So, you thought that all bicycle inner tube valves were the same? Think again! Just what is the difference between Presta and Schrader valves? Which one should you choose for bicycle touring?
Presta and Schrader Valves
There are two main types of valve used on bicycle inner tubes nowadays, and these are Presta and Schrader Valves. Bicycle touring is possible with either one, and most of the time, no choice or thought is involved. A bicycle will simply come with wheels that are pre-drilled for either Presta or Schrader valves.
Anyone considering building their own wheels for bicycle touring, replacing wheels, or working out the specs for a new expedition or touring bike might like to think a little more about the subject though. Sometimes, choices made regarding the seemingly simplest of things can make life harder or easier when out on the road. This is definitely the case with Presta and Schrader valves. Here, I outline the technical and practical aspects of each valve type, along with the pros and cons of each. As always, I would love to hear about your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.
The Difference between Presta and Schrader Valves?
Well, it all comes down to size. Apparently, it does matter after all! Schrader valves are fatter, and Presta valves are thinner. This means that the hole diameter in the wheels rim will also be different, and although you can use Presta valves in Schrader drilled wheels if you have to, you can't do it the other way around. So, what is the point of having valves with two different diameters? It only confuses people when it comes to buying bicycle inner tubes! Is there something else that makes them different?
Presta valves are most commonly used on racing style road bikes with 700cc wheels. They have also carried over to 26 inch wheels used on mountain bikes and specialised touring bicycles. The most noticeable feature of a Presta valve, is that the top section must be unscrewed before air can be put in or out. Presta valves also come with a locking nut which holds it tight against the rim of the bicycle. It is often commented that the main reason to use this style of valve, is to allow higher pressurised inner tubes, and whilst this is true, there are other attributes.
Presta Valves – Pros
The skinnier Presta valve needs a smaller hole in the wheels rim. This means that the rim strength will be greater than it would be if it had a larger hole for the Schrader valve. As most touring cyclists carry quite a lot of weight on their bikes, this could be quite significant in the long run. Something worth considering.
They are available in different valve lengths, which can be quite a bonus if you are running deep rims.
As the Presta valve is one way, the inner tube will not lose any pressure when a pump is taken off it. This is one of the reasons that it is used when high pressures are needed. Whilst this is perhaps not significant for the vast majority of bicycle tourers, there is a certain irritation factor. Pumping up a tyre, only to find that it loses a bit of pressure when you remove the pump from the valve is annoying!
Presta valves keep their tyre pressure, as once the screw has been tightened down, air will not leak from the valve.
They are easier to pump to higher pressure with a hand bicycle pump (allegedly!)
Presta Valves – Cons
You need to be careful when pumping up tyres which have a Presta valve, as the valve itself can be quite fragile, and they can break.
Whilst you can find Presta inner tubes in most western countries, they are a real rarity everywhere else. Bicycle tourers heading off into less developed countries should ensure they have adequate spares.
They are marginally more expensive.
This style of valve is found on practically every type of car and motorcycle worldwide. It is most used on bicycles where lower tyre pressures are required. Known as the car type valve, it is commonly found on mountain bikes, BMX's and kids bikes. Many touring cyclists roll with this type of valve simply because it was on the bike when they bought it. Schrader valves are considered to be more sturdier and robust.
Schrader Valves – Pros
Being the most common bicycle valve type, Schrader inner tubes can be found in virtually any part of the world.
It is possible to inflate these tyres at a garage if for some reason a hand pump is lost when bicycle touring. When doing this, it's important to keep an eye on the pressure. Inflating via a pneumatic car pump can be a great way to wreck the inner tube, tyre, and even rim!
Having less exposed parts than its Presta counterpart is one of the reasons Schrader valves are considered to be sturdier.
Schrader Valves – Cons
This type of valve requires that a larger hole is drilled into the rim. This might reduce a wheel rims overall strength over time, especially on the cheaper ones.
Whenever attaching or removing a pump, the inner tube will lose a small amount of air due to the nature of the valve. On a fully laden touring bicycle, this can mean that the tyres never get quite hard enough for road cycling. This may lead to considerable to energy loss throughout the day.
Inner tubes which have Schrader valves will leak air through them over time. The reason for this, is that if a cyclist rides across bumpy road, the valve will open up ever so slightly when it is at the top of the wheel rotation. Over a day on rough road, this can lead to a cyclist thinking that they have a flat. Even if they don't, they will need to pump the tyre up all the same.
Although this type of inner tube might be readily available throughout the world, there is a minor problem. Its mass produced nature can lead to lower quality levels, requiring more frequent replacements.
Which type of inner tube did I Choose to Use?
Choosing between Presta and Schrader valves, I picked Presta valves for the inner tubes for my next bicycle tour around the world. The main reason for this, came down to keeping the strength of the wheels rim with the smaller diameter hole. The longer valve stems also make inflating them easier.
From experience, I know that the one main drawback to choosing Presta, is that sourcing new inner tubes may be nigh on impossible in certain parts of the world. Now, that said, it is extremely difficult to get any parts of a high quality in some parts of the world anyway. With that in mind, I may have to arrange several parcels of parts to be sent out to me when needed. Including a few inner tubes in the parcel is neither here nor there, and I always have a lot of patches to fix punctures during the mean time!
Has all this talk of Presta and Schrader valves has made you realise that you need to buy a spare tube or two? Then please use this link to buy Inner tubes. It takes you through to Amazon, where you will pay the same price as normal, and I will receive a small commission. Cheers!