How to Pick the Right Tire Tubes for Your Bike

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If you want a smooth bike ride, you need to find the best tubes for your tires.
Image Credit: Rafa Fernández / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages

Bicycle commuters and avid cyclists will agree that the last thing you want on a long bike ride is a punctured inner tube. In an instant your trek can go from smooth to choppy (ouch!).

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To prevent a ride gone haywire, you need to find the best inner tube size for your wheels. But there are quite a few tube sizes out there. Before you head to your local cycling shop or sporting goods store, take a look at your tires and remember the size written on the rubber.

What Is a Bike Inner Tube?

Bike inner tubes are inflatable rubber or latex tubes that sit on the inside of your bike tire and help keep your ride safe and smooth, according to the Evans Cycles purchase manual. While there are tubeless tires out there, these structures are an essential part of most bicycles, whether you're riding a road or mountain bike.

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To find the right inner tube for your bike, you need to find one that will fit the diameter and width of your tires, which is found written on the tire itself. When you buy an inner tube, the packaging will usually list which diameter and width it fits, according to Evans Cycles.

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For example, if an inner tube says it's best for 26 x 1.95-2.125", that means the tube should be used for a 26-inch tire with a width between 1.95 and 2.125 inches.

Some road bikes use 700c tires, which use millimeter-sized inner tubes. If you see an inner tube package labeled 700 x 18-23c, that means the inner tubes work with tires that are 18 to 23 millimeters wide.

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Common Inner Tube Ranges for 26-Inch, 27.5-Inch and 29-Inch Tire Diameters

  • 1.0 to 1.15 inches
  • 1.25 to 2.0 inches
  • 2.0 to 2.35 inches
  • 2.4 to 3.0 inches

Common Inner Tube Ranges for 700c Tire Diameter

  • 18 to 23 millimeters
  • 20 to 25 millimeters
  • 28 to 32 millimeters
  • 35 to 43 millimeters

Finding the Right Inner Tube

The best tire tube for you depends on the size of the tires on your bike. While you can find a variety of bikes with wheel sizes ranging from 16 to 27.5 inches, the most common sizes include 26 inches, 27.5 inches, 29 inches and 700c.

Tubes can range anywhere from 1 to 3 inches or 19 to 45 millimeters, depending on the type of wheels you have. Because tubes are flexible and stretchy, they're typically sold in a range of widths. You just need to make sure the tire diameter for the tube is exact.

Let's say your wheels have a 26-inch diameter and a 1.3-inch width. As long as you buy tubes made for a 26-inch diameter wheel, you can buy any range of tube width that covers 1.3. If you find a tube that's 26 x 1.1-1.5" for instance, that will fit your tires. Or, if you find a tube that's 26 x 1.2-1.7", that will work, too.

Shop the Best Bike Tire Tubes

While these are a few of the common tube widths you may see at stores and online retailers — like REI and Amazon — always go by what's written on your bike. Here are some of the top bike tire tubes:

  • AR-Pro 28 Road Bike Replacement Inner Tubes ($27.99, Amazon)
  • Co-op Cycles Presta Tube ($9.50, REI)
  • Bell 20-Inch Universal Inner Tube ($4.29, Amazon)

Presta vs. Schrader Valve Inner Tubes

Your bike's wheels will likely be compatible with either a Presta or Schrader valve, which attach to the inner tubes to inflate the tire. Your bike already comes with one or the other, so you'll need to buy a tire tube compatible with the right valve. However, you can always buy new tires and tire tubes with a different type of valve if you'd like, depending on the type of cycling you're doing, according to Boston Bikes. (For instance, Presta valves are usually found on high-performance racing bikes where the rims are more narrow.)

Presta

Pros:

  • Maintains better pressure and requires less air to fill up
  • Needs less maintenance
  • Doesn't require an air pump to deflate (can release pressure with your finger)
  • Provides a better, air-tight seal
  • Comes in different valve lengths

Cons:

  • Fragile
  • More expensive
  • Isn't compatible with a standard air pump
  • Hard to find replacements and tubes

Schrader

Pros:

  • Standard on many brands of bikes
  • Better for commuter bikes
  • Cheaper
  • Easier to install
  • Compatible with any air pump

Cons:

  • Loses pressure over time more easily
  • Requires valve caps
  • Lets air out when you put on or take off the pump
  • May get bent in the rims
  • Length of valve may be a problem depending on your rims

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