If you are relatively new to road biking, you might be confused by the valve sticking out of your tires. You’re probably used to the valve you see on your car, which is the same valve that is used on kids’ bikes and on mountain bikes. And the valve on your road bike most likely looks very different. The valve on cars and mountain bikes is called a Schrader valve. The valve most commonly found on road bikes is a Presta valve.
What You Need to Know About the Schrader Valve
A Schrader valve is undeniably easier to use. That’s why it’s used on automobiles. All you have to do is take the cap off, inflate your tire, and replace the cap. They can take some pretty rough handling, rarely if ever suffering any serious damage. If the valve does start to malfunction, it has a removable core so you can replace it without having to replace the tube of your tire.
Schrader valves can be difficult to pump with a hand pump because they have a valve spring. A depressor is needed on any pump to overcome this, which makes hand pumps larger. On the other hand, if you are near a gas station or have your own electric air pump, you can re-inflate your tires almost immediately with very little work.
The Differences with the Presta Valve
With as easy as it is to use and maintain Schrader valves, it might seem odd that Presta valves even exist. There are some very solid reasons for using Presta valves on road bikes, however. One is the lack of a valve spring. This makes hand pumps smaller and easier to use. That isn’t the primary reason that they are put on road bike tires, though.
Road bike tires are universally narrower than mountain bike tires. This means narrower rims that are easier to damage. The hole in the rim where the valve comes through is the weakest point. A Presta valve is much skinnier than a Schrader valve. This results in a smaller hole, meaning less of a weak spot for the rim.
Road bikes also often have deeper rims than mountain bikes. Presta valves come in longer lengths to accommodate these deeper rims. When buying a new tube, make sure you are purchasing one with a valve long enough to clear your rim. Buying one that is too long won’t damage anything, but it won’t do any good either.
The other advantage of Presta valves is that they can take higher pressure than Schrader valves. On a mountain bike less pressure means a smoother ride over the bumpy trail. For a road bike, a fuller tire means an easier ride. Be careful when inflating your Presta valve, however, as they are more susceptible to damage. If you do need to replace your Presta valve, you will need to replace your entire tube.
Both Presta and Schrader valves have advantages and disadvantages. Mostly, you are simply stuck with whatever you have. If you do mountain biking, you have a Schrader valve. If you own a road bike, you have a Presta valve.