Although most people will know how to put air in their bike tires (it’s one of those simple tasks, like using clipless pedals or changing an inner tube), it can be confusing to a beginner.
Inflating bike tires can be a real nightmare if it’s your first time. This is true especially when your bike tires have Presta valves.
In this post, I’ll show you how to inflate bike tires that have Presta valves.
What is a Presta Valve?
A Presta valve (also French valve (FV) or Sclaverand valve) is mainly found on some mountain bikes and road bikes. It is a slender valve with a nut at the top, usually loosened and tightened before and after inflating your tires.
Presta valves are significantly skinnier than Schrader valves.
The valves don’t come with a button in the center of the valve but have an attached screw mechanism at the tip. When the screw is closed, it holds air pressure. When unscrewed, you can either release air out or pump air in.
Are Presta Valves Common on Bike Tires?
Currently, Presta valves are the most common valve type on high-end mountain bikes. High-performance cyclists and racers prefer Presta valves, and most brands are now including them on mountain bikes in the budget category.
Presta valves are usually more reliable and allow you to pump your tires to a precise pressure. A casual mountain bike rider may not know the required pressure they should be riding at or even notice when the pressure is off. But for high-speed cyclists, tire pressure has a significant impact on performance, speed, and riding safety.
The screw on the tip of the Presta valve allows you to close off the tube at the right pressure and does not require a cap. This bars an unnoticed puncture or leak during a ride, making the tire hold the pressure you want.
Schrader vs Presta Valves
Schrader and Presta are the most common types of bike valves in the market. Schrader valves are usually found on bikes with wide rims similar to those found on most automobiles. They come with an internal spring that allows inflation while keeping the valve closed. You can easily inflate this style with any regular air pump.
On the other hand, Presta valves are narrower and are usually found on high-end bikes with narrow rims. These valves are a bit challenging to inflate since they use a manual locknut to open the valve for inflation. When inflating a Presta valve, you need a special adapter and a regular pump.
How to put air in bike tires with Presta valve
At a gas station or using a compressor
Gas station air hoses are designed to suit Schrader valves because this is what automobiles have. If your bike tires have Presta valves, you will need to use an adapter to sit between the valve and the air nozzle to guarantee an airtight seal. These adapters are affordable, but you’ll have to buy one in advance because they may not be available in a gas station.
Fortunately, these adapters are easy to use, even for beginners. To install the adapter, just unscrew the nozzle cap, loosen the locking nut and attach the adapter to the tip of the valve. This will effectively convert the Presta valve to a Schrader valve, allowing you to use the traditional air pump at the gas station.
Connect the air nozzle and inflate the bike tires to the recommended pressure.
Once your tires are fully inflated, remove the air pump and the adapter, and tighten the valve locking nut.
Finally, screw the dust cap.
Using a regular pump at home
Some pumps can inflate both Schrader and Presta valves. With these pumps, you don’t need to buy a Presta valve adapter.
Here’s how to use a regular pump (that is designed to inflate both Schrader and Presta valves) to inflate tires with Presta valves:
- Unscrew the Valve Cap: Unscrew the cap near the top of the valve and put it in a safe place.
- Attach the Air Pump: Fit the nozzle of the air pump to the tire valve and lock it in place.
- Inflate the Tire: Start inflating the tire and monitor the tire pressure as it inflates. Pump until you hit the recommended pressure shown on the tires.
- Remove the Pump: Remove the head of the pump from the valve
- Secure the Valve Cap: Ensure you screw the valve’s nut. Tap the top of the valve to confirm if it’s tightly screwed.
Using a hand pump
Another way to put air in your bike tires is by using a hand pump. Most hand pumps don’t have a gauge, so you’ll need to estimate how much pressure you need based on the recommended PSI (pounds per square inch) for your tire size and type. You can find this information printed on the side of most tires.
Start by pumping until the resistance feels firm, then stop and add more pumps until it’s hard to push any more air into the tire. Write down how many pumps it took you so that next time around, you can just add that number of pumps without having to guess!
A good hand pump should be compatible with both Presta and Schrader valves.
Using CO2 Cartridges + CO2 Inflator
If you don’t have access to either of the above types of pumps or if there’s no one around who can help fill up your bike tires for you, another convenient option is CO2 cartridges.
A CO2 cartridge is a little can filled with pressurized CO2 gas. A CO2 cartridge is pretty small in size. This makes them easy to carry around. You can carry a few cans with you without adding any load to your bike.
To use the CO2 cartridge, you need a CO2 inflator. The inflator comes between the cartridge and your bike’s valve. A good CO2 inflator should work with threaded Presta and Schrader valves.
Where Can I Get a Presta Valve Adapter?
Presta valve adapters are very tiny and portable. They are easy to lose or misplace. Fortunately, they come cheap and are readily available. You will find them in all bike shops and some general hardware stores. You can also purchase Presta valve adapters online easily and at a reduced price.
Now that you have everything you need to put air in your bike tires using a Presta valve, you can enjoy a comfortable riding experience and improve your cycling performance.
Finally, ensure you screw the Presta valve tightly.