In the following series of blog posts we’re trying to shed some light on the various hardware parts you need to have or – for some parts – should have. To make the chunks of information a little smaller and easier to digest, this is split into the multiple posts. See also ‘the PC & screens‘, and the summary.
Steering wheel and pedals
While racing is theoretically possible on a console gaming controller, it’s quite a bad way to apply throttle, braking and steering, which are all finicky in simulators. Get a proper wheel and pedals. Beyond this, one thing to always keep in mind however is: very rarely you’ll get any faster with more expensive input devices. As proof, this is what Glenn McGee used to get to the top of the Mazda Challenge in iRacing.
Brands that are good to start looking at are Logitech and Thrustmaster, but their cheapest steering wheels are usually pretty bad, as they come without proper force feedback. The pedals of these sets are also terrible and lack finesse. A good rule of thumb is to find the wheel in your price range that gives you the most force back, thus are the heaviest to turn and push. The stronger the wheel, the more small details you can feel through the force feedback. Similarly with pedals. The greater the force your pedals can take, the more precise your braking input can be as the dynamic range of your input widens.
Any ranking of steering wheels and pedals will be subjective but we asked Martin Krönke for his opinion and here is how he rates the steering wheel options:
- Direct Drive (Leo Bodnar SimSteering / EC Sim Hardware Pro SW/ OpenSimWheel kit such as the one by simplicity)
- SimXperience AccuForce
- High-end belt drive (Fanatec Clubsport Wheel v2 / Thrustmaster T500 RS)
- Logitech G29 (or older generation G25/G27)
Martin says: “The big direct drive wheels are by far superior from a technical point of view due to the very high torque and the lack of gears/belts that always cause some internal friction and damping. They tend to be fairly expensive, starting at around 1500€ for the DIY OpenSimWheel when getting the cheapest MiGe servo motor. An OSW might cost up to 3500€ when going for a premium motor. The SimSteering is currently around £3000. It’s a little more expensive and not as strong as the OSW, but it a solution that works out of the box and is extremely reliable. Many racing teams use this system in their racing simulators.”
“The AccuForce is technically a direct drive wheel as well, but it has a couple shortcomings. It uses a stepper motor as opposed to servo motors used inside the SimSteering or the OSW. The usable torque is a little low, which manifests as some amount of cogging at high torques. It’s also worth noting that shipping to UK and Europe is going to be fairly expensive because you have to pay shipping and VAT on top of the list price.”
“The high-end belt drive wheels are fairly similar, it’s worth noting though that the Fanatec is a lot more expensive as you need to buy pedals and also a rim separately.”
Just to give you a pointer for OSW, perhaps the most affordable high-end (direct drive) option is the OSW kit by simplicity. However, the OSW kit route would require more planning and more work. You’d need to separately acquire a box for the electronics, drill holes in it and install the components into the box and finally flash the OSW firmware. Then you have to separately order a steering wheel and most likely a button plate with paddle shifters (e.g. from Sam Maxwell).
You may be tempted to spend money on the the more expensive wheels and if you can easily afford them, definitely go for it. However, know that many iRacing World Championship level drivers reach that level on the Logitech G25 and G27.
And this is Martin’s top pedals list (in case your wheel doesn’t come with a pedal set, or you want an upgrade):
- Heusinkveld Engineering Sim Pedals Ultimate
- Heusinkveld Engineering Sim Pedals Pro
- HPP Simulation Pedals
- Derek Speare Designs Pedals
- Fanatec Clubsport Pedals v2 / v3
“The Heusinkveld Ultimate and Pro are fairly similar in construction. The Ultimates require much higher forces on the brake which might make them hard to use for some. They also feature a damper that works only on bump which makes them more precise, the difference is very small though.”
Getting your PC, screens, steering wheel and pedals set up around your chair is essential. Always keep in mind that you want the least distraction possible, and the most comfy seat position. What this means is that you don’t want monitors that are shaking as you turn into corners, that your pedals don’t slide and your chair doesn’t roll. The best way to do this, is to have what simracers call a ‘rig’.
Assembling a rig can vary lots in practicality and budget. The most common option is to have a gaming cockpit that allows you to position your steering wheel in front of you, and fixes your pedals. You should be able to adjust this to your size so you’re comfortable in it. Then the monitors should be positioned so you can see them just above your wheel.
Fixing your monitors to a separate stand is a good idea, so there’s no movement in it. If you have triple monitors, check for a triple monitor stand. There are gaming cockpits out there that allow, aside from the wheel and pedals, the monitors to be connected to it as well, or, the cheaper option is to have them stand on the desk, as you position your seat in front of it.
DIY may be your cheapest option but would require more planning and work. There are plenty plenty of videos and forum posts with DIY tutorials. The materials range from plywood through PVC tubes to aluminum extrusion tubes.
If you don’t want to design your own rig, you can buy a gaming cockpit which comes complete with a racing seat and pre-drilled hole patterns for the most popular wheels and pedals. A very popular option is the Obutto R3volution Gaming Cockpit. If you go with the high-end wheels and pedals, you’d need a rig that is very rigid. The Heusinkveld Engineering Sim Rig is a great option. If you are based in Europe, motedis and TrackTime could be good options for you.
Perhaps the last piece to a racing experience that replicates the real world is a motion platform / rig. A majority of simracers don’t have one, or surprisingly, straight avoid motion rigs. We asked Martin why: “The biggest disadvantage is cost. Secondly, they tend to be quite noisy and bulkier than a no-motion rig. So depending on how much space you have and what time of the day you race, it may not be practical to have one. Lastly, the actuator motors need to move a lot of mass in very short amounts of time, so unless you have very powerful motors (which means a bigger and more expensive rig), you are likely to experience motion lag. Many may not notice or care about the lag though.” A common theme among simracers against motion rigs is that the added motion can be distracting, especially to someone who is already used to simracing on a static rig. However, motion rigs seem to extremely helpful to real-life racers who turn to simracing for practice or fun. Real life drivers rely heavily on sensory input from their body, which motion rigs are designed to replicate, so the transition from real life to sim is easier.
Up to you:
Decide on your budget and choose which wheel and pedals you want to use. Then decide how you’ll mount your wheel and pedals and whether you’d need to buy or DIY a complete racing rig. When it comes to motion, it’s mostly down to practical things like cost and space.
Now read further, to our hardware summary, here.