If you're just a casual cyclist, then you may not know that there are actually a few types of valves that can be found on modern bicycles. One is the Schrader valve, which comes on most traditional bikes. Another type is less common and is known as the Presta valve, which comes on road bikes and also on some high-end mountain bikes. The tricky thing is each kind of valve requires a different pump; unless you've got a pump that comes with a changing head, you will need either an adapter or a pump that fits your valve. So if you have a bike with a Presta valve and want to keep your ride in working condition, here's how to inflate your bike tires with a Presta valve pump.
What Is a Presta Valve Bike Pump?
The key to understanding what a Presta valve bike pump is is to first understand what a Presta valve is. Once you understand how it works, then it's easy to see why a Presta pump works differently than a standard model and why it is your bike might need a pump or adapter specialized to handle the job.
What Is a Presta Valve?
A Presta valve is also known as a French valve or a Sclaverand valve, but don't expect to hear many people call it that. They can be found in high pressure road style bikes and also in some mountain bikes. The valve has an outer valve stem and an inner valve body. It might also have a lock nut that secures the stem at the rim. Depending on which bike you're using, it might also have a valve cap.
The outer valve stem comes in several lengths that each have their purposes; its diameter is narrower than all other types of valves. Because it is so slim, the small hole that contains it gives the bike manufacturer the ability to create a ride with incredibly narrow wheels that can maintain the right amount of strength.
How Does It Work?
The air pressure holds the inner valve body closed; a screw and nut on top let the valve screw on tight to ensure that it keeps closed. The nut has to be unscrewed to let air flow through it in both directions; this is necessary before attaching the pump.
The screw stays attached to the valve body even when it's unscrewed all the way; after you're done pumping, you tighten it again when the tire is full and the pump has been taken off. The cap keeps the valve body safe and also guards the mechanism from things like mud and dirt. This also keeps the valve from inflicting damage to the tube when it's rolled up for storage, but it's not a necessity for preventing pressure loss.
To put it plainly, a Presta valve bike pump is simply a bike pump specially designed to fit the head of a Presta valve and fill the tire it belongs to with the air you need to keep riding.
How Does a Presta Valve Bike Pump Differ From Other Bike Pumps?
The only thing different about a Presta valve pump is that it's specifically for bikes that have a Presta valve. However, you might be wondering why it is bike pumps aren't a "one size fits all" kind of thing and why it is you need to fork over the dough for a different pump when you have a perfectly good one sitting right there in the garage. To get the big picture, you need to understand the differences between Presta valves and their more commonly found counterparts, Schrader valves. A third type of valve known as the Dunlop valve is also worth mentioning, too.
Schrader valves are found on most bicycles and on pretty much every automobile in existence. Checking the pressure in your tires is so much easier with Schrader valves for that reason; all you need is a standard handheld gauge found in any convenience store. Likewise, if you go flat in the middle of a ride, all you have to do is head to the nearest gas station, hand a few dollars to the cashier, and pump your bike up outside. They're also highly resistant to damage and can handle pretty much anything you throw at them.
Schrader valves have an 8mm diameter, which is greater than that of a Presta valve, which measures at about 6mm. They're easier to use, too; all you do is plop on the pump's nozzle and have at it. They also have a removable core which could come in handy if you're a mountain biker wanting extra flat protection. It gives you the ability to supplement your tube with a puncture-resistant sealant. The cores on Presta valves aren't typically removable, but there are exceptions to this.
A Dunlop valve is also called a Woods valve or English valve and was invented by C.H. Woods. It's a pneumatic stem that is used by certain countries like Japan, Czech Republic, India, Sri Lanka, Romania, Pakistan, Poland, Germany, Russia, the Netherlands, Norway, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and also several developing countries. They're made primarily for bicycles, and they have a wider base than Presta valves; however, they're close to a Schrader valve in size and use identically drilled valve holes. Interestingly enough, though, a Presta valve pump works fine with them.
So now that we've seen the differences in these types of valves, it's easy to understand why a separate nozzle or specially designed pump is needed for Presta valves. They're slimmer, operate using different mechanisms, and have a different purpose than Schrader valves. Dunlop valves are also quite different, but are thin enough for a Presta valve pump to work on them, too; however, you won't find a pump customized for them.
Note that if you have a pump with a Schrader nozzle, it's possible to find a Presta adapter at your local department store or sporting goods store. There are also some pumps that come with a reversible nozzle; unscrew the end and turn around a couple pieces and then you're all set. So if you're mourning the fact that you now need a totally separate bike pump, don't; there may be cheaper and more sensible options.
How to Inflate Your Bike Tires With a Presta Valve Pump
Now that you understand the differences in valve stems and their corresponding pumps, it's time to get down to business and learn exactly how you use a Presta valve pump. Don't worry; it's an easy process and you'll have it done in no time.
The first step is to take off the black cap from the valve stem. Then, you will turn the lock nut on top counterclockwise so it becomes loose enough to let air through. Push down on the top of the nut; can you hear the air escaping? If so, the nut is in the right place. If you've got an adapter, it's now time to screw it onto the valve stem.
If your pump has a lever to keep the valve in place and prevent the loss of air, flip it down. Then, attach the Presta valve stem to the nozzle. After that, you can flip the lever down to secure the stem and keep things straight. After that, you simply pump the air into the tire until it's inflated to the amount found on the side of your tire or in the instructions. It's important that you pay attention to the PSI, or you could seriously damage your tire and maybe even sustain a personal injury. Once you're done pumping, however, flip the lever on your nozzle again and take the pump off the stem.
The last step in the process is to turn the lock nut clockwise until it's tight and to put the cap back in place. When you've finally done so, you can officially say you've inflated your bike tires with a Presta valve pump.
Now it's time to get on your bike and ride!
Though there are a few different types of valves found on modern bicycles, the most common one by far is the Schrader. However, road bikes and some mountain bikes don't use this traditional valve; they opt for something different: a Presta valve. The way Presta valves are made allows for narrower tires. However, because of this, they require a different pump or nozzle to inflate the tires successfully.
So if you've got a new bike and have found yourself with a valve you've never seen before, don't fret; inflating a tire with a Presta valve pump is quick and easy. If you don't have the right nozzle, then head to your local department or sportswear store and purchase an adapter or maybe even a new pump (there are some cheap options out there, so it shouldn't hurt your wallet too badly). Then, all you have to do is follow the simple directions we've given you in this article to pump up that tire and get back on the road. Happy traveling!