What’s in a Tube?

Most people don’t give much thought to tubes – I know I didn’t for many years. What I typically did was walk into a shop, ask for the cheapest tube to fit a particular tire size, and leave it at that. But then one time I accidentally ended up with a premium tube from Schwalbe and I was amazed to find there are major functional differences between generic tubes and the more expensive Schwalbe tubes. Following are a few of their advantages:

  • They hold air far longer (a BIG deal for daily commuters)
  • Their stems fit Silca pump heads nicely
  • They have a stepped valve stem washer that can be flipped over to fit either Presta or Schraeder rim holes
  • They have removable presta valves for inserting puncture sealant
  • They come with nifty clear valve caps (just cool looking)
  • And Schwalbe offers what may be the best selection of sizes on the market

I haven’t tried other premium brands, mostly because I’ve been so pleased with Schwalbe tubes, but I’m guessing other premium tubes offer some of the same advantages I’ve found with Schwalbes.

I run the Schwalbe SV17 on all of my bikes. The quality and fit of these tubes is so good, stem tears and abrasion flats have been non-existent since switching a few years ago. I used to think a tube was just a tube, but this is a nice product that’s definitely worth the extra expense.

Schwalbe Tubes

20 Responses to “What’s in a Tube?”

  • bongobike says:

    I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Schwalbe tubes DO hold air longer! I bought my recumbent used, and it came with Schwalbe Marathon tires and Schwalbe tubes, and I have been very impressed with the quality. The funny thing is I had two flats within a week of each other (one for each tire) soon after I got the bike over a year ago. After that, zero flats.

    I can leave the bike unused in the garage for weeks, and then find that my tires have lost only 15-20 lbs. of pressure. All the tires on my other bikes would be almost completely flat in the same period.

  • Paul says:

    Great info. This is an option I have overlooked in the past!

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I switched to schwalbe tubes recently for my recumbent. I use both the SV 6a and SV 12a tubes and find them great products. In my case I need schwalbe tubes for the length of the valve stem for my 406 rims, other tubes need a valve extender to function.

    Schwalbe has one of the best web sites bar none for someone trying to figure out what tires and tubes are available for a given size. That alone means they are the first place I check for tires.

  • brad says:

    I have Schwalbe tubes on my touring bike, and can also vouch for the longer air retention and general feeling of higher quality. I was touring with a German friend recently, who told me that Schwalbe means “Swallow” (the bird) in German. One of those nice little factoids to know, like “Subaru” is the Japanese word for The Pleiades (which explains the star logo you see on Subaru cars).

  • Duncan Watson says:

    FYI – Schwalbe marks all of their tubes and tires with the ISO standard sizes, which are nicely authoritative. No guessing which type of 24″ tire, rim or tube you are talking about, it marks tires with numbers like 23-520 so you know that tire is a 520 bead set and will fit on your Velocity Fusion 520 rims as well. You also know that it takes a SV 9C tube as well if you like presta.

    This is the page for their tube sizes – http://www.schwalbetires.com/bike_tires/tubes
    This is the page for searching tires by ETRTO/ISO sizes such as 23-520 or 28-406. http://www.schwalbetires.com/product_search

  • WestfieldWanderer says:

    I didn’t realise the significance of the stepped bit on the retaining ring.
    Just goes to show – you learn something every day.

  • Keith Walker says:

    Worth going out of your way to buy these. They also have optional ‘heavy’ wall tubes that hold air longer than the ‘lightweight’ tubes.
    Their polyurethane rimstrips are also nice.

  • S.Fuller says:

    I might have to try some of these out. I refer to my Silca pump as the “Tube Killer” since about 80% of the time, I end up with a flat after using it (usually when removing the pump head from the tube).

  • keith says:

    Forgive me if this is a newbie question, but can anyone tell me the pros/cons of going tubeless? I attended a bike class at my local REI this past weekend and one of the mechanics running the class sounded very positive about going tubeless.

  • Alan says:

    Here’s a quote from an article in BIKE Magazine that pretty much sums it up:

    “Lower air pressure—that’s the greatest benefit of going tubeless. Tubeless tire systems enable you to run lower air pressures without fearing pinch flats. Lower air pressures (down to a certain point, at least) provide you with better traction and a small degree of suspension over rocky terrain. Personally, I wouldn’t ride a hardtail without a tubeless system. But, hey, that’s just me.

