The differences between Schrader and Presta inner-tube valves

If you always inflate your bike tires at a gas station and have your local bike shop fix your flat tires, you needn’t worry about whether the inner tubes in your tires have Schrader or Presta valves. However, if you want to buy replacement tubes so you can fix your own flats or buy a pump so you can inflate your tires at home or during a ride, the differences are important.

Schrader valves

A Schrader valve, the kind of valve on car tires, looks like this with the valve cap on (yes, the cap is cracked, which is why I don’t like hard-plastic caps):

Schrader valve with the cap on

and like this with the valve cap off:

Schrader valve with the cap off

If your tubes have Schrader valves, you can check tire pressure by using a standard pencil gauge (other types of gauges compatible with Schrader valves are also available):

Pencil gauge for Schrader valves

Note that the diameter of a Schrader valve is a greater (8 mm) than the diameter of a Presta valve (6 mm). The hole where the valve stem goes through the rim of your wheel is drilled to fit either Schrader or Presta valves. If your rims are drilled for Presta valves, you can’t use a tube that has a Schrader valve because the valve won’t fit through the hole. You may be able to have your wheels redrilled with the larger holes, but it’s not a good idea; Presta valves are commonly used with narrow wheels that would be significantly weakened by larger valve holes.

Presta valves

A Presta valve looks like this with the valve cap on:

Presta valve with the cap on

and like this with the valve cap off:

Presta valve with the cap off, nut tight

Presta valves have an additional nut to deal with after you’ve taken off the valve cap. Here’s how the valve looks with this extra little nut unscrewed (but still attached—it can’t be removed):

Presta valve with the cap off, nut loose

If your tubes have Presta valves, you need a special pressure gauge made just for Presta valves. Mine looks like this:

Gauge for Presta valves

Note the button on top of the brass tube. You can use this button if you need to let some air out of the inner tube while you’re holding the gauge on the valve.

With Presta valves, you also need either a bike pump that fits Presta valves or a pair of adapters that convert Presta valves to Schrader valves. If you go the adapter route:

  • You’ll be able to inflate your tires at a gas station.
  • You’ll want to get one for each wheel because the adapter screws onto the valve. Having to move it from one wheel to the other every time you want to check your air pressure or inflate your tires would be a bit of a bother. Happily, they’re only a few dollars each.
  • Presta valves are only used on bike inner tubes, so you’ll have to get the adapters from a bike shop. If your local bike shop caters to racers, you may have to put up with some attitude from a sales person who thinks that Schrader valves are for Luddites. Don’t take any lip.

10 comments to The differences between Schrader and Presta inner-tube valves

  • Hello, I saw your interesting article. I want to know your pnion about putting presta valves in basket-balls? Of course, they are not for playing, but for an engineering application, in which the ball does not bounce, but its inside a pressure vessel. I want it to lose as little air as possible, and I think presta valves would be more reliable than the typical rubber valves this kind of balls use.

    Thanks

  • Hi Felipe,

    I’m no engineer, but I’d guess it depends on the pressure inside the vessel. The valves in basketballs take quite a bit of abuse, as evidenced by the recently completed NBA season. I don’t recall ever seeing an NBA referee ask for another ball because the ball currently in play had failed. If you’re subjecting the ball to significantly more pressure than it would endure by being thrown the length of the court and bouncing off of a backboard, then a Presta valve might be worth trying.

    Scott

  • Lee Keeves

    Brilliant! Just what I was looking for. Thank you. Lee.

  • [...] 4. A Pump: A little one you can carry with you on the bike. It won’t get your tyres up to optimal pressure, for that you will need a workshop pump (see below), but this one will get you out of trouble when you’re on the road and you need to replace a flat. When you buy your pump you’ll probably want to get one with a clip that attaches to your bike. Make sure the pump has a fitting that works on the kind of valves your inner-tubes have. There are two popular types of valve: the more traditional Schrader and the more recent, and narrower Presta. [...]

    • Hi Pete,

      I’ve been quite happy with my Lezyne pump. Their website (http://lezyne.com) doesn’t list my specific model any longer, but the Micro Floor Drive is a close approximation.
      Advantages:
      - It’s plenty small enough to carry on your bike–about 12″ tall, or shorter than most frame pumps.
      - It comes with mounting hardware so you can mount it to your frame.
      - Because the diameter of the pump cylinder is fairly small, it doesn’t require a lot of effort, so you can actually fill a 100 psi/6.8 bar tire without first lifting weights for a month.
      - You connect the pump to the valve stem using a hose instead of connecting the pump to the valve stem directly. This means you’re less likely either to get a flat from jerking the valve stem around until you tear it loose from the tube (which I’ve done) or to bend a Presta valve (which others have complained about).

      Disadvantage: There’s a tradeoff between how fast a pump will fill your tires and how hard you have to work. With this Lezyne pump, you don’t have to work hard at all, but it takes quite a few strokes to fill a tire. This strikes me as a small sacrifice for the ability to pump up a high-pressure tire to the recommended pressure, especially when I’m out in the middle of nowhere. I can pump light strokes for a long time if it means my ride will be easier when I’m finished.

      Scott

  • [...] to put more air in the tire despite their size. Make sure you get a two-valve pump that fits both Schrader – car valve – and Presta or the rarely found Dunlop [...]

  • VeronikaC

    Thanks for the info. My bike racer son pimped my mama mountain bike and left me with presta valves. Now I know how to deal with them and will recognize the adapter device I am looking for in the garage.

  • silver

    thanks for this article, it was very informative and the fotos were a big help

  • Zy

    There is a threaded Presta-to-Schrader adapter fitting available. With that fitting someone with a Presta could use a standard bicycle pump or gas station air compressor hose fitting (Schrader). I don’t know how well these adapter fitting work though.

    • Beth

      The adapters work just fine, they are a little brass(?) fitting that screws onto the end of the presta valve and you can then connect your workshop pumps in the same way you usually would. Additionally, when you unscrew the adapter the valve doesn’t seem to loose any air which is great :-D and only cost me £1.50 from my local bike shop.

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