The question, “Presta or Schrader?”, may seem like black magic when you’re new to cycling and head to a bike shop to buy a replacement inner tube.
For the vast majority of bikes, there are two types of valve: Presta and Schrader.
These two valves are most commonly found on a bicycle inner tube and are the mechanism that enable you to inflate or deflate the tyre.
While they both perform identical functions, there are some differences between them. Crucially, you need to know what valve type you have when replacing an inner tube or pumping up a tyre.
In this guide, we’ll run you through what exactly Presta and Schrader valves are, the pros and cons of each, as well as which valve and pump you need for your bike. We’ve also got a separate guide to inner tubes, covering sizes, materials and more.
What is a Presta valve?
A Presta valve is bicycle-specific, found on the vast majority of bikes over £500 / $500.
This type of valve is a lot thinner than a Schrader valve, with a skinnier base where the metal bottom of the valve meets the butyl rubber of the tube. There is a core at the top of the valve.
To inflate a Presta valve, you simply unscrew the valve stem anti-clockwise and then attach a pump. Once the desired air pressure has been reached, remove the pump and screw the valve stem clockwise to ensure it is airtight.
The vast majority of tubeless systems (where there is no inner tube and tubeless sealant is used instead to plug any holes or cuts in the tyre) also use Presta valves.
Pros and cons of a Presta valve
Let’s start with the pros: Presta valves are lighter than Schrader valves and the hole required for the valve to fit through the rim is smaller, which improves the structural integrity of the rim. This is particularly important for narrower rims, designed for road use, and also for carbon fibre rims.
It is also easier to minutely adjust the pressure in a Presta valve – if you want to let some air out of the tyre, simply unscrew the valve stem and push down to deflate.
Some Presta valve cores are also removable. This means you only need to replace the valve core if it gets bent (which can happen occasionally), rather than the entire inner tube.
This feature is also useful for a tubeless setup. When setting up a tubeless tyre, it is best to remove the valve core to seat the tyre because the air has a more direct path to the inside of the rim. You can also inject sealant through the valve core.
With the prevalence of Presta valves on many bikes, you might assume there aren’t any cons. Well, that’s not quite true.
Technically, it takes a little longer to inflate a tyre over a Schrader valve because you have the additional step of unscrewing the valve stem first.
The valves can also bend if you accidentally attach the pump at a sub-optimal angle. On some pumps, where the pump head threads directly onto the valve core, you may find when you remove the pump, it can unscrew the valve core.
If you need to pump your tyre up on a ride and don’t have a bike pump to hand, look out for a petrol station. You will need to carry an adaptor because the air compressors there are designed for Schrader valves. However, we’d always recommend carrying a pump on any bike ride.
What is a Schrader valve?
Schrader valves were commonplace on bicycles before the Presta standard largely usurped it. They are now often found on cheaper bikes under £500 / $500, as well as older bikes.
Schrader valves are found on automotive wheels and are shorter and stubbier than Presta valves. Compared to a Presta valve, the hole required for this type of valve in the rim is larger.
To inflate a Schrader valve, simply remove the dust cap (if it has one) and attach the pump.
If you want to decrease the tyre pressure, you’ll need to either carefully press on the spring-loaded internal valve core with your finger or with a tool such as an Allen key.
Pros and cons of a Schrader valve
Starting with the pros, inner tubes with a Schrader valve tend to be cheaper, given they’re found on less expensive bikes. It is also (marginally) quicker to inflate a Schrader valve because you don’t need to loosen the valve stem first.
As we’ve already covered, if you’re not carrying a pump and happen to be near a petrol station, you should also be accommodated if you need to top up your air pressure.
Moving on to the cons, it is generally more cumbersome to reduce the air pressure on a Schrader valve than Presta, because you’ll generally need to use a tool if your fingers aren’t small enough.
Inner tubes with a Schrader valve are also slightly heavier compared to a Presta valve (although the difference is not significant enough to be of particular consequence) and require a larger hole in the rim. This can reduce the structural integrity of the rim slightly, given the greater amount of material removed.
What about the Woods valve?
As well as the Presta and Schrader valve, there is also the Woods valve (originally known as Dunlop). It’s rare to find these on production road, mountain, hybrid or gravel bikes, but they are common on Dutch-style bikes.
The valve core used is the same as a Presta valve, with a locking nut keeping the core in place to avoid the tube deflating.
You can use an adaptor to convert a Woods valve into a Schrader valve to allow for easier inflation.
What valve type do I need?
If replacing an inner tube or tubeless valve, the valve type you need is the one currently found on your bike.
You cannot switch from a Presta valve to a Schrader valve, because the hole in the rim will be too small to accept the larger Schrader valve.
You could install a Presta valve on a rim designed for Schrader, although you would need to use an adaptor that fits over the valve to stop it from rattling in the rim.
What type of bike pump do I need for my valve type?
You need to ensure your bicycle pump is compatible with your inner tube valve type in order to inflate it. The Schrader attachment on a pump is too wide for a Presta valve and won’t lock on, whereas a Presta attachment is too narrow for a Schrader valve.
Some pumps will only be compatible with a certain valve type, but many can be interchanged between the two.
If you’re buying a pump, it’s important to check if it can accept the type of valve your bike has or, ideally, if it will work with both Presta and Schrader valves.
Many pumps feature either adaptors or two open ends on the chuck, one for each valve type.
If your pump is designed exclusively for a Schrader valve and you’re trying to inflate a Presta valve, you can buy an inexpensive adaptor that threads on to convert it.