My Amazon wish list includes a baggie full of multi-colored plastic, bike tire valve caps so I can decorate my bike to match whatever color scheme fits my fancy. I can quickly and easily change them to suit my mood or match my jersey.
BUT are bike tire valve caps just a bit of bike bling, or are they essential?
Bike tire valve caps are necessary to keep dirt, debris, and moisture out of your tire valve and tube so that it will function properly. However, caps are not needed to keep air in the tires. If needed, you could ride your bike without the bike tire valve cap, although it isn’t the best idea to do so.
This article will take a deeper look at bike tire valve caps. We’ll talk about what happens to your tires when you don’t have valve caps. We’ll also figure out if you can bike without them and what you should do if you lose them. But first, let’s talk about what valve caps actually do.
What Valve Caps Actually Do
Bike tire valve caps are small plastic or aluminum caps that screw onto the top of your bike tire valve. If you screw them on too hard, they’ll crack and break. These little pieces of plastic seem pointless, but they do serve an essential purpose.
Your tires are the part of the bike that connects you to the road, which means they are the part of the bike that is closest to dirt, road grime, debris, and moisture. The valve caps keep all of this road debris from clogging up your valves and getting into your tires.
Valve caps also protect the valve from moisture, which could deteriorate the valve over time. And while valve caps protect the actual valve, they don’t lock air into the tube.
Tires Don’t Deflate Without Caps
Bicycle tires don’t deflate without valve caps. The valve caps don’t keep the air in; they keep dirt and debris out. When you unscrew the valve stem cap, nothing actually happens. The air doesn’t leak out like it does when you uncap an inflatable beach ball. And it won’t squish out if you were to ride the bike without the caps on, either.
Consider it a myth that caps lock air into your tube or tire. It just doesn’t work that way.
So what really happens without your valve caps? It depends on which type of valve your bike tires have.
What Happens Without Valve Caps
The type of bike tire valve you have on your bike affects what happens when you don’t have valve caps installed. There are two basic types of bike tire valves: Presta and Schrader.
For Schrader Tires
What Is a Schrader Valve?
Schrader valves are very durable, and you’ll find them on all kinds of vehicles, from bicycles to automobiles and even motorcycles. These are wider valves than Presta. The stem of a Schrader bike tube contains a springloaded check valve that controls the airflow in and out of the tube.
Schrader valves aren’t usually used on high-end road bikes, but you will find them on most kids’ bikes and some mountain bikes, cruisers, and hybrid bikes because they are more durable. However, if the tire pressure gets low, the entire valve can sink through the rim of the wheel. Also, if you push down on the pin in the middle of the valve, you can easily let the air out of your tire.
What Happens Without a Schrader Valve Stem Cap
So the valve stem cap serves several purposes on a Schrader tube. First, as we already mentioned, it keeps dust and debris out of the valve stem. You wouldn’t be able to put air in the tire if the stem became packed full of mud and dirt, and you might end up having to replace the entire tube.
However, the stem cap also protects the pin from being damaged or accidentally pushed in while you are riding rough terrain. It may also keep the valve from sinking into the rim if you lose air while riding.
However, if you are riding a high-end road bike rather than a mountain bike or cruiser, you’ll probably have a different type of valve, called a Presta valve.
For Presta Tires
What is a Presta Valve?
A Presta valve works a little bit differently than a Schrader valve. Presta valves are narrower and fit better on the narrow rims of a road bike. They can also hold a lot more air pressure. However, Presta valves are a lot more delicate than Schrader valves.
The Presta valve is long and thin. It has a nut at its base to prevent it from falling into the bike’s rim even when air pressure is low. To put air in the tire, you need to take off the stem cap and loosen the tip of the valve core. Once it is loose, you can press it down to let the air out or fit the head of your tire pump on top. The tire pump will push down the tip to push air into the tire.
What Happens without a Presta Stem Cap Valve?
A valve stem cap on the Presta tire protects the tiny tip from being bent or damaged. If you ride without a cap, a rock or other piece of road debris could easily fly into the tip and damage it. If it is damaged while riding, you could quickly – and dangerously – get a flat tire.
And, as previously mentioned, the cap will keep out dirt and debris that could prevent the tip from being depressed, which means you wouldn’t be able to add air when necessary. The beauty of Presta valves is that you can easily replace the valve core without replacing the entire tube, but a cap will reduce the likelihood of needing to do this.
So while you can easily see why these little bits of plastic are so important, you might be wondering now, can you bike without valve caps?
Can You Bike Without Valve Caps?
Technically speaking, yes, you can bike without a valve cap. An occasional ride with a missing cap isn’t likely to do any damage or cause any problems to the valve itself or the tube unless you are riding on really muddy, mucky terrain.
So if you head out on your ride and realize that you forgot to replace the valve stem cap, don’t worry. You can safely continue on your ride without fear or losing air.
Sometimes, it just happens without you even noticing. If you replace your cap but don’t screw it on properly, it could fall off mid-ride, as well. Then you’ll need to figure out what to do if you lose your valve cap.
What to Do if You Lose Your Valve Caps
While it isn’t the end of the world (or the end of your ride), if you’ve lost your valve cap, you should replace it soon, or you might shorten the lift of your valve stem and tube. Luckily, they are very cheap.
Swing by your local bike shop to pick up a few inexpensive caps or order them online. If you dig around on Amazon, you’ll likely find all kinds of fun valve stem cap bling for your ride.
Valve caps are so inexpensive and easy to store, it doesn’t hurt to have a few extras on hand. And, if you’re like me, you’ll want a pair in every color for every mood or to match every jersey. So, if you have a few on hand, you’ll have a spare to replace the one you lost.