Direct drive wheels are relatively new additions to the world of sim racing, only being around for the last few years. They offer sim racers a new way to immerse themselves in the racing experience, and although they are expensive, they come with several key benefits.
So, what are the main benefits of a direct drive wheel? 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?
There are two main alternatives to direct drive steering wheels, and they come in the form of gear-driven and belt-driven wheels. Each of these comes with its own advantages, along with its own disadvantages. They are usually aimed at less experienced sim racers, but they still offer a reasonable amount of force feedback.
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.
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. Much of the finer details of the force feedback is 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.
How Does A Direct Drive Wheel Work?
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. They 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 are relatively new in the world of sim racing, but there are lots of options on the market. There are options to build your own direct drive wheel, alongside pre-built models as well. Prices range from $500 to several thousands of dollars. As technology advances, they will only get more powerful and provide more accurate force feedback.
A More Powerful Motor
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 even faster, 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 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.
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.
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. A direct drive wheel is definitely the best option if you are looking for something that will keep working for as long as you need.
Some Things To Bear In Mind
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.
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. There is also the matter of Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) that some direct drive wheels experience, meaning if it isn’t setup properly you can experience some technical issues.
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.
As long as you bear all of these points in mind and take the necessary steps to properly set up your direct drive wheel, you will have very few problems, and a lot of realistic racing.
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 them apart from gear and belt-driven steering wheels, but when they are combined, they make for a very realistic sim racing experience
Although direct drive wheels are more expensive, and they don’t come without their own share of technical peculiarities, they are definitely the option to go for if you are a serious sim racer looking for next level realism with your racing.