Every cyclist looks at the tire valve caps at some point and asks himself what their purpose is and are they really necessary. I have wondered this before, so I decided to do a little research. Here is what I found out.
Bike tire valve caps are not necessary to use, and many cyclists ride without them. Their main purpose is to protect the valve from dirt and other debris on the road that could damage it. So, by using valve caps, you extend the life of the valve.
You might wonder why manufacturers would even put valve caps on if they are not necessary. Well, they have solid reasons, which I will explain below.
Can I ride without tire valve caps?
Tire valve caps are one of those things that when you look at them, you say, ‘I’m sure I can live without them.’
And you are right.
Tire valve caps are not necessary to use. However, they offer an extra layer of protection, so why not use them if you have them.
Contrary to popular belief, the valve cap doesn’t hold the air in the tube, that’s the job of the valve itself. Their primary purpose is to protect the valve from the dirt, dust and other debris you might find on the road. Although you have to be unlucky to have dirt blow out your inner tube, it’s not impossible.
However, it is much more likely that a pebble or something similar could hit the valve and damage it. The tube would probably not deflate then, but the damaged valve would make it impossible to fill the tire in the future, which would require inner tube replacement.
I suggest that you do not deliberately throw away the valve caps. They have a purpose, and even if you can get away with not having one most of the time, it doesn’t hurt to have it installed. Who knows, maybe they will save your valve one day and you won’t even notice.
However, most of us don’t throw away caps deliberately but rather lose them. You remove them when you inflate the tire and suddenly they are nowhere to be found. You search for a few minutes and then give up and ride without them.
We’ve all been there, so don’t worry if you lose it. I can’t tell you how many caps I lost in a gutter. My advice is to remove them as far away from the gutter as possible, but you might not be safe even then. I swear these little things always find their way underground.
Professional cyclists don’t use tire valve caps
A question asked a lot is do professional cyclists ride with valve caps on or off. Many recreational cyclists want to be like their idols, so they will replicate almost any behavior of professional cyclists, even if that sometimes doesn’t make sense.
Pro cyclists don’t use valve caps. They want to optimize bike weight and aerodynamics as much as possible, so they remove everything not essential for bike performance. But most importantly, if they have a flat tire, they change the whole wheel, so they don’t bother about potential valve damage.
Weight gains after removing valve caps are laughable. It’s more of a placebo effect, knowing that you absolutely don’t carry any extra weight.
As for us amateurs, don’t even think about dropping bike weight with removing caps. It makes less than 1 gram (0,03 oz) of difference, so you’re better off dropping a few pounds of body weight. It will make much more difference.
Much more interesting is the second reason. If you ever watched a professional race, you probably noticed that if the cyclist has a flat tire, they will change the whole wheel, not just the tire. That’s much faster, allowing them to be quickly back in the race.
So do you think they really care if the valve is damaged?
Of course not. Even if the valve can’t ever be used again, they don’t care. They will replace it after the race or get new parts from their sponsors.
We, recreational cyclists, cannot be so unconcerned by a destroyed valve. Firstly, we don’t get a new wheel if we have a flat and, secondly, we have to pay for a new tube ourselves. So protecting it might not sound so stupid.
Presta and Schrader valve caps are different
There are two main valve types – Presta and Schrader.
The Schrader type was invented by August Schrader in 1891. It was a revolutionary invention, as nothing like that was on the market before. Soon you could see Schrader valves on cars, trucks and bicycles.
The fact that the Schrader valve is still in use today shows how good the invention was.
After time Presta valve was introduced and it took over the cycling market. Both models are still available today, but you’ll mostly see Schrader valve on cars and Presta valve on bicycles. But some cyclists still like to use the Schrader valve on cycling tires.
Most cyclists use Presta valve
With the different valve types come different valve caps. Unfortunately, you can’t put Schrader valve cap on Presta valve and vice versa.
With the Presta valve, you have to unscrew the valve before inflating the tire and then screw it back. Even if a pebble hits the valve, it won’t deflate the tire as the valve is screwed. Therefore, the valve cap is not as important because the valve is protected differently.
On the other hand, you can’t screw the Schrader valve. Its only protection is a valve cap, so you can imagine that it’s more important to have it, as with the Presta valve.
A Schrader valve has a spring inside that extends to the top of the valve. When pressure is applied to it, the valve opens and the tube deflates. So if a pebble hits an unprotected valve while driving, it can trigger the spring and empty the tube.
You can remove the valve cap on the Presta valve, but I don’t advise you to do it on the Schrader valve. The benefits are almost non-existing, but it will expose you to potential unnecessary problems.
Should I buy a new valve cap if I lost the previous one?
I have lost countless valve caps in my cycling career. Not once did I buy a new valve cap to replace the lost one.
As mentioned above, you can ride without a valve cap on Presta. I never experienced any problems or heard someone having issues because they didn’t have a valve cap.
I stopped counting how many valve caps I lost.
However, if you want to be extra safe and protect your valves, you can buy spare valve caps on Amazon. They are sold in packs of 20 and cost only a few dollars (check Amazon for the latest price). So buying one pack gives you enough spare caps for almost your whole career.
I want to warn you about one thing before you make a purchase. Don’t buy metal valve caps, buy plastic instead. Metal caps are sensitive to moisture and can start to corrode. There is then a risk of the cap becoming fused to the valve and it is impossible to remove without damaging the valve.
You can decorate your bike with decorative valve caps
Having plain black tire caps can be boring sometimes. I have a solution for you.
The market is full of different decorative valve caps. They come in all shapes and sizes and different colors. They’re sure to make your bike stand out from the rest.
When I was younger, I had a bullet-shaped valve cap. You should see how proud I was. I was showing it to everybody, even if they were not interested. I didn’t care, my bike was the best.
After checking Amazon, I figured out that bullet-shaped valve caps are still on the market. You can buy them as well and make your bike stand out. And even if you’re not a fan of bullets, there is a ton of different decorative valve caps available. From dice to 8-ball and from Batman logo to penises. Whatever you want, you can have.
Before buying a decorative valve cap, make sure it’s compatible with a Presta valve if you’re using them. Unfortunately, most of them are not but can be used on a Schrader valve.
Most decorative Presta valve caps are just different colors, but I found one cap in a rocket shape that can be used on a Presta valve. If you’re into it, you can get it on Amazon.