Which Mountain Bike Tubes
do You Need?
Mountain bike tubes come in a variety of sizes and weights. Bike tire tubes also come with one of two different types of valves: Schrader or Presta valves. Most bicycle tubes are made of butyl rubber, but some high end tubes are latex.
Bicycle Tube Size
Mountain bike tubes come in different sizes. It is important to get the right diameter and width to fit your tire and rim. Most bike tire tubes come in either a 26-inch diameter or 29-inch diameter to fit whichever size tire your bike has. Mountain bike tubes also come in varying widths to fit different widths of tires. The width of your bicycle tire will be specified on the side of the tire.
When shopping for bicycle tubes, the diameter is listed first and then the width range. The type of valve the tube has will also be specified.
For example, 26 x 1.95-2.1" Presta Valve.
Presta Valves vs. Schrader Valves
Mountain bike tubes have a valve that is used to inflate and deflate the tube. A tube will have either a Presta valve or a Schrader valve.
Schrader valves are what you also see in car tires. They are wider than Presta valves and have an air chuck inside the center that must depress in order to inflate or deflate the tube.
Presta valves, as seen on the left, are only used in bicycle tubes and you often see them on higher end mountain bikes and on bikes with narrower rims. Presta valves have a nut attached to a narrow stem in the center of the valve. To inflate or deflate the tube, you unscrew the nut so the stem can be depressed by either your finger to deflate the tube or the tire pump when inflating.
Your mountain bike rim has a hole in it to accommodate either Presta or Schrader valves. The hole will be smaller if it is specific for Presta valves so you can't use a tube with a Schrader valve. The hole in the rim can be drilled to be larger, however, so it can accommodate a Schrader valve.
If you have mountain bike rims with holes made for Schrader valves, but you want to use Presta valves, you can get an adapter to screw onto a Presta valve to make it big enough so it doesn't move around in the hole and cause damage to the valve or tube.
Some mountain bikers feel that Presta valves are more convenient because it is easier to manually let out air when desired. The Presta valve is often attached to the rim with a locknut so it is easier to attach the pump and inflate the tube when it is flat because the valve does not get pushed into the tire.
Others claim Presta valves are fragile and not as durable as Schrader valves. Because Schader valves are more universal than Presta valves, some riders prefer them because it is easier to find pumps that fit them. You can just use a tire pump at the gas station if needed.
Both Presta and Schrader valves are good for sealing air pressure and it really comes down to a matter of preference.
Most newer bicycle tire pumps can fit either Schrader or Presta valves. You just have to unscrew the plastic valve cap and then flip over the part the valve fits in to switch between valves. It is important to make sure that the mini-pump you take with you on the trail fits the type of valve you have on your tubes.
Options for Preventing Flat Tires
If you ride in areas where there are a lot of thorns, you can get thorn resistant bicycle tubes, which are thicker than regular bike tubes. Tire liners are also an option for resisting punctures, although these do not protect the sidewall.
There are also tire sealants, like the
that either come already in the tubes or you can put into the tubes yourself. These are great options for preventing flats, but they do add a little extra weight. I used to use the Slime tires and never got flats. I only stopped using them because of the added weight, but now I do get more flats so it is definitely worth using if you do not want the hassle of changing flat tires.
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