Bicycle Inner Tubes Buying Guide: Materials, Tube Sizes And Valve Types

What Is A Bicycle Inner Tube?

Let’s start with the basics—what are inner tubes? An inner tube is a balloon-like structure that is inflated and deflated through a valve. The inner tube is inflated beneath the tire as acts as air-cushion providing you with a safe, comfortable ride.

Most bikes sold in the market are factory fitted with inner tubes unless you’ve installed tubeless road tires. There are many wheels and tire sizes in the market, so if you’re doing this for the first time, things can get a little complicated when identifying the correct size for your bike.


What about Latex Inner Tubes?

Photo adapted from: Wiggle


In most cases, the inner tube of bikes is made of butyl rubber, but latex inner tubes are becoming much common in the market. The main benefits of latex tubes are that they are more supple in nature, and lightweight. Furthermore, the material is considered to deliver a much smoother riding experience even on uneven and rugged surfaces. 

The cons of latex tubes are that they are a bit complicated to fit, and have the tendency to get stuck between the tire bead and the rim. Latex inner tubes also happen to leak more air than it butyl rubber counterparts. This means you have to pump your tires more often.


What Type of Inner Tube Is Needed For My Bike?

The size of the inner tubes depends on the circumference of the wheel and the width of the tire.

Wheel Diameter/ Circumference

The diameter and circumference of the wheel can vary whether it’s a touring bike, road bike, or a mountain bike. Then there are sub-categories within these categories. These include 26 inches, 27.5 inches and the 29 inches which is commonly found in mountain bikes.

Tire Width

Again similar to wheel diameter and circumference, there are different tire widths. There are wide road tires, narrow road tires, wide downhill mountain bike tires, as well as narrow cross-country mountain bike tires.

If your inner tube is larger than your tire, you won’t be able to fit it inside, and if you a small inner tube, the tire won’t inflate properly.


How Can I Tell What Size Do I Need?

There are two ways to ensure that you get the right inner tube size for your bike tires.

Inspect your tire sidewalls

Check the marking that is engraved or printed on the sidewalls of your tire. You should see something like “29×1.9” on a mountain bike. If you own a road bike, you will find something like “700x23c” on a road bike. The first number in this configuration denotes the circumference of the wheel, while the latter indicates the width of the tire.

You may also see additional markings like the International Standards Organization (ISO) size which has sequences like “23-622” for a 700x23c tire, for example.

Check your bike’s specifications:

Another way to discover the tire and wheel size is to read the specifications of your bike. You can easily find this information on the manufacturer’s website. Unless you modified the original specs of the bike, you could find the tire size in the product description, which reads like “Tires: Continental UltraSport 700x25c”.


Valve Stem Length and Valve Extenders 


Deep section wheel lovers need to keep an eye on the valve length of the inner tube. It would be best if you had a longer valve to make sure that the valve protrudes through the rim so that it is long enough for you to attach a pump. They often come in 32, 48, 60, and 80mm lengths. 

Another alternative is to get a valve extender where you can screw on to your existing valve. 


Valve Type: Schrader or Presta?

Photo adapted from: https://www.ilovebicycling.com


The function of the valve is to inflate and deflate the inner tube. There are two valve types: Schrader and Presta. Identifying what kind of valve you need is easy; check the valve of your existing tube. 

Schrader valves are shorter and larger and are mainly found in mountain bikes, motorbikes, and cars. Presta valves are narrower and longer and are mostly found on road bike inner tubes. 

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