Schrader and Presta valves are maybe the most controversial topic in biking history(!). Something so trivial attracts so much attention that there are some bikers who swear by Schrader or Presta. Few years ago, I was shopping for a rim in a busy, well-known and quite old store. A man in his late 30s raised his voice gradually, at some point, I understood its about Presta – we was accusing the shop of being negligient and ignorant. Rather than calling them “Schrader” or “Presta”, we use the “thin valve” – “thick valve” here. Guy was insisting it is an abomination to sell “thick valve” inner tubes (which is obviously, Schrader) as they are for cars. I believe there is some truth in it.
According to Wikipedia, Schrader valve was invented by August Schrader in 1891, the man who founded Schrader Company, which shaped the automotive industry with a small valve: every automotive product have tires with Schrader valves (I guess; saw no exception so far). It is also called “American valve”. Hmm. Maybe this sparked the debate even further, as French, the owner of the glorious Presta valve, don’t like Americans a bit, and their love for each other seems mutual.
The man I talked about, while being a fanatic, was right: Presta valves are made solely for bicycles right from the very beginning, but using Schrader valves on bicycles was just an afterthought – and for some, abomination. If you didn’t pick your corner yet, here is some other very useful info for you, for bragging rights: it was designed by Etienne Sclaverand, which is another name for Presta valve: Sclaverand valve. A certain win for Presta again, it has 4 distinct names so far; Presta, Sclaverand, French valve, and thin valve; while the inferior Schrader valve has only 3.
..and there is also a Dunlop valve, not to be mistaken for Mr. Dunlop, inventor of tires we use today – it’s called Dunlop, because it superceded valves made by Dunlop. Quite an interesting naming logic. It’s hard to come across Dunlop valves here, but I remember when I first saw it on an imported bike when I was a child – I still remember it, because the bike mechanic imposter was scratching his head madly upon it. If I trust Wikipedia, it is still very common in Japan, Korea, India, Pakistan and most European countries. Well, I didn’t came across any Dunlop tubes in many European bike shops on the Internet, though – maybe they meant Netherlands, the motherland of bikes with no standard parts and frame shapes.
Every boring and tiny detail about the Schrader valve
Schrader valve is 8mm thick in diameter, making it chunkier than Presta valve – both Presta and Dunlop has 6mm in diameter. Funnily, there is no single Schrader valve; because it is used in
everywhere: in gas boiler heaters, water pumps, air conditioning equipment, to name a few. For example, an air conditioner type Schrader valve is 10mm. Obviously, we are taking 8mm as the base, because in every bike and car, we have 8mm Schrader valves.
Thickness is one most the most problematic aspects of using Schrader valves, because in a rim, bigger valve hole means weaker structural integrity. This may not be a huge problem on a million spoke fat bike tire with barely 2 figure psi ratings – but most road or gravel rims are already too thin, road bike tires can have 100 psi or more, and they have very few spokes to reinforce the rim. Also, high profile rims is not suitable for short Schrader valves, especially aero wheel rims – as poor Schrader valve is only 32mm. Luckily, nobody attempts to put a Schrader valve on a 16 spoke road bike rim with 50mm rim profile.
In a Schrader valve, valve core is threaded to the inner body of the stem. A small o-ring in the perimeter and a spring that pushes the end with an o-ring to the body is what ensures air-tightness. In Presta valves, there is no spring tension to overcome when you pump up your tires. This provides two advantages: valve hole in pumps is not critical (more on that later) and air opening is larger.
If you go to a gas station, you may see lots broken air pumps, just because the tiny needle-like thing in the center of the valve hole is bent or damaged: it does on push to open your Schrader valve, so you cannot let air in. Another problem is the rubber gaskets in them, which provides air tightness: with high psi’s, they almost leak air all the time. With cars, this is not a huge problem as a normal car tire needs something like 28 to 34 psi, max.
Schrader valve cores are removeable without exception: this seems to be a worthwhile thing with tubeless tires, but mostly not: Schrader valves tend to stick more with tubeless fluids. I’ve never seen an aftermarket Schrader valve sold for tubeless conversion, but I made one few years ago from an old inner tire. Later, I bought bunch of tubeless conversation kits. All of them, from premium brands to AliExpress junk was Presta without exception. But let’s talk which is best for tubeless really, later on.
Some disciples from Schrader temple claims these valves are more robust, but I don’t believe that. The rubber-ish body seems to absorb some hits, and they don’t bend like Presta’s do. But on many occasions, I saw Schrader valves torn at the bottom. UV, chemicals and heat is not good for Schrader valves. I don’t think there is much people on eart that saw torn Schrader valves, because they
usually come with lower quality inner tubes. Before Schrader valve worn out, inner tube itself is history.
If you have high profile tires like huge MTB tires, you may come across another problem with them: they don’t have any retention mechanism, that ties the valve to the rim: when you press your pump in, the valve may get inside the rim. Not too likely, but happened to me, maybe 1, maybe 2 times.
