Tuesday, May 8, 2018

the case for schrader valves

Let's just say that, for the time being, cars have won here in America. Gas stations dot the landscape; the truck transport lobby leans hard on state legislatures and often wins; freeways expand and on and on. This may change in the future when we actually, really run out of fossil fuels; but for now, this is how it is, okay?

Which leads me to when it makes sense to fight, and when it makes sense to adapt.

Let's start small.

Presta valves (L) are found exclusively on higher-end bicycle tires.
Schrader valves (R) are found on automotive tires and on many lower-end bicycle tires.

(Brooks valves? Move to Europe. Nothing to see here.)

Schrader valves can be filled with a floor pump, a frame pump or the air pump at the gas station.

Presta valves can be filled with a floor pump or a frame pump.

If you get a flat on the road and you're near a gas station, you can use their pump only if you have the requisite valve adapter.

This effectively turns your Presta valve into a Schrader valve so you can fill it with air at the gas station.

These little brass or alloy adapters are small and easy to lose.
Thankfully, they're made by the zillions.

You've heard that the nice thing, the kind thing, to do is to carry a spare tune in your bag so you can hand it to a cyclist in need out on the road. That's something lots of regular bicyclists do, and it is a nice thing. But because of racing trickle-down in marketing and everything else, nine times out of ten that spare tube the well-meaning rider hands you is going to be a skinny, Presta-valved tube -- which is useless if you don't have that little adapter.

And then there's the whole hole thing.
You know, when you want to change out a tube and your rim is drilled for Schrader but all you have a presta tube? Relax. there's an adapter for that, too.
In fact, there are several ways to adapt that big fat Schrader hole for your presta tube. All of them require more little bits that can be easily lost and which are made in the zillions of millions.

I keep a little supply of these bits on hand in my home workshop, so that when someone brings in a wheel that is perfectly good but the presta valve has wiggled so much it now has an unrepairable hole at the base, I can swap in an adapter along with the new tube. (Because front and rear valves can then match. It's a small thing, but it's nice to do.)

With Schrader valves, there's the valve, and a tool to take it apart so you can replace it's internal workings. The springs wear out, or the tiny pin-head wears down.
This is what you need for that.

One tool. And replacement cores, which you can still find on the internet because chances are your local [US] bike shop hasn't carried them in decades.

Although the Schrader valve is simple to use and to maintain, no one can be bothered to fix it anymore. It's easier to just toss it and swap in a whole new tube.
Easier, but not necessarily cheaper.

A broken valve core is made of metal and can be recycled. A tube that is beyond repair cannot be. (You know that, right? You know that tires and tubes can only be burned in some remote developing country where the smoke can't possibly come back to haunt us and it's their problem now, whatever. You know that, right?)

This is why I keep a supply of Schrader valve cores and that simple little tool on hand.

Because if the valve is the culprit, I can fix it without having to replace the whole tube.
The fact is, Schrader valves last longer and I don't have to replace that valve core all that often; whereas Presta valves can fail if you look at them funny and you have to carry around those little adapters for every situation.

Okay, I'm getting a little silly, but really doesn't it make sense to simplify things where you can?
That's why all of my bikes use Schrader valve tubes exclusively. Because they are, in fact, a little more sustainable. And I'll take my sustainability where I can find it these days.
Rubber side down, and happy riding!


Jay said...

Beth, I have heard that presta valves can be replaced, but not all tire models allow for that. Is that true? If so is there labelling or indicators of which presta valve cores can be replaced? If have had several good tubes go bad because the head of the presta valve broke. It would have been much easier to replace the core than the entire tube.

bikelovejones said...

Yes, Presta valve cores can also be replaced, as shown in this simple video:
However, I'd be curious to know how many shop mechanics even know this now; or how many shops would endorse replacing the valve core instead of replacing the whole tube.
(I know of no new bike shop that patches tubes; policy is generally to replace the tube because it's faster and saves time in a busy service area.
That said, I firmly believe that if every bicyclist learned how to patch his/her own tubes and replace valve cores, a lot of money could be saved for the bigger jobs that shops are better-equipped to handle (like reaming and facing frames and building wheels, for example).
I'd also be wary of a Presta valve core coming from the factory loose enough to open with your fingers. The combination of a delicate mechanism with wrench flats (watch the video) also concerns me, as anything with wrench flats is inviting overtightening by its nature, and I don't yet know of a valve core tool that can affix to a torque wrench.
It's good to know these things.
That said, I'd still go with Schrader when given a choice.
And if you watch that video very closely, you'll see that the "keeper" nut -- the knurled nut that holds the valve in place in the rim -- is actually the kind used as an adapter for fitting a Presta tube into a Schrader-drilled hole, installed upside-down. Yeah, for my money the whole thing is awfully delicate and dicey to even bother with, especially on non-racing bikes in the city.