There are two different valves commonly used in mountain bike wheels. One is the standard car valve called Schrader which is also known as the American valve and the other, a bicycle-specific, Presta valve.
Which one of these is better for mountain bikes?
Presta valve, as a bicycle-specific valve, is better adapted for MTB purposes like stronger wheels and tubeless compatibility while Schrader valves are easier to use and find tube replacements.
Casual riders, especially the ones that use mountain bikes for commuting as well, usually prefer to have Schrader valve on their bikes. Simply because it’s easier to inflate on any gas station so they don’t need to carry a mini pump with them. However, a bit more dedicated mountain bikers tend to understand the benefits of having a slimmer valve and gladly make sacrifices to get those improvements.
Why Presta Valve?
Presta valve is specifically developed for bicycles. It has a pin with a screw that seals the air when screwed down and releases the pressure when you unscrew it. It’s simply a valve that gives you more control over air pressure and being thinner than other valves, it offers a lot of benefits for a bicycle rim.
Rims with smaller holes are generally stronger and more resistant to breaking. This used to be quite a big deal in the past, especially in road biking, since road bikes have thinner wheels. However, I think most mountain bikers and mountain bike industry have plenty of better reasons for choosing Presta over Schrader these days.
My favorite thing about the Presta valve is the fact that it is so adjustable in terms of air pressure. While the Schrader valve has a needle that is hard to press and regulate pressure on, Presta valves have a completely movable core once you unscrew the valve head. It’s basically held closed by air pressure alone at that point and it releases air when you tap on it with your finger. The benefits of this come in handy when you are changing the area where you ride. For example, going from a road to offroad, you can simply stop for a moment and precisely reduce air pressure in both tires by an equal amount. The equal amount and precision are the key factors here which are quite impossible to achieve on a Schrader valve without a pump with a gauge.
Presta valves are really safe to have on a ride because of that screw that holds the valve closed. Schrader valves tend to pick up dirt and debris when riding off-road and sometimes start to leak air. To be fair, this rarely happens with dirt. However, snow actually tends to mess up the spring inside the Schrader core and it usually fails to close the valve fully. Presta valves really don’t have a problem like that, because even if anything goes inside, the strength of that screw crushes or moves dirt out of the way inside the core. Letting it seal the airflow with ease.
The only thing that can damage a Presta valve is rock hitting the pin on the top. The pin is quite thin and it can be chopped off or bent so the valve can’t be closed. Sometimes when it gets bent the thread will get damaged, the head will get loose in time and start leaking air. A good thing to do is to carry a spare or two Presta valve cores with you so you don’t need to change the whole tube.
Metal Presta Valve Caps
Most people don’t even use caps on Presta valves. Especially in road biking, where there is really nothing to hit the valve and damage it. However, as a mountain biker, I just can’t go on a trail like that. Had this happen twice to me, and there was really no reason to allow that since you can get metal Presta valve caps for cheap on Amazon.
Why Schrader Valve?
Schrader valve is quite a bit more common among average bikes. For the simple reason that an average bicycle rider is just a casual rider and not really into serious mountain biking or any other niche cycling type. This average rider is used to the Schrader valve on a car and typically wants to keep things simple. That’s why the Schrader valve can normally be found on any bike that doesn’t fall into a semi-pro or professional category.
To be frank, unlike with Presta valves, there are really only a few benefits that you get by having a Schrader over Presta valve. More precisely, these couldn’t even be perceived as beneficial by anyone that considers themselves a mountain biker.
Schrader valves are always perceived as easier to use. Although it can be easily disputed, let’s for a moment pretend that it is, in fact, true. In that case, this would be their biggest advantage over those so complicated Presta valves. Now again, this applies only to a casual bicycle rider. For anyone even remotely serious about bicycles, simplicity isn’t even a factor when it comes to pumping a tire.
However, for the sake of the argument, let’s review why the Schrader valve might be perceived as simpler and easier to use.
While the Schrader valve core is always removable, it actually feels like a fixed part of the valve. There is only one movable part and it’s a needle that operates on a spring in most cases. When pushed down, it opens the valve and air leaks in or out. In order to let the air through, you need to either use something thin to press the needle or attach a pump made for Schrader valves to it.
Metal Schrader Valve Caps
The Schrader valve is actually decently protected with only a plastic cap because the spring and needle are inside, so the only problem is dirt. However, what I really like here is that there are several awesome options to have as a valve cap.
There are simplistic dustproof metal caps that just look clean and protect the valve really well.
The thing I like about Schrader valves is that there are dozens of cool-looking options on Amazon, like the ones below.
Although it’s awesome to have such caps, I value practical stuff over anything else. A cap that is also a Schrader core remover beats any of the previous ones for me.
Threaded Bike Valves
Both Schrader and Presta valves come threaded or threadless. This is not that important in most cases, but clearly, there are some differences.
In my opinion, threaded valves are always better for several reasons. First of all, they are less likely to get damaged. I’ve had my threadless Schrader valve leak air through the rubber side when it gets cut on the edges of the rim hole.
Probably more important than that would be the fact that threaded valves have a lockring. A lockring is especially useful when using a mini pump as you can fixate the valve in place so it doesn’t move around. Although, it’s not recommended to leave it like that after you’ve finished inflating the tire unless it’s a tubeless valve. A tube always stretches a bit inside the tire, and having a valve firmly fixed to the rim hole will wear out parts of the tube close to the valve.