There is a certain problem with Schrader valves, which is often overlooked, especially for low-end road bikes: Schrader valves are heavier. When wheel rotates fast, unbalanced weight causes vibration. In low speeds, like 20-25 km/h, you won’t even notice it – at high speeds, it’s disturbing, even feels dangerous. You may think a few grams won’t make a difference. Next time you brought your car to balance their wheels, have a look at weights they use: with even hugely out of round, heavy car wheels, it rarely go past 20 gram, and 5 to 10 gram in each wheel is normal for even 20 year old sedans! An ordinary a car wheel weighs at least 15 times the worst road wheel, so yes, grams matter.
On Presta valves, wheelcaps is an accessory, but for Schrader valves, it’s absolutely necessary, even for cars: debris and water fills up the valve otherwise, clogs the valve. Especially on snowy places, the salt from the road mixes with water and creates an electrolyte, which effectively “bonds” the valve parts together. This can happen quite rapidly depending on the quality of the inner core of the valves. Even the lock ring on Presta valves is just not needed (well, not needed, but it is more convenient for some people) unless you’re pumping your tires.
Any advantages, Schrader ?
Well, there is only two advantages to using a Schrader valve: most important being you can use the pumps at gas stations without an adapter. I always carry 2 of those adapters. Pumping tires is not
fun. We have lots of gas stations near vicinity, so I don’t mind going out with less than ideal pressure, I top up at gas stations. It’s fast, free, and zero elbow grease needed.
Second advantage of Schrader valves is, you can buy inner tubes anywhere. At least, that’s what people say. I never bought an inner tube in such hurry: if I were to go to a deserted, or hardly civilised place, I carry a brand new inner tube and a repair kit. In fact, I always carry them, no matter where I go, no matter with which bike. And you know what? The best repair kit I use is a cheap Chinese brand that I use since childwood. I tried lots of “premium” stuff, at least 10x more expensive, each one failed miserably. If you go to a poor country, like Vietnam, instead of looking for a cool Presta valve inner tube, just ask for a repair kit. And maybe they could have Presta valve inner tubes if we didn’t try to rob their rubber trees to make cool inner tires with Presta valves in the first place.
Can I use Schrader valves on rims made for Presta valves ?
Provided you have the drill, determination and ignorance, you can enlarge the hole, and put a dinky Schrader valve in it. You may even feel blissful, until your super lightweight, 16-spoke, razor thin rim explodes to bits.
I wouldn’t discourage anyone to do that, world is too overpopulated anyway, unless they hurt anyone, or anything else in the process.
so, can I use Presta valves on rims made for Schrader valves ?
Depends, but I advice against it if you use a road bike, or jumping around with the MTB a lot: your inner tire will try to fill the cavity around the valve, as nature doesn’t like vacuum, and can cut your inner tire. For tubeless, you need assistance from Mr. McGyver to fit Presta valve.
Which is best for tubeless tires ?
Until early 2018’s, the answer was obvious, Schrader, just because the inner core is removable. You may think you can just drop the sealant in, and pop the tire into the rim and start pumping. I don’t know how “proper” tubeless rim – tires works, but with ghetto conversions, that’s not so easy. Time to time, sometimes as low as 3 month, you have to add sealant because air leaking through a hole that is barely a mm. In such cases, it’s not worthwhile to remove tire altogether, because putting a bit of sealant will definitely fix the issue – instead, if you remove the tire, you have to clean old sealant from the rim and tire, which is an ugly job. So, you remove the inner core of Schrader valve, and put some sealant.
While the removable core is an afterthought in Presta’s, because tubeless tires wasn’t a thing, even for cars. In the last few years, we have removable core, Presta valves. So, that makes the Presta winner again.
Hidden trick that makes Presta so much versatile no one talks about
It’s not hidden, I was just clickbaiting 🙂
For me, the greatest thing about Presta valves is, you just need a hose that fits into them. No tools except an air source is needed. When I run my compressor, I just insert the bare hose into Presta valve and shoot. When I pull the hose back, it does not leak air, I just screw it in. That may not even seem as an advantage until you have a pump and a Schrader valve: you cannot pump up a tire or inner tube without a functioning plug. In fact, I was not picky about Presta or Schrader before, until one day the plug on my compressor is broken. It was really stupid: I had so many tools that I can make a bike frame from scratch, but cannot pump a stupid tire. What I did was to dig into old parts bin, found an inner tube with 100 patches on it, pump it up with bare hose. While celebrating my ingenuity and resourcefulness, I remembered my hand pump, compatible with both Schrader and Presta (thus, Dunlop) which is in my frame bag.
There is also one more advantage to having Presta rims: they are extendable. If you have super high profile rims, this becomes an convient feature: sometimes it is both hard and expensive to find long Presta valve inner tubes, so you can happily use your Presta extender to get the job done.