When buying a new set of rims for your bike, one of the decisions you must make is whether you want to use Presta valves vs Schrader valves. This guide outlines the pros and cons of each design to help you decide which valve type is best for your style of riding.
What’s the Difference Between Presta and Schrader Valves?
Schrader valves are the shorter and wider of the two. They are threaded on the top and rubber wrapped on the bottom. An internal spring holds the valve shut. This type of valve is called a check valve. It only allows air to flow in one direction. In order for air to pass through, you must apply pressure to the inner pin.
You find Schrader valves on car and motorcycle tires. Bicycle manufacturers usually install these on lower-end department store bikes, kids bikes, BMX bikes, and sometimes mountain bikes. You also find Schrader valves on bicycle suspension on rear shocks, forks, and dropper seat posts.
Presta valves are the longer and more narrow of the two. They are usually threaded all the way down. Presta valves work by using the pressure in the tube to hold the valve shut. A lock nut at the top holds the pin closed. There is no internal spring. Presta valves are used almost exclusively on bicycles. Manufacturers usually install these on road bikes and higher-end bikes.
As far as the bike’s wheels go, the only difference between a wheel designed for Shrader valves and one designed for Presta valves is the size of the valve hole in the rim. Schrader valves measure 8mm in diameter. Presta valves measure 6mm in diameter.
A Brief History of Presta and Schrader Valves
Schrader valves were invented by a German-American man named Schrader in 1891. They are also called American valves. Presta valves were invented sometime in the 1920s by a French man named Sclaverand. Presta valves are also called French valves.
Initially, Schrader valves were more common on bicycles. As road wheels and tires became skinnier over time, bicycles required a more narrow valve. At this point, the Presta valve gained popularity in cycling. These days, Presta valves are used almost exclusively on bicycles.
Presta Valve Pros
- Stronger wheels- The valve hole creates a weak spot in your rim. Because Presta valves are more narrow than Schrader, the valve hole can be smaller. This extra couple of millimeters of material in the rim helps to maintain wheel strength. This doesn’t really make a difference for wide mountain bike rims. For narrow road rims, having smaller valve holes can help to make the wheel stronger.
- Presta valves fit narrow rims- Some road rims are so narrow that a Schrader valve wouldn’t fit between the beads of the tire. In this case, you need to use Presta valves.
- Available in different valve lengths- This is important if you are using deep rims like many carbon rims tend to be. In some cases, a long valve is required. In this case, a Schrader valve would be hidden by the rim and would become inaccessible.
- You can use an adapter to convert Presta valves to Schrader valves- If your bike has Presta valves and you don’t like them, you can install a simple converter. This also allows you to use a Schrader pump or gauge on Presta tubes. This is a simple and inexpensive conversion. These Slime Valve Adapters would do the trick.
- You won’t lose pressure when you stop pumping or remove the pump- This is particularly important when filling high pressure tires. By design, the pressure in the tube keeps the Presta valves closed. With Schrader valves, you rely on a spring to close the valve. You almost always lose a bit of pressure when you stop pumping or remove the pump from the valve. Hearing that hiss of air leaking out as I remove the pump always annoys me.
- Presta valves are lighter- The weight difference is so minimal that it’s almost not worth mentioning. Having said this, if you are the kind of rider that weighs every part that you install, you can shave a gram or two by using Presta valves.
- You can release pressure in a more controlled manner using only your finger- Presta valves allow you to easily press down on the unscrewed valve to let air out. If you overfilled your tires, you can slowly let out until they reach the proper pressure. You don’t need a tool to do this.
- Presta valves are more common in cycling- These days, they are basically the standard. Any mid-range or higher mountain or road bike will be fitted with Presta valves. Presta tubes are more common in bike shops in the developed world.
- Presta valves stay straight in the rim- A locking nut at the base of the valve keeps the Presta valve locked perpendicular to the rim. Schrader valves tend to sit crooked if you installed the tubes slightly off-center. This is mostly just an annoyance.