Which Valve Is Easier to Get When Needed?
As I already mentioned, Schrader valves are more common among everyday bicycles and the cheapest mountain bikes. The Presta valve, on the other hand, is a bicycle-specific valve that is used on mid to high-end mountain bikes and all road bikes.
So by logic, it applies to availability as well. Tubes with Schrader valves can be found in pretty much any store that sells valves, while Presta valves are usually found on tubes sold at bicycle stores.
If you are only a casual everyday bicycle rider with no bicycle-specific store nearby, you might consider sticking to Schrader valves and rims made for them. However, if you are willing to invest a bit of time in getting tubes with Presta valves and the right pump for them, you might enjoy the higher-quality wheels with all of the benefits they have to offer.
Can You Use Presta Valve in Schrader Rim?
Using a Presta valve in a rim made for the Schrader valve is generally a bad idea. It can be done, but it certainly won’t last long. In my experience, there are certain factors that limit the longevity of the tube in this situation.
The first thing I would mention is air pressure. Since the thin Presta valve sits with the rubber around the valve on the hole in the rim it tends to get cut on higher pressure. Not instantly, but in time it wears out and a hole will eventually open. This is usually irrelevant for mountain bikes unless the edges on the valve hole are sharper than they should be.
However, there is a problem with dirt which is directly related to mountain biking. There will usually be some tiny sharp stones or sand that fall into the valve hole. When it gets stuck between the tube and the rim or tire, then you have a problem. You can use a lockring to tighten it a bit and cover the hole but it won’t be a permanent solution since it increases wear on the ribber itself.
Can You Drill to Fit Schrader Valve?
I’ve seen this question a lot on the forums. I would say that you can drill to fit the Schrader valve, but I wouldn’t suggest it.
I’ve done this many times in the past, mostly for other people. However, I’ve always refused to do it on anything other than the cheapest wheels. It’s too easy to make a mistake and damage a perfectly good wheel when drilling. Sometimes I’ve used a simple flat screwdriver on aluminum rims to make a Presta hole wider, but this method is not as precise.
Another thing to worry about is rim width and thickness. I wouldn’t drill any rim that is under 20-22mm wide, simply because it is too narrow.
If you do decide to drill anyway, make sure it’s precise. After the drilling is done, you should grind the edges a bit with sandpaper. That way you will remove any sharpness on the edges and make sure your tubes don’t get cut.
Presta valves are commonly used as tubeless valves. However, that doesn’t mean that Schrader valves are completely out of the picture when it comes to tubeless.
I’ve seen tubeless really grow in popularity recently. Even among casual riders, which are usually the ones who prefer Schrader valves.
To be honest, I don’t really have much experience using Schrader valves for tubeless since I prefer Presta valves in any situation. The only time I used them for tubeless is with a rigged-up tubeless with a cut-open tube that had a Schrader valve.
If I were to get some, I would go with VeloTubes 40mm Schrader tubeless valve. I’ve heard good things about these.
Presta vs. Schrader Pump
I always recommend buying a dual-purpose pump. It’s a pump that has a dual-purpose head for both Schrader and Presta valves. These remove all the problems you might face with having different valves. And the best thing is those dual-purpose heads can be found separately and installed on any pump.
I’ve always had a pump with a chamber for instant air release that I used for tubeless. Once it broke down, I decided to upgrade to an air compressor. However, my biggest concern was that I would need to find a solution to use it on Presta valves. That’s when I remembered, years ago, I used to work in a small bike shop, and we had a dual-purpose head attached to an air compressor. I don’t know why I haven’t thought of that immediately.
Anyway, the one I’m using now is Beto Replacement Double Pump Head. I’ve tried several of these and this one is much better than those $6-7 ones. The price is double but it’s lasting much longer and it works better. Unlike those cheaper ones, I’ve never had any problems with these. At the moment, I’m using it on my air compressor and two other floor pumps, one always in my car and the other just in case at home.
There are some even better options, but I didn’t find them appealing enough for the price increase.
Presta to Schrader Adapter
If you are stuck with a Schrader-only pump, you can always use a Presta to Schrader adapter. These are all pretty much the same and do the job equally.
What most people have problems with is the fact that they get confused about the valve itself. You should always unscrew the valve head in order to open it and then tap the head once to let the air flow through. Only then can you screw the adapter on and use a Schrader pump or a compressor.
This is, in my opinion, too much hassle, and I would rather get a dual-purpose pump head, but your mileage may vary.
It’s always nice to have one with you, though, because you never know when you might need it during a ride. Especially when you need to stop at a gas station to pump your tires.
Presta to Schrader Converter
Recently I found a really amazing solution for people who like Schrader valves but want to keep using their high-end rims made for Presta valves.
The RideAir ConvertAit Presta to Schrader Converter will do just as it says, convert your valve into Schrader one. Unlike the adapter, this converter actually replaces the Presta valve core. All you need to do is have a removable core on a Presta valve, remove it, and screw RideAir’s converter on top.
Again, I was baffled by the fact that it never even occurred to me to search for something like this. So I’m guessing lots of people don’t know about it the same as I didn’t know. I immediately bought it and tested it, even though I don’t actually need it. However, I was curious, and it turns out it works amazingly.