Valve nuts. Yeah, they're a thing. That's just about the end of any universal agreement on the subject, though. Some riders swear they're actually handy - others swear they're as bad as dork-discs or chainring "tattoos". In today's post, we'll dig through the debate, so you can decide for yourself. Let's go nuts!
So What Are They?
If you have presta valves, you've probably seen your share of valve nuts. They're the small, knurled, washer-shaped circles that thread onto the outside of your valve stem down to the rim. Here's one now:
Your bike probably came with them (depending on your mech's preferences). Your new tubes definitely come with them. But what good are they? Turns out there are a lot of theories, with varying degrees of accuracy.
Starting off, one of the real, tangible, benefits of the valve nut is its ability to keep the valve exposed for your pump if you're completely flat and your super-deep rim is resting on the ground. Deep rims and short valves can be a nightmare to re-air if the valve keeps ducking back inside your wheel - in this case, popping the valve nut on there for a few turns will keep the valve up and ready for some pumpin'
That's a legitimate benefit and a solid vote in the "keep 'em" category, but I've also heard some less-accurate arguments in favor of the presta nut. For example, "rattle reduction".
This one's really interesting because it actually shows up on both sides of the debate. Pro-nut nuts will tell you that tightening it down keeps your valve from rattling around in the rim. Anti-nut nuts will argue that it's a loose nut that does the rattling, so just toss 'em and you'll be rattle-free. Reality lives somewhere in between. Yes, sometimes valves rattle in rims, but use some spare tube or electrical tape wrapped around the valve to cut the noise, don't just slam that washer all the way into your rim. And yes, a loose nut could be the source of a rattle too... in which case you could remove it or just tighten it down a bit.
The point is, the valve nut isn't a noise suppression tool, it's there to make it easier to air up your tires.
But what about the downsides? Bike snobs love being petty, so the smaller and more innocuous the part - the better fodder it makes for over-the-top judgement. In that regard, the valve nut is just about the perfect object of scorn.
We've already discussed "rattling", but some nut-haters will cite weight as their reason for objection. And sure, the valve nut weighs about a gram, so if you've dropped big bucks for those uber-lightweight carbon rims, paid to have them balanced, etc... then any extra weight is going to jam up your mojo. But, if you're rockin' stock rims, have dirty tires, or are carrying more than a gram of extra weight around your midsection, you're probably fine not stressing about the valve nut's added weight.
Others will simply say they're against "the rules". But again, the blurry line between appreciating satire and a dogmatic devotion to authoritarianism makes it tricky to tell if they're serious. For their sake, we'll just hope the "rule followers" have an amazing deadpan delivery.
There are, however, some legitimate concerns. For example, if you over-tighten the valve nut, it can put unnecessary pressure on the tube where the valve attaches and that can cause future flats to be more frequent. So, if you have a tendency to overdo it with anything tighten-able, maybe skip the valve nuts so you're not tempted.
So what's the right call when it comes to valve nuts? It really boils down to personal preference. Weigh the pros and cons above, and then make the right call for you.
For one final data-point, here's what I do:
When adding air to a fully-deflated tube, the valve nut gets tightened a bit to keep the valve up where the pump can get to it. Once there's air in the tube, I back off the valve nut so it's just chilling somewhere between the rim and the top of the valve. That way there's no risk of over-tightening accidentally, and it'll still be there if I (or other riders) need it someday.
Full disclosure, though - I take the nuts off the spares I keep in my bag. I figure I can always transfer the existing one from the old tube to the new, and that way my bag's not unnecessarily weighed down by all the extra grams ;).
What's your stance on valve nuts? Rock 'em with pride, or neuter those tubes?
Whatever you do, ride happy. And we'll see you out there.