    Over the years, manufacturers have also claimed that tubeless tires are prone to fewer flats, are lighter than conventional tubed-tires, and so forth. Neither claim is true. You might not get pinch flats, but puncture flats (due to thorns and the like) are still a problem. Since tubeless tires tend to be heavier than standard tires (particularly if you add sealant to the mix) tubeless systems tend to be a bit heavier…unless, of course, you make your own tubeless system using a conventional tire, a rim strip and sealant, but that approach has its own share of downsides (which I’ll get into later).”

    Here’s the article: Tubeless Tires

    Mostly, for the average person, good ol’ tubes are still the best bet IMO.


  • Julian Smith says:

    For what it is worth, Schwalbe also claims that the quality and elasticity of its tubes enables them to be used over a larger range of tire sizes, e.g. “Tube No. 17 can fit tire widths between 28 mm and 47 mm and that is a big advantage to the trade and simultaneously it vouches for the tube’s quality.” See http://www.schwalbetires.com/bike_tires/tubes

  • keith says:

    Thanks for the article, Alan. The author seems to highlight the problems with tubeless tires yet is using them. Since I’m an average person, I’ll stick with the tubes.

  • Alan says:


    “The author seems to highlight the problems with tubeless tires yet is using them.”

    I noticed that as well. Someone may correct me on this, but I get the impression that it’s mostly technical mountain bikers who are using them. My impression is that he hassle factor outweighs any benefit.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    High end road racers use tubeless tires and wheels as well. One of the bikes Team RANS used during RAAM started out with a tubeless Zipp wheel and they only switched it out when it finally flatted somewhere in the midwest. They didn’t have any spares for tubeless, it was a last minute addition.

  • biggest dummy says:

    I have seen the stepped stem nut on other tubes as well. Could someone explain (or post a picture) how this will adapt a shraeder pump head to a presta stem? I have gone outside to try it but don’t really understand how to make it happen. Thank you kindly

  • Julian Smith says:

    The stem on a Presta tube is thinner than the stem on the Schraeder tube, and the latter requires a larger hole in the wheel rim. If you install a Presta stem in a Schraeder rim hole, the Presta stem can move around and the tube might be damaged. The stepped stem nut is an adapter that prevents a presta stem from moving around in the larger Schraeder hole on the rim. It has nothing to do with the pump or the pump head, and it doesn’t allow you to use a Schraeder pump head on a Presta valve.

    You can also buy a separate adapter that effectively reduces the size of the hole in the rim.


  • biggest dummy says:

    Oh thank you Julian. I was totally misunderstanding the concept of the stepped nut. I now understand the purpose. I have seen the little plastic grommets for taking up the space in a shraeder valve rim when using a presta tube. What a PITA they can be. Thank you for taking the time to explain, which in turn cleared up my misconception.

  • Jim says:

    S.Fuller: I had the “Tube Killer” experience for the first time today, too. My mini-pump wouldn’t let go of the valve stem, so the tube ended up splitting where it meets the stem. I had a spare at home, but next time I might have to consider one of these Schwalbe tubes.

  • Ken Pendergrass says:

    Pet peeve, none of the lbs in my area are willing to carry brand name tubes. I’m told they are all made in the same factory in China there is no difference between tubes only difference is price! Do any lbs owners read this or any bike user’s blog? I doubt it. Preaching to the choir no doubt but my point is please don’t make these decisions for me! I would like to try Schwalbe, Conti, Vittoria. I go through a fair number of tubes too so I would buy them if I could do so easily. I’m having good luck with slime tubes. Which I can buy locally but at REI not lbs.

  • Alan says:


    Your LBS is incorrect about all tubes being made in China. I’ve been told the same line.

    Gold Country Cyclery in Shingle Springs, CA (http://www.tandems-recumbents.com/index.html) stocks Schwalbe and other name brand tubes. If you’d like to order them online, Calhoun Cycle stocks a good selection of Schwalbes (http://www.calhouncycle.com/).


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