Friday, January 20, 2017

Prognostications 2017: The Return of Schraeder

No, not this guy:

This one:

That's right, I'm getting bold and saying that 2017 will be the Year of the Schraeder Valve.

(Aside: Don't be fooled by the metal valve in the photo. That's not a Presta valve; it's a fancy, newfangled Schraeder valve as blathered about here.)

Okay, so it's not that bold. It's not like the Schraeder valve ever went away. You'll still find them on scads of low- to mid-range bikes, not to mention those four-wheeled, gas-powered horseless carriages that seem to be all the rage. But I'm saying here and now that in 2017, the Schraeder valve will make a comeback on high-end bikes. Here's why:

One, everybody's going wide. Fat bikes with 5" tires. Gravel bikes with 700x45. Heck, even pro racers are riding 700x25 or 700x28 these days. And they've all figured out that wider tires are better supported by wider rims. In days of yore, high-performance, light rims were stupid-skinny, narrow enough that you'd be pushing your luck drilling the larger hole needed to accommodate a Schraeder valve compared to the narrower Presta (which didn't preclude me from doing it a few times, because, well, I was dumb). With a wider rim, why not? Probably shaves a fraction of a gram, too.

Two, with wide comes low. As the tires get wider, the pressure in them gets lower, to the almost comical extreme of fatbike tires at single-digit pressures. The knock against the Schraeder valve was always that it didn't cope well with high pressures. In a skinny tire at 120psi, that little valve flatulence from removing the pump head from a Schraeder valve could cost you 20 psi. In a big honkin' tire at 40-50 psi, you'd never notice.

Three, tubes are passe, don't you know? The big thing now is TUBELESS. You're still running tubes? Well, so am I. But, man, that's so 20th century! And tubelessness brings with it two needs that the Schraeder valve meets far better than Presta. First, setting the beads of the tire takes a lot of air volume in a big hurry, something best delivered by an air compressor -- and most air compressors use Schraeder fittings to work with those horseless carriages. Second, tubeless relies on sealant to fill small holes in the tire, sealant best delivered through a removable-core valve stem. Yes, there are plenty of Presta valves with removable cores, but they're fiddly compared to the good old fashioned Schraeder valve and its ubiquitous valve core tool, likely found in every hardware store and gas station from coast to coast.

I haven't really put my money where my mouth is on this one yet. If you look at the vast test fleet here at The Cycle, you'll find a mish-mosh of valves... some Presta here, some Schraeder there (it helps that my battered old floor pump has been upgraded to a dual-sided head and is thus valve-agnostic). But when I look at that fancy metal Schraeder valve with dork-nut above, I'm sorely tempted to break out the drill and make the whole fleet Schraeder-compliant.

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