Presta Valves Explained – Everything You Need to Know

Presta Valves Explained: A Complete Beginner’s Guide

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bike tire with presta valve
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Presta valves and Schrader valves are the two main valves in the cycling world. The first valve is found on almost all modern bikes from MTB and cyclocross, to gravel and road racing.

But what sets them apart from the rest?

In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Presta valves – what they are, how to use them, and the difference between Presta and Schrader valves.


Presta Valves

Presta valve
Presta valves have a noticeable ‘outwards’ design. Schrader valves are shorter and stubbier.

Presta valves are a narrow and skinny type of bike tube valve that is used to hold high amounts of air inside bicycle tires.

The history of the Presta valve is not as clear as you might expect. Presta valves were invented some time between 1880-1920 in France, but no one knows the exact date or creator. The main physical difference between the Presta valve and the Schrader valve is the fact that a Presta valve’s valve core is at the top of the valve.

This is in contrast to the Schrader valve which houses a removable valve core inside the valve itself.

Learn more: Presta vs Schrader Valves

Whereas Schrader valves cover their valve core with a layer of threaded plastic, Presta valves are less likely to get damaged or worn by crashes, weather, or normal wear and tear.

However, since the valve core is at the top of the valve, the actual core is more susceptible to bends or damage in a crash. Because of their superior performance capabilities and the fact that they can hold much higher tire pressures, Presta valves were invented and have been used for higher-pressure tires of many kinds.


Where Are Presta Valves Used?

Presta valves are used on bikes with narrow rims, which are mainly performance bikes such as road bikes, track bikes, mountain bikes, and gravel bikes. You can also find Presta valves on cyclocross bikes and some hybrids.

These bikes use Presta valves because of their superior performance, resistance to wear, and ability to hold higher tire pressures.

As production quality and quantity increase, Presta valves are becoming more and more common on all modern bikes, not just performance road and track bikes.


Advantages of Presta Valves

One of the biggest benefits of Presta valves is that they can hold more air and thus have higher tire pressures than Schrader valves. This makes Presta valves not just better, but a necessity, for high-performance road bikes and track cycling.

Over time, Presta valves perform better and have better durability compared to Schrader valves.

Presta valves are also fitted for a wider range of bikes and wheel sizes including road bikes and MTB.

Presta valves are narrow and skinnier than Schrader valves, which means they require a smaller hole in the wheel’s rim. Most Presta valves also come with a removable nut that screws onto the threaded exterior of the valve itself. This nut can be moved up or down the shaft of the valve to better secure it to the wheel’s rim. This prevents the valve from rattling and possibly damaging the rim.

In addition, the small hole in the rim also improves the structural integrity of the rim, which is hugely beneficial for all kinds of competitive cycling such as road racing, mountain biking, cyclocross, and gravel racing.

Related: Best Bike Tubes

Since Presta valves are made entirely from metal (rather than a Schrader valve with plastic casing), they are stronger and more resilient in all conditions. Schrader valves are more likely to be damaged in a crash, and are more likely to degrade faster than Presta valves.


Disadvantages of Presta Valves

Bike pump that's suitable for both Presta and Schrader valves
Some bike pumps do come with both options, but it’s not always granted

One of the biggest disadvantages of a Presta valve is the fact that you need a Presta valve adapter in order to pump up your tires. This won’t be a problem for most serious cyclists, but it can be a pain for newbies. You’ll probably need to be a specific bike pump, though most general bike pumps won’t cost more than $50.

In contrast, you can find Schrader valve adapters in more common locales such as gas stations where motorists pump up their car tires with the same type of Schrader valve.

It’s also worth pointing out that Presta valves and Schrader valves are wheel-specific. You can’t use a Presta valve with a Schrader-specific wheel and vice versa. So make sure you double-check any new wheels or valves to ensure they are compatible with each other.

Lastly, the thin design of the Presta valve can be prone to bending in the event of a crash. Specifically, the narrow valve core that sticks out of the top – giving it its unique design – can bend after an accident or lots of wear and tear. And if the valve core bends enough, it could start leaking or even completely snap, leading to a flat tire.


Presta Valve Adapters

Presta valve adapters

Simply put, you’ll need a Presta valve adapter (unless your bike pump doesn’t have a specific adapter).

The adapters can be purchased individually – online or at any local bike shop – but they also come on modern bike pumps. Most bike pumps nowadays come with both Schrader and Presta valve adapters. Remember that Schrader is the wider design whereas Presta valves are much more narrow.

To put some numbers on it, Schrader valves typically measure 8mm wide while Presta measure 6mm wide.

Presta valves have a manual lock on the top of the valve core at the top of the valve. All you need to do to open it is to unscrew the valve core.

Once the valve is open, you simply press the air pump and Presta valve adapter down onto the valve. Most bike pumps come with a lock that you can use to secure the pump to the valve. Then, you’re ready to pump up your tire!


Frequently Asked Questions

A Presta valve is a skinny piece that sticks out from the wheel’s rim and connects to the inner tube inside a bicycle tire.

The valve is how you pump up the bike tire with air without removing it from the wheel.

Presta valves are skinny and pointed at the top, distinguishing them from the wider and shorter Schrader valve.

Presta valves help hold high tire pressures in all kinds of performance bicycle tires.

Presta valves are better performing than Schrader valves in every category. Compared to Schrader valves, Presta valves can hold more air and higher tire pressures, seal better and are better protected.

Tires with Presta valves before better across all conditions including in the wet, on technical mountain bike trails, and at super high tire pressures on the velodrome.

While the Presta valve is most commonly found on modern bikes, the Schrader valve is a less common type of valve found on low-end mountain bikes, hybrids, and kids bikes. Interestingly, Schrader valves are the more common type of valve found on car, truck, and motorcycle tires.

A Schrader valve is significantly wider than a Presta valve, which means you will need a different type of valve adapter for a Schrader valve versus a Presta.

You will more easily find a Schrader pump in common areas like a gas station or car wash. Conversely, you’ll probably have to go to a bike shop to find a bike pump suitable for Presta valves.

You’ll need a Presta-specific adapter in order to use a Presta valve. Most bike pumps come with a Presta valve adapter, but not all. You should double-check to ensure that your bike pump has a Presta valve adapter if you need one.

The pump itself doesn’t have anything to do with the Presta valve or Presta valve adapter. As long as you have a compatible valve and adapter, you can use any traditional air pump.

Presta is the better-performing valve across the board compared to Schrader valves. Presta valves can hold more air (high tire pressure), seal better, and they are better protected than Schrader valves.

On the other hand, Schrader valves are cheaper and easier to find than Presta valves, especially on entry-level kids, mountain, and hybrid bikes. Schrader valves are easy to replace and it’s easy to find a Schrader-specific pump outside of a bike shop.

We don’t recommend using this method unless you are in a real pinch, such as a mid-ride flat tire.

In order to fill a Presta valve without an adapter, you need to unscrew the top of the valve core. Then, you need to cut the very tip of the valve core and remove it.

This will allow you to completely unscrew the valve from the tire. With the valve removed, flip it around, and place it upside down onto the tire. Screw it down and make sure it’s secure before inflating your tire.

Again, this is a tedious process that should be reserved for extreme circumstances.


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