Presta valve tubes? When I got my first bike from a department store, it had the identical valves as any car’s tires. So, when I finally decided to upgrade to a higher-tier mountain bike, you can imagine my surprise the first time I looked at the tires – the valves were Presta (and didn’t look like those on my last bike or car, for that matter).
Presta valves are slimmer, lighter, and generally more trustworthy than the much more common Schrader valves (the kind on your car tire). Presta valve tubes are standard amongst higher-end bikes. You can even find the valves on the tubeless rim and tire combinations.
We will dive right into the Presta valve, explain how it works, how to best care for it, how to fix it, and why these valves are generally considered better than the much more common Schrader design. Please make yourself comfortable because we are about to get rolling (no pun intended).
Understanding Presta Valve Tubes
The first thing you’ll notice about the Presta valve is that the entire thing is threaded. The outer widest part is threaded, and a nut screws down the base. At the valve tip, there is a larger outer thread (as you can see in the above picture) that holds the black plastic cap in place:
At the tip of the valve is the threaded valve release stem. The stem acts in the same way as the stem on a Schrader valve (the one on car tires and common department store bikes) in that when depressed, it pushes open the internal valve to allow airflow.
The noticeable difference from a Schrader valve is that the Presta has the locking nut on the threaded stem so that you can lock the release stem and valve in the closed position.
Bike Valves are a Touchy Subject
Folks either love or hate Presta valves, the problem is that in many tubeless wheels or even aero road bike wheels Schrader valves will not work or will weaken the wheel. I’ve got more info on bike valves below:
There are a few reasons why the Presta valve is the most commonly used on high-end bikes. In a nutshell, we’re talking about weight, function, and quality.
Serious mountain bikers who maintain high-end bikes want to ensure that the weight of their tires/rims/tubes is as minimal as possible. You might wonder why, or you might know, so for those who weren’t paying attention in school (or it’s been a long time, and we could all use a refresher), I’ll explain.
Physics. The dreaded word, right? Well, when it comes to your bike, it’s all about physics. In particular, centrifugal force, acceleration, and deceleration. Here’s how it works:
The more weight on the rim, the more power you need to speed up and slow down. The faster you go, the faster the wheel spins, and due to centrifugal force, more power is needed again for things like speeding up and slowing down. Extra weight means you must fight that extra inertia to change its state. The result is a sluggish biking experience.
Regarding function, I like the Presta valve because I like the concept of locking the valve release piston in the closed position. Schrader and Dunlop’s valves don’t have a threaded release stem as the Presta valve does, so I prefer the Presta valve tubes over Schrader valve tubes or Dunlop.
Presta valves are known to leak less than other valves like Schrader. Furthermore, due to the typical high-end standards demanded by high-end bikes, the general quality of Presta valves is usually better than its counterparts, in my opinion.
Presta Valves vs. Schrader Valves vs. Woods Valves: A Comparison
I mentioned Schrader and Dunlop (aka Woods) valves, but I realize I didn’t go into much detail about each, so let’s do a quick run-down. Why? Because at first glance, it’s understandable to see how so many people miss the valve type, get the bike home, and realize they need an adapter for their air pump.
Schrader valve tubes are the brute hogs of the market. They are the ‘standard’ for low to mid-quality bikes. Don’t get me wrong; they are good enough for cars and trucks, and they are good enough for most people’s bikes. However, a few things set them apart from Presta and Dunlop (aka Woods) valves.
The first noticeable difference between Schrader and Presta valves is that Schrader valves almost always have ¾ of their outer shaft rubber-coated. Not to say that it is always the case, as the following image tells a different tale:
However, look at most Schrader valves, including those in the following picture. You’ll see what I mean by rubber-coated. The only outer thread exposed is for screwing on the dust cap, typically made of black plastic.
Schrader valves are known to be rugged, which is why they find use on cars and trucks. However, they are also known to have mild leaks, unlike the Presta valve. That’s one of two primary reasons you’ll find Presta valves on high-end bikes instead of the more common Schrader valve: Presta valves are higher quality and include a locknut as a secondary means of protecting the valve from inadvertent leakage.
Presta makes its way onto high-end bikes, and Schrader seldom does because the rubber-coated, beefy Schrader valves weigh more. Weight on the wheel is bad because it makes the bike’s handling much more sluggish than its lightweight counterparts.
