Direct drive wheels are the most realistic on the market in terms of force feedback. They offer sim racers a new way to immerse themselves in the racing experience, and although they are expensive, direct drive sim racing wheels come with several key benefits.
The 3 main benefits of a direct drive wheel are:
- More power than gear and belt-driven wheels
- More accurate force feedback
- Very little maintenance required
Each of these benefits sets direct drive wheels apart from their belt-driven and gear-driven counterparts, but they come at a cost. In order to decide whether or not a direct drive wheel is right for you, there are a few things you need to understand first.
What Are The Alternatives To Direct Drive Wheels?
Gear-Driven Steering Wheels
Gear-driven wheels are usually the cheapest option, and they are marketed towards those that are just starting out with their sim racing careers. They work via an internal gear mechanism, which amplifies the power of a small motor. This amplification results in the powerful force feedback that you feel when you are turning corners at high speeds.
The small motor that is required, due to the amplification of the gear mechanism, means that these wheels are often much cheaper even than their belt-driven counterparts. Unfortunately, the nature of the gears means that a lot of the finer detail of the force feedback is lost within the mechanism. This makes for less accurate force feedback than you would get with a direct drive wheel.
Another downside to the gear mechanism is that you will often experience torque spikes and grinding noises as the gears rub against each other when you take a sharp corner at high speeds. This can take away from the experience, but it is just the nature of the beast with these cheaper wheels. For smoother force feedback, you will often have to spend a little more money.
The Best Gear-Driven Sim Racing Wheel
The best gear-driven sim racing wheel is the Logitech G29/G920 (the G29 is for PlayStation/PC, while the G920 is for Xbox/PC). This is also one of the best beginner sim racing wheels on the market, thanks to its ease of use, decent force feedback, and overall value for money.
Belt-Driven Steering Wheels
Belt-driven wheels are the next step up from gear-driven ones, and they rely on a series of pulleys and belts rather than mechanical gears. This also results in a boost of power from a relatively small internal motor. Although more expensive than entry-level gear-driven steering wheels, you will still be able to get your hands on a decent belt-driven wheel for much less than a direct drive wheel.
However, they are still not as advanced as direct drive wheels and they also experience a loss in quality of force feedback. Many of the finer details of the force feedback are lost to the belts themselves, and so you won’t feel all of the nuances in the road surface that you will with a direct drive wheel. They do offer a smoother experience than gear-driven wheels with no torque spikes.
One thing that some belt-driven wheels do experience however is a lot of wear and tear. The belts can wear and stretch and thus fail over time, and some models also require internal fans in order to keep the temperatures down due to the friction of the belts and the pulleys. This can put some sim racers off, but they are usually not too loud or noticeable.
The Best Belt-Driven Sim Racing Wheel
The best belt-driven sim racing wheel is the Thrustmaster T300 RS. It offers a realistic and immersive sim racing experience through its roughly 4 Nm of belt-drive force feedback. It’s fairly easy to use, and for those not yet ready to make the jump to direct drive, it serves as a good alternative.
How Does A Direct Drive Wheel Work?
Direct drive wheels work via a large, powerful motor that is connected directly to the steering wheel. There are no belts or gears inside, and it is just the power generated from the motor itself that provides the force feedback of a direct drive wheel. Direct drive wheels experience few of the problems that belt and gear-driven models face, but they do also come with their own issues as well, which we’ll discuss later on.
Prices of direct drive sim racing wheels range from $500 to several thousands of dollars. As technology advances, they will only get more powerful and provide more accurate force feedback, but this will also likely drive the price up further (pun intended).
KEY POINTS• Sim racing wheels can be gear-driven, belt-driven, or direct drive
• Gear-driven wheels are the cheapest, while direct drive wheels are the most expensive
• Direct drive wheels offer the most immersive experience of the three
The 3 Main Benefits Of A Direct Drive Wheel
1. More Power Than Gear And Belt-Driven Wheels
The power and quality of the force feedback of a direct drive wheel lies in the powerful motor that the wheel is attached to. This drives the wheel itself and provides all of the torque, meaning there is no need for belts or gears to amplify the power. This is obviously more expensive, but it allows for much stronger and more responsive force feedback.
One thing that you have to consider before you buy a direct drive wheel involves this power, as you will need a strong setup that can handle the torque that a direct drive wheel produces. A weak, plastic racing rig will collapse under the strength of the direct drive wheel’s motor, and so you need to make sure that your rig can handle it before you buy one.
When combined with a solid sim racing setup, a direct drive wheel can yield truly immense power. This means you can fine-tune your settings to the right level for you, and if you like a lot of strength working against you while you slide around a rally course, you will be able to get exactly that from a good direct drive wheel!
2. More Accurate Force Feedback
Along with the more powerful force feedback, direct drive steering wheels also provide you with more accurate force feedback too. The lack of belts and gears means that all of the power goes straight to the wheel, and this means there is no absorption of higher frequency details by any other mechanical parts.
Being able to feel every single bump in the road is essential if you are looking for the most realistic sim racing experience possible. Direct drive wheels offer this, as everything that the wheel picks up in the game is transferred directly to the player, and so direct drive wheels make for the most immersive sim racing experience.
3. Very Little Maintenance Required
The final main benefit of a direct drive wheel is the fact that there are so few moving parts. The wheel is connected directly to the motor, and so this means that there is no need to worry about the wear and tear of belts, or the crunching of gears that may lead to problems with excessive use. This makes direct drive wheels a more reliable long-term solution.
Because the power of the direct drive wheel requires a stronger rig, it may also mean that you have fewer problems with other parts of your setup. Using a strong, high-quality rig in every aspect will ensure that your sim racing rig will last for many years to come.
The Best Direct Drive Sim Racing Wheel Bases
Some Things To Bear In Mind When Buying A Direct Drive Wheel
The High Price
There are a few other things to consider when buying a direct drive wheel. The first is obviously the price, as they are much more expensive than their belt and gear-driven alternatives. This means that they should only really be considered if you are a more experienced sim racer, or if you just really want the best overall racing experience regardless of the cost.
The price is definitely justified given the advanced technology inside and the realism that a direct drive wheel can provide, but there are other implications as well. We have mentioned that your rig needs to be strong enough to support the powerful motor, and so this can lead to further costs as you try to find something that will be strong and sturdy enough for your new wheel.
Extra Setup Time
Direct drive wheels also often require extensive setup with software to make sure that they work exactly as you want them to. This can take time and effort, but putting it in will definitely yield the best experience.
One final thing to consider is the compatibility of a direct drive wheel with the racing simulator that you are using. Some racing sims won’t be compatible at all, but most of the best ones are. However, you will most likely have to spend some time going through all of the settings to ensure that you can really get the most out of your direct drive wheel with your favourite games.
Console compatibility is a key issue to consider too, as most direct drive wheels are built for PC use only. However, there are some direct drive options out there for console too, with one of the best being the Xbox-compatible Podium Formula, or the GT DD Pro for PlayStation.
The 3 benefits of a direct drive wheel are the power that you can experience, the accuracy of the force feedback, and the low maintenance costs. These benefits are enough individually to set these wheels apart from gear and belt-driven steering wheels, but when they are combined, they make for a very realistic sim racing experience.
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