Differences in inner tube valves is a common issue for newer cyclists. It’s because department store bikes, mountain bikes, kids bikes, and cruisers are often equipped with the stubby, utilitarian car tire valve known as the Schrader. Moving up to a road bike you find the long, skinny Presta valve with the knob on top that screws and unscrews. The battle 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.
Presta vs Schrader
Schrader valves are much more commonly found on cheaper bikes of all types, mountain bikes, or kids bikes, and you can blow them up at a gas station. Presta valves are used only on bicycle inner tubes. You won’t see them on cars or anywhere else.
Road and Mountain
It’s very unusual to see Schrader valves on contemporary road bikes. Presta vs Schrader 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. However, it’s unusual to see Schrader valves on higher-end mountain bikes.
How To Use
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. 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. The Schrader valve is bombproof, rarely suffering from damage, and works beautifully most of the time. Presta valves are a bit more delicate with the post with the threads sometimes bending if you aren’t careful with the pump head.
Presta valves adapt to higher pressure than Schrader. Road bike tires often exceed 125 pounds, while Schrader tubes top out at about half that.
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.
If your tubes have Schrader valves, you can check your tire pressure by using a standard car tire gauge. 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 vs Schrader valves can be used for a release of air pressure by just pressing the unscrewed valve down, allowing for a controlled air pressure release. This is much easier than a Schrader valve that requires an object to be inserted into the valve to release air.
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. If you blow a Presta tube and there’s not a bike shop in town, you may not be able to find a replacement.
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. 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.
To Drill or Not to Drill
If your rims are drilled for Presta vs Schrader valves, you can’t use a tube that has a 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.
The Slime Factor
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.
We’ve dealt with the fact that you can’t air up Presta valves with a typical air compressor like they have at gas stations — but it’s not out of the question. 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 any air compressor, almost anywhere. Keeping one of them in your underseat pack at all times for emergencies is a great hedge against being stuck without any air in your tires. You won’t regret it.
The Smart Head
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 already have them, but some of the smaller, frame pumps do not.
To Sum it Up
With Presta vs Schrader ,there are benefits to both types of valves and neither one should be considered superior to the other. The short answer is to just keep what is on your bike unless you have a good reason to switch.