- You don’t need to use a valve cap- Due to the nature of the design, Presta valves don’t get clogged if they aren’t capped. This is one less part to worry about losing.
- Presta valves may maintain pressure better- I’m not sure if this point is true or not but many cyclists make this claim. Supposedly Presta valves drop less pressure over time than Shrader valves. I’m not sure if I buy this one or not but I’ll throw it in the list for you to consider. Comment below if you have any proof or experience with this. I’ve never had a problem with either valve leaking as long as they are in good condition.
- Presta valves are associated with higher end bikes- This point is really only about looks. If you ride a high end bike, you may prefer the more premium look of Presta valves.
Presta Valve Cons
- More fragile- Due to the long and skinny design, Presta valves break more easily than Schrader valves. You must be a bit more careful when pumping up your tires so you don’t bend the skinny tip of the valve.
- Harder to find tubes and replacement parts- In the developing world, Presta valves are not quite as common as they are in the developed world. This can be an issue for bicycle tourists. If you need a new tube while you’re riding through West Africa or Central Asia and all you can find are Schrader valved tubes, you may be in trouble. Of course, if you only ride in the developed world, this isn’t an issue. Presta is the standard and are available in every bike shop.
- Slightly more expensive- For whatever reason, tubes with Presta valves tend to cost a bit more than Shrader tubes. Probably because they’re considered more high end.
- You can’t use standard automobile tire pumps with Presta valves- This is one of the biggest drawbacks. Standard automobile pumps only work with Schrader valves. They are not compatible with Presta. This means you can’t just go down to the local gas station to air up your bike tires. You can’t use a normal air compressor. You need to have a pump that is compatible with Presta valves. Of course, you can always carry a Presta to Schrader converter or a compatible bicycle pump.
- Presta valves are slightly harder to use- Non-cyclists may not be familiar with Presta valves. There is a small learning curve to using them. Pretty much everyone knows how to use a Schrader valve.
- Presta valve cores often cannot be removed- If you need to add puncture-resistant sealant to your tube or tire if you’re running tubeless, you’ll want a valve with a removable core. Schrader valve cores are removable. If you wish to use a Presta valve, you’ll have to buy a removable core Presta valve.
- You can’t fit Schrader tubes in a rim that has been drilled for Presta Valves- The hole is too small to accommodate them.
Schrader Valve Pros
- More robust- Due to the shorter and thicker design, Schrader valves are less fragile than Presta valves. You can handle them a bit more roughly without worrying about breaking them.
- More universal- Schrader valves are the world standard. You can find them in pretty much any country. This is important for bicycle tourists who often find themselves traveling through the developing world or rural regions where Presta tubes are difficult to find. If you need a replacement tube you’ll almost always be able to find one if your rims are drilled for Schrader.
- You can install Presta tubes in your Schrader drilled rims- The only difference between rims designed to be used with Schrader vales and Presta valves is the size of the hole drilled for the valve stem to pass through. You can put the skinnier Presta valve through a wider Shrader valve hole. It is not possible to fit the wider Schrader valve through the narrow Presta valve hole. I should note that installing a Presta valve in a Schrader drilled rim should only be done as a temporary fix. The skinnier Presta valve can wiggle around in the valve hole and cut the tube eventually.
- You can inflate them anywhere- With Schrader valves, you can go to any gas station to inflate your tires. You can also use any air compressor or bicycle pump. They are all compatible.
- More reliable- Schrader valves have fewer exposed parts that can get damaged. They also have a sturdier design. This allows for increased reliability.
- Cheaper- For whatever reason, Schrader tubes are slightly cheaper than Presta tubes. This probably has to do with the fact that Schrader valves are much more widely used across many industries. Presta valves are pretty much bicycle specific.
- Schrader valve cores are easily removable- This allows you to add a puncture-resistant sealant to your tubes or tires if you’re riding tubeless. Presta valve cores are usually not removable.
- Easier to use- Pretty much everyone knows how to use a Schrader valve. After all, every automotive tire uses them. You just remove the cap and start inflating. Non cyclists may not be familiar with Presta valves. There is a slight learning curve.
