta valves are not as widely used as Schrader valves in the overall bike universe, but they are actually much more common in the world of road bikes, triathlon bikes, and gravel bikes.. Most bike pumps come with a Presta valve adapter, which allows you to inflate tires with either type of valve.
Presta valves come in different lengths, so it is important to choose the correct length for your rim depth. If you have a rim that is deep and aerodynamic, you need a longer valve or it won’t be able to peek out of the rim!
Advantages and Disadvantages
The biggest advantage of Presta valves is that they are able to handle higher pressure than Schrader valves. This makes them the best for road and triathlon cyclists. Another advantage is that the valve core is removable, which makes it easy to add or remove air from the tire.
The only real disadvantage of Presta valves is that they are not as widely used as Schrader valves, so lots of tire pumps in parks or at convenience stores might not have the ability to pump a Presta valve. Another downside is that te valve stem is more fragile than the Schrader valve, which can make it more prone to damage.
What makes the Presta valve so ideal for getting precise PSI is also a downside in some cases perhaps. If you put pressure on the valve core to let some air out, you can let 20 PSI out in a hurry! A Schrader valve isn’t as touchy.
When to Use Schrader Valves, When to Use Presta Valves
Here are some simple guidelines on when to use Schrader valves and when to use Presta valves. It is really important to know which valve your bike’s wheelset and rim calls for. They are not easily interchangeable.
Schrader valves are commonly found on mountain bikes, kids’ bikes, and BMX bikes. They are also used on some hybrid and cruiser bikes.
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use valve that doesn’t require any special tools, Schrader valves are a great choice. They are also compatible with most air pumps, making them a convenient option.
Presta valves are found on road bikes, gravel bikes, and fat bikes. They are also used on some mountain bikes. Presta valves are smaller in diameter than Schrader valves, which allows for a much higher PSI rating.
For anyone needing higher pressure, Presta valves are the way to go. They also have a threaded tip that allows for a more secure connection with the pump, which is important when inflating tires to a high PSI. For people doing bike upgrades, consider moving to Presta if you don’t already use them.
Inflating a Presta vs. Schrader
Inflating the two types of tire valves is generally the same, but there are a few finer points worth pointing out.
On a Schrader valve, you just remove the valve cap, press the pump nozzle onto the valve, and pump until the tire reaches the desired pressure. Schrader valves are easy to inflate and are commonly found on mountain bikes and many other types of bikes.
In contrast, Presta valves require a bit more finesse to inflate properly. First, you need to unscrew – but not remove – the small nut at the top of the valve to open it. Then, you need to press the pump nozzle onto the valve and hold it in place while you pump, or lock the nozzle on if it offers that feature (good bike tire pumps do.) Presta valves are narrower than Schrader valves, so you may need to use an adapter to fit your pump nozzle onto the valve. Once you’ve inflated the tire to the right pressure, screw the nut back down to close the valve.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
One common mistake when inflating Presta valves is not unscrewing the nut at the top of the valve before attempting to inflate the tire. If you don’t unscrew the nut all the way, the valve won’t open and air won’t flow into the tire. Another mistake is not pressing the pump nozzle onto the valve firmly enough, which can cause air to leak out and prevent the tire from inflating properly.
Another mistake with Presta valves is in the selection. If you are buying a tube with a Presta valve, be sure the valve is the right length to fit out of your bike’s rim.
With Schrader valves, the most common mistake is not checking the tire pressure before inflating. It’s important to know the recommended pressure for your bike tires and to check the pressure with a gauge before inflating. Over-inflating a tire can cause it to burst, while under-inflating can make it harder to ride and increase the risk of punctures.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you use a pump designed for Schrader valves with a Presta valve?
Good pumps are made to handle both types of valves. If you have a pump designed for Schrader valves, you can still use it to inflate a Presta valve. Many pumps come with a reversible head that can be switched to fit either valve type. If your pump doesn’t have this feature, you can get a Presta valve adapter that will let you use your pump with Presta valves.
Can you use a Schrader valve in a tubeless tire?
Don’t do it. While it is possible to use a Schrader valve in a tubeless tire, it is not recommended. Schrader valves are larger and heavier than Presta valves, and they can create a larger hole in the rim. This can lead to difficulties in achieving an airtight seal, which is essential for tubeless tires. Presta valves are the preferred choice for tubeless bike tire setups.
Is it possible to convert a Presta valve wheel to a Schrader valve wheel?
I don’t recommend it because there are too many variables, and you really should get a wheel that is designed for the valve you want to use. Modifying the wheel can weaken the rim. When you by a wheel, nearly every manufacturer gives you options on features for the rim, valve type being one.