Schrader valves work on the same spring and piston principle that the Presta valve works with. Still, the Presta valve is of higher quality than the Schrader.
Woods/Dunlop Valve Tubes
These tubes are rare here in the US of A, but you might come across them if you’re in parts of Europe.
Woods valves, or Dunlop valves, are a hybrid of sorts. They are wide, like the Schrader, but threaded, like the Presta. Furthermore, as the Presta does, the Dunlop valve requires an adapter for use with standard air pumps (set up for Schrader).
Inflating a Presta valve is straightforward. However, it takes an extra step or two from Schrader valve inflation. Here’s the low-down on what to do and when to do it.
- Remove the outer plastic dust cover and set it aside.
- Loosen the nut that holds the valve stem and release piston closed using your fingers. Loosen it enough so that the valve opens if you depress the piston, releasing air.
- Carefully screw on an adapter. The adapter fits around the shaft, allowing you to use a standard air pump setup for Schrader valves.
- Inflate as required.
- Remove the adapter and store it in a safe place.
- Finger-tighten the valve stem locking nut.
- Reinstall the dust cover.
That’s it, just seven easy steps to inflate your Presta valve tube.
Like any type of rubber, inner tubes degrade over time. It would be best if you watched out for brittle rubber, cracking rubber, and loss of pliability. Of course, when a tube gets to a degraded state, it usually can’t hold air anymore. So, you can do a couple of things to prevent premature wear and even extend the life of your Presta valve inner tube.
The first and likely one of the most essential aspects of rubber is that it degrades over time. Rubber dries out very slowly, but it dries nonetheless. So, if you have a spare Presta valve tube in storage (as any smart biker would), you need to consider how you store it.
For rubber, two things accelerate degradation:
- Air – As mentioned above, rubber dries out over time, losing elasticity and gaining brittleness. You may have heard of dry rot, often used to describe dry, cracking rubber. I first learned dry rot when working with hydraulic systems that used pressurized rubber hydraulic lines. One of the characteristics of said rubber was that out in the elements, it only has a shelf life of about five years before it becomes brittle and starts showing signs of degradation.
- Sunlight – In particular, ultraviolet light breaks down rubber. Just as the light can burn your skin, it can also damage the rubber. Rubber exposed to sunlight will degrade faster than rubber not exposed.
So, what have we learned? We must store rubber in a sealed container, preferably in the dark. A simple solution is to use a plastic food container to store your spare inner tubes. Keeping them sealed in a container in a closet or cabinet (out of sunlight, in other words) will extend the shelf life of your Presta valve inner tubes.
It seems like I’m either: buying, replacing or airing up bike tubes
🚴♀️ Can I put a tube in a tubeless tire? I explain with video 👉 Can I Put a Tube in a Tubeless Bike Tire?
🚴♀️ Presta vs Schrader which tube is better. Find out 👉 Presta vs Schrader Valves (Is One Better)
🚴♀️ I kept getting flats, are some inner tube brands better? Check out what I think 👉 Does the Brand of Inner Tube Matter?
🚴♀️ Are you getting a bunch of flats? Read 👉 Don’t Get Caught with a Flat: Why Rim Tape is a MUST
🚴♀️ Is there a right way? 👉 How to Let Air Out of a Bike Tire
🚴♀️ Presta Valves it’s a mystery 👉 How to Inflate an MTB Tire with a Presta Valve
Pro Tip: Do you carry a spare tube when you ride? Many people do, but try keeping yours inside a sealed bag, like a ziplock-style sandwich or freezer bag. They are lightweight and will keep your tube in airtight conditions. Just toss it in your pack, and you have great conditions for an inner tube – dark and airtight.
Some use special rubber treatments or conditioners to preserve their rubbers. Surely you’ll find such things in car detailing sections of auto shops. Check out the conditioners for car tires; you’ll soon see no shortage of tire treatments and conditioners.
I’ve never used a rubber conditioner for my Presta valve inner tubes. I’ve never used one for my Schrader valve tubes, either. When it comes to inner tubes, I believe it’s what’s inside that counts. Using a good quality tire sealant will get you much further ahead than attempting to get an extra year out of a set of inner tubes. I mean, they aren’t that expensive, all things considered, so I fail to see the point in attempting to coat them in some magical ointment. Just ensure they are in an airtight container (out of sunlight), and you’re already ahead of the race.