Schrader Valve Cons
- Weaker wheels- The valve hole creates a weak spot in the rim. The larger the hole, the bigger the weakness. Schrader valves require a larger hole because the valves are wider. This increased hole size doesn’t really matter for wide mountain bike rims. For narrow road rims, it can become a factor.
- Schrader valves are too wide for some tires and rims- Some racing rims and tires may be too narrow for Schrader valves to fit between the rim walls.
- You need to use valve caps- Due to the design, Schrader valves can get clogged with dirt and debris if they are left uncapped. If enough stuff gets in the valve, air can begin to leak or the valve can be destroyed.
- Schrader valves are shorter- Some deep rims require a longer valve stem so the valve sticks out far enough that it can be accessed. In this case, you’ll have to use a valve extender.
- You lose a bit of air when removing the pump- This is one of the biggest annoyances of Schrader vavles. Every times you take the pump off of the valve, some air rushes out. This makes inflating high pressure tires a bit more challenging. It can also be a problem when inflating heavy touring bike tires.
- Schrader valves can sit crooked in the rim- If you install your tube slightly off-center, the valve can sit crooked against the rim. Over time, this can cause the valve to fail if it rubs against the rim for too long. Presta valves use a lock nut to secure the valve perpendicular to the rim.
- Schrader valves are heavier- The weight difference is minimal. Probably just a couple of grams per valve at most. If you really care about weight, this might be a consideration.
- Schrader valves may lose pressure over time- While researching for this article, I read this claim in a couple of different articles. I’m not sure that I believe it but I’ll throw it in so you can decide for yourself. Some cyclists claim that Schrader valves don’t hold air as well as Presta.
- Schrader valves are associated with lower end bikes- If you are the type of rider who cares about looks, you may want to avoid Schrader valves. They tend to look low end.
More Cycling Pros and Cons Analyses from Where the Road Forks
- Drop Bars Vs. Flat Bars
- Bikepacking Bags Vs. Panniers and Racks
- Flat Pedals Vs. Clipless
- Disc Brakes Vs. Rim Brakes
- 700c Vs. 26 Inch Wheels
- Belt Drive Vs. Chain Drive
- Internal Gear Hub Vs. Derailleur
- Steel Frame Vs. Aluminum Frame
A Third Option: The Woods or Dunlop Valve
Dunlop or Woods valves look like Presta valves but have a base that is the same diameter as Schrader valves. They also use the same size valve hole in the rim as Schrader valves. You can inflate Dunlop valves with a Presta compatible pump. One nice thing about these valves is that you can remove and replace the valve cores without any special tools.
These are the least common type of valves used on bicycle tires. You may find them on city bikes in Western Europe, South Asia, or East Asia.
A Note About Replacing Valves
If you’re riding a bike with tubed tires, valves can’t be replaced because they are attached to the tubes. If a valve catastrophically fails and you need to replace it, you just need to buy and install a new tube.
You can replace the valve core of Schrader valves and some Presta valves. To determine whether or not your Presta valve has replaceable cores, look for flat sections on the sides near the top. These allow you to unscrew the core.
You may need to replace a valve core if your valves got gummed up with some type of sealant or debris or if it begins leaking air. All you need to make this repair is a new valve core and a special tool for removing the core. This Valve Core Remover Tool Kit from Amazon includes everything you would need.
If you’re riding tubeless, you may need to replace a valve if it begins leaking air where the valve meets the rim. Tubeless valves attach with a nut at the base of the rim. A gasket helps to seal the rim so that it is airtight.
For more info, check out my tube vs tubeless pros and cons list.
Bicycle Pumps for Schrader and Presta Valves
When buying a new bicycle pump, look for one that is compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves. That way, you’ll always be ready, no matter what valve type you have.
The three most common bicycle pump types include:
- Floor pump- These are the standard bicycle pumps that you keep in your home. To operate this style of pump, you place the pump on the ground and hold it in place with your feet. You push and pull the handle to force air into your tire. These pumps are fast, reliable, and can inflate high pressure tires easily. Many include a built-in pressure gauge. Some people call floor pumps stand or track pumps.
