What’s a presta valve? What’s a schrader valve? What’s the difference, and which is better?
These are some of the questions we got from beginner riders all of the time. (And ones I had way back when when I first got into cycling).
The good news is that this isn’t rocket science, and we’ll explain the two different types of bicycle valves and the pros and cons of each.
Presta Valves Explained
Presta valves are most common on higher-end bicycles and aren’t found as commonly on cruiser bikes, entry-level bikes, and kids bikes. If you just bought your first NICE bike, you might be a little confused about the valve on your new bike.
Presta valves are skinnier and typically longer than Schrader valves. In order to pump air into the tire (or let air out), you must unscrew the top.
This locking mechanism is different than a Schrader valve which uses an internal spring to provide closure. To open the presta valve you simply unscrew this lock nut left, and to close it you screw it right again. (Righty, tighty, lefty loosey).
The Presta valve on the left is closed, while the Presta valve on right is open.
Once you have the valve open, a Presta valve is easier to pump than a Schrader valve. This is because you don’t have to overcome any valve spring. Score! Your arms won’t get as tired.
Because Presta valves are skinnier, the hole in the wheel rim doesn’t have to be as large as it does for a Schrader valve. This is important because it means the cross-sectional strength of the wheel is improved (particularly important in narrow road wheels), and it is easier to set up the wheel tubeless (explained more later on).
Presta Valve Pros
- Smaller hole in the wheel rim
- Easier to pump air in
- Come in different valve lengths
- Easier to let air out
Presta Valve Cons
- Lock nut can seize if dirty or rusty
- Can’t inflate at a gas station without an adaptor
- May be harder to find replacement tube
- Easier to break
Schrader Valves Explained
Chances are you’re already familiar with a Schrader valve. Especially once you see it.
A Schrader valve is the same kind of valve you’d find on a car tire (and all kinds of other things that are inflatable). This is the biggest bonus of a Schrader valve–it’s easy to find a way to inflate it. Simply head to the gas station or use your air compressor at home.
Unlike the Presta valve, with a Schrader valve this is nothing to open or close. There may be a plastic valve cover on your Schrader valve that you need to unscrew, but that will be it.
The Schrader valve pictured on the left has the cap on. It’s been taken off in the second photo.
Schrader valves are the most common type of bike valve and you’ll find them on the vast majority of bikes, especially kids bikes, cruiser bikes, and any kind of entry-level bicycle. This also means that it’s easier to find a replacement tube when you need one. Even Walmart sells tubes with Shrader valves.
Schrader Valve Pros
- Easy to find a place to inflate
- Easy to find replacement tubes
- More robust
Schrader Valve Cons
- Requires larger hole drilled in the wheel rim
- Harder to pump air into
- Harder to let air out of
Most Pumps Will Accommodate Either Valve
The good news is that most bicycle pumps (both floor pumps and hand pumps) will work to pump up both Schrader valves and Presta valves. Generally there will be two different heads, OR a setting to switch.
Presta Valve With An Adaptor
If you’re not using a bicycle-specific pump or you’re using an air compressor, you will need to use an adaptor* if you have a Presta valve. These simply screw onto the Presta valve and provide a head that looks like a Schrader valve. Now you can use it with any pump that would inflate a car tire.
An adapter can convert a Presta valve to a Schrader valve.
Tubes Vs Tubeless: Both Have Valves
Most bicycle tires have tubes inside them to hold air, although more and more tires are now tubeless. Tubeless tires are just what they sound like–a tire that has sealant inside it and that does not require a tube to hold air in.
A bicycle tube has a valve (either Schrader or Presta). A tubeless tire also has a valve although there is no tube inside. These valves simply screw into the wheel. The vast majority of tubeless valves are Presta.
The first photo shows a tube with a Presta valve. The second photo is a presta valve for a tubeless wheelset.
Switching Valve Types
Can you switch between valve types? It depends.
If your wheelset is drilled for Presta valves, then no, you cannot accept a Schrader valve. The hole in the rim will be too small.
On the other hand, if you have a rim that’s been drilled for a Shrader valve, you can certainly fit a Presta valve thru it. The only thing to be aware of is that now there’s a little more space for debris to enter the rim and potentially cause a flat. To prevent this, you can install rim grommets, o-ring rubber washers that fit in the valve hole and take up that extra space.