Okay, so it’s a good idea to keep your bike clean. It keeps sand and debris out of moving parts and ensures that you don’t damage bearings and so forth. However, what you use to clean your bike may inadvertently affect your inner tubes.
It would be best to clean your bike with mild soap and water. When you use harsh chemicals, you can damage parts of your bike you might not have thought about, including inner tubes.
Let’s say you use bleach or harsh chemicals to clean your bike. That chemical seeps into every crack, every nook and crevice of the bike. That means tiny amounts might seep between tire and rim or between spoke nipples and rim. Suppose your tires are even remotely under pressure. In that case, harsh chemicals can enter your tire, where they will sit and slowly decompose your inner tube.
Further to these points, harsh chemicals can and will wreak havoc with the grease in your bearings, so keeping your bike clean with mild soap and water is what I would recommend.
MTB Tools I Love and Recommend
I own each of these tools and only recommend things I own and use.
- Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand. Nice mountain bikes don’t have a kick stand so keeping your MTB safe but conveniently stored is essential. I keep my bike on my stand whenever I’m not riding it. This makes it easy to lube the chain, inflate the tires and adjust the derailleur. Highly recommended – Bike Hand Bike Repair Stand (👈 Link to Amazon to see what thousands of others have said)
- A basic MTB toolbox for replacing a chain, adjusting brakes and dialing in the fit. Bike Hand has a 37-piece box that has most of the specialty bike tools to keep your MTB properly maintained. The Bike Hand brand is value packed for the avid rider. Check out the competitive prices with this link to Amazon 👉 Bike Hand 37 pcs Bike Repair Tool Kit
- Get a good air pressure gauge, if you get just a tiny bit serious about MTBing you’re going to start playing with tire pressure. A couple psi can make your tires sticking or not. Get a good gauge, I highly recommend the Topeak Smartgauge D2, it’s accurate, flexible and easy to use. An Amazon best seller, here’s a link 👉 Topeak Smartgauge D2
- Carry a multitool with you on every ride. I’m serious, most of the time you can MacGyver something to get back to the trailhead if you have a multitool. I’ve got the Crank Brothers M19, it’s worn, rubbed and abused – but it still works. Thousands sold on Amazon – check it out with this link 👉 Crank Brothers M19
Most bike pumps, at least those in North America, will typically come standard for Schrader valves. However, if you are in some areas of Europe, this may not be the case, and you may find Dunlop (Woods) valve setups. Schrader is, by far, the most common, though, due to the automotive industry’s use of them.
You’ll need a small adapter if you have a Presta valve tube. It’s essential, small, and cheap, so there’s no excuse not to carry a couple in your trail pack. Most of the time, Dunlop (Woods) uses the same adapter that Presta uses, so no worries there. The adapter is nothing more than a short threaded collar that makes a wider seal for your bike pump to make it as wide as the common Schrader valve.
If you want to switch from Schrader to Presta or vice versa, the rim is the most important thing to consider. If your rim uses Schrader and you want to switch to Presta, you only need a small bushing adapter.
The adapter accommodates the wider Schrader valve hole by acting as a sleeve around the narrower Presta valve shank. If you need this bushing, here’s a shortcut to Amazon 👉 Presta Valve to Schrader Adapter
However, if you have Presta and want to convert to Schrader, you will need new rims unless your rims are universal. Typically the rims are not universal, and drilling them out is not something I recommend you do. In that case, you’ll need an appropriate set of rims.
Presta valve tubes are readily available at your local bike shops, and if not, then the bike shop sells cheap bikes like those you’ll find in big box department stores. You can also find Presta valve tubes online and more than easily found at Amazon. Shortcut link to Amazon 👉 Bike Tubes with Presta Valve
Do you want to learn more about Schrader valve tubes? If you do, I encourage you to read my article on them, where I go into more detail about the valves and their use. Read here 👉 Schrader Valves Explained
Looking for Some More Ways to Help Your Bike Last
- Regular maintenance will keep you pedaling for years. Read – DIY Mountain Bike Maintenance Schedule
- Everyone wants a new bike, find out when it’s time to buy with this article: Repair Old Bike or Buy New – Options
- DIY Mountain Bike Tune Up – A Complete guide to what to repair and how.