- Hand pump (mini-pump)- These portable pumps are designed to be carried with you while riding. They usually attach to the bike frame with some type of mount. These are great for occasional use when repairing a flat. Some hand pumps attach to the valve with a hose and some attach directly. You operate them by pulling and pushing the handle in and out with your hand. Inflating tires with these is a slow process.
- CO2 Inflator- This isn’t really a pump but it is a nice option. These use a pressurized carbon dioxide canister to fill your tire. No pumping is necessary. The benefit these have over hand pumps is that they are lighter and faster to use. For those reasons, they are popular for racing.
Three different pump designs are available including:
- Smart head (cleaver head)- This is the most modern and most common option these days. These pumps simply fit on both Presta and Schrader valves. You don’t need to swap any parts in the pump. They just work.
- Swappable head (adjustable head)- This style is common on mini pumps and lower-end pumps. These have a reversible gasket in the head. You simply unscrew a cap on the chuck then turn the gasket around to change the valve type. The smaller diameter side is for Presta valves. The larger diameter side with a pin in the middle is for Schrader valves.
- Dual head- This style is common on floor pumps. The chuck has two holes. One for Presta valves and one for Schrader valves.
A note about suspension: Many bicycle suspension components have Schrader valves. These are common on mountain bikes with air shocks. Tire and suspension pumps are not really cross-compatible. Tire pumps can’t reach the level of pressure that suspension parts require. Suspension pumps don’t pump air quickly enough to efficiently fill a tire. You could do it but it would just take forever.
Bicycle Pump Recommendations
If you can only buy one pump, it should be a mini pump. After all, you’ll need to be able to repair flats. A floor pump is nice to have if you do your own bike maintenance. A couple of pump recommendations include:
This mini pump features a clever head meaning it works with both Schrader and Presta valves right out of the box. No adjustments are necessary.
The Vibrelli pump offers a unique telescoping design. When extended, the pump enters high volume mode and moves more air per stroke. This helps you inflate your tires faster. When you collapse the pump down, it enters high-pressure mode. This pump can inflate tires up to 120 psi.
This pump includes a mount and attaches to the frame with velcro straps. As an added bonus, this pump comes with a pocket-sized glueless repair kit. I bought this pump last year and am really happy with it.
This floor pump features a twin valve design. This allows you to easily inflate both Presta and Schrader valves without making any adjustments to the pump.
The pump includes a large built-in gauge to tell you when you have reached your desired pressure. The maximum pressure is 160 Psi. Large handles and a wide base make for easy pumping.
Which is Better for Cycling? Presta Valves Vs Schrader Valves
This decision really isn’t all that important. Whichever style of valve your bike already has installed is fine. There is really no reason to switch from one to the other.
Generally, Schrader valves are preferable for bicycle tourists, those who are on a tighter budget, and casual cyclists. Presta valves are preferable for bikes with skinny rims due to the added wheel strength.
If you are building a new set of wheels for your bike and can’t decide whether to drill them for Presta or Schrader valves, I recommend you choose Presta. The wheel will be slightly stronger. You can always drill the hole wider for Schrader valves at a later time if you choose.
My Choice: Presta Vs Schrader
Personally, I prefer Schrader valves. Mostly due to the more robust design. I always feel like I’m going to break my Presta valves, even though I never have. I’m also simply more familiar with Schrader valves. After all, all of the bikes that I rode while growing up as well as all of the cars and motorcycles that I have ever owned had Schrader valves.
I know that I’m in the minority in this preference. Most cyclists prefer the Presta valve design because it is slightly easier to pump. They also don’t easily clog with debris as Schrader valves can.
At the end of the day, your bike’s valves won’t affect you too much either way. Both valve types have a long and successful history in cycling and will be in use for many decades to come.
Where do you stand on the Presta valve vs Schrader valve debate? Share your experience in the comments below!
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