Presta Valve vs Schrader Valve – How to Pump?

When it comes to biking, ignorance is far from bliss, and it will eventually lead you down the wrong path. This is certainly true when it comes to tires and innertubes, the bicycle component that is most likely to spoil a beautiful ride. While tires and innertubes are not super complicated devices, they do have a few tricky aspects. One of these is the age-old question of Presta vs. Schrader valves.

If you are new to biking, this debate might be unfamiliar to you. Eventually, though, it will crop up, most likely when someone is putting air in the tire with a hand-held pump. Therefore, it is a good idea to get some insight into this issue. 

What Is a Schrader Valve?

Schrader valve cross section

This is one of the two most common valves used on bicycle tires throughout the U.S. and the world. (A third type, the Dunlop, is far less common and won’t be covered here.) Many people are familiar with this valve because it is the same one used on most car tires. It is also likely to be the valve on most bikes for children. The Schrader valve is made of several components:

  • A rubber or plastic cap that goes over the threaded top of the valve
  • A top portion of metal threads
  • A lower portion wrapped in rubber
  • A spring-loaded check valve in the center
  • An inner pin in the top middle

This common valve type is usually found on the tires used on less expensive mountain bikes, city bikes, and many hybrid bikes. It is a simple and effective way to regulate air pressure in bike tires.

What Is a Presta Valve?

Presta valve

These handy valves are made completely out of metal. They are typically tall and thin, are completely threaded, usually, and look something like a narrow wood screw. They tend to be seen on high-performance and more expensive bikes, and they are a little trickier to use, especially if you are unfamiliar with them.

They have a few more components than a Schrader valve. This includes these additional pieces:

  • A removable valve core that can be replaced in case of a malfunction
  • A lockring that holds the valve in place on the tire
  • A locknut that sits atop the valve and holds the valve core together  

What Are the Differences Between Presta & Schrader Valves?

If you were to look at these two types of valves side by side, you would definitely notice some significant differences. While they both protrude from the tire, the Presta valve is much slimmer than the Schrader. It is also made of metal and has a chrome appearance with a little bit of gold coloring near the top.

The Schrader is mostly dark black since much of it is wrapped in rubber. The Schrader is wider, making it more robust and less likely to snap in half or bend. Many of the differences between the two valves have a little more to do with function than with form.

How Do You Put Air Into a Schrader Valve?

One of the pleasant features of a bike tube equipped with a Schrader valve is that it can be filled with air from pumps commonly found in gas stations. This makes things easy for you if you are low on air and happen to pass a gas station. The process is simple. You stabilize the bike with the kickstand or place it against a solid wall. It is nice to position the valve so that it is just above the ground. Then place the pump head over the valve and allow air to stream into the tube.

With a hand-held pump, the process is similar. It is critical, of course, that the pump is designed for Schrader valves. Once the pump head is securely on the valve, you can operate the pump as intended until the tire has the appropriate air pressure. Now you are ready to continue your bike ride.

How Do You Put Air Into a Presta Valve?

The process for inflating a tire with a Presta valve is very similar, though with an added step or two. First, get your bike in the proper position and follow these steps:

  • Unscrew the plastic cap on the top
  • Unscrew the locknut counterclockwise
  • Stop when the locknut is level with the top of the threaded shaft
  • Place the pump head over the valve
  • Pump to the desired pressure

Because the Presta Valve is more fragile than the Schrader valve, special care should be taken when placing the pump head on the valve and when removing the pump head. It is not super uncommon for Presta Valves to break if the treatment is too rough. If this happens, you will likely have to replace the innertube. 

It is also possible to unscrew the locknut too far. If this happens, you could accidentally unscrew the entire valve core, resulting in a complete loss of air pressure. Presta valve how to pump techniques can be quickly learned with a little practice and guidance.

What Are the Advantages of a Schrader Valve?

This type of valve is very common and most people have a good sense of how they operate. They are pretty robust and are unlikely to break, though they could develop a slow leak at the base over time. Since most pumps found in public places and at gas stations are compatible with a Schrader valve, this offers an additional level of comfort in the case of a leaking tire. 

What Are the Benefits of a Presta Valve?

These valves are made specifically for bicycles. The fact that they are narrower and require a smaller hole in the tire rim means that they impact the structural integrity of the tire at a lower level. They are also designed to hold more pressure, something that is desirable in many high-performance bicycles and narrow tires that call for 100 psi or more. Also, in a sport that values lightness, Presta valves weigh less and improve the rolling resistance of the wheel.

Additionally, Presta valves have the benefit of adaptability. Through the use of adapters, which can extend the length of the valve, they can be used on a variety of rim types. You can also use adapters to make a Presta valve capable of taking in air from a Schrader pump. This is a simple process that entails screwing the adaptor onto the top of the valve, allowing a tire to be filled from a pump at a gas station.  

What Are the Factors To Consider When Buying a Frame Pump?

No matter what type of bike you’re riding or what brand, at some point in your bike riding development, you may want to go for long rides into the countryside and away from the amenities of service stations. While your phone is always handy in emergencies, it is also valuable to have a strategy for dealing with flats or leaking tires. This often means you will carry a tire pump on your person, either one that fits on your bike frame or one that you carry in a small backpack. Keep these questions in mind when looking for a small pump:

  • Does it work on Presta or Schrader valves or both?
  • Does it fit into your budget?
  • Can it get your tire back to the desired air pressure?
  • Is the pump easy to operate? 

What Are the Factors to Consider When Buying a Home Pump?

Since you are likely to use a pump at home more frequently and since there is no need to carry it on your bike or person, you can get a larger more capable pump for home use. This will allow you to get your tires up to the proper pressure with just a few quick pumps. It also allows you to get a pump that can handle both Presta and Schrader valves. This is especially valuable if you have numerous bikes in your household. 

The pump should be easy to operate. It should also be stable and strong. A quality pump will last for many years, so getting one you like is desirable. Not only can you use it at home before a ride, but you can also take it to the trailhead if you are driving there. Many riders believe in topping off the air pressure in their tires before every ride.

Which Is Better: Presta or Schrader?

As with many things in life, it all depends. If you are content to limit your rides to 15 miles or so and tend to stay close to neighborhoods, a bike with Schrader valves should be perfectly fine for you. These valves are durable and foolproof. They are also compatible with many pumps found in service stations.

On the other hand, if you ride far and fast, the Presta valves probably make the most sense. They just take a little getting used to and they offer significant benefits.  At BikeLVR, we want to see you enjoy bicycling in whatever fashion matches your lifestyle. We provide inspiring and practical information on all things related to biking.

BikeLVR as part of LVR Publishing LLC participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may get paid commissions on editorially chosen products purchased through our links to retailer sites.