One of the first things you will probably consider buying when you get into sim racing is a steering wheel. This, along with the pedals, is what will allow you to get a taste of what sim racing can really feel like, and the step up from a gamepad is substantial. However, a question is often raised regarding the price of these wheels.
Sim racing wheels are expensive for the simple reason that they are usually made out of high-quality materials, and the technology involved is very advanced.
There are of course lots of options to choose from when you are first getting into sim racing, and there are various factors to consider before you buy one. But if you are not a beginner and are looking to upgrade your current setup, it can be very expensive indeed. Let’s take a look at some options.
What Are The Different Types Of Wheel Available?
There are three main types of racing wheel, and each one caters to a different budget and level of experience. They come in the forms of gear-driven, belt-driven, and direct drive wheels. Each one has its own advantages and disadvantages, which we will cover in more detail below. But for now, let’s just outline each of the different types.
Gear-driven wheels are more of an entry-level option, and there aren’t actually that many options to choose from. They are aimed at beginners, and this is usually reflected in their price and build quality. They work by using a system of cogs to amplify the power of a small internal motor, and they make for reasonable force feedback, albeit not as smooth as the other two options.
Belt-driven wheels on the other hand use a system of pulleys and belts to amplify the power of their internal motors, and this results in smoother force feedback. Belt-driven sim racing wheels tend to be targeted more towards the beginner and intermediate levels of experience, but they can be good enough for more advanced racers too.
Finally, direct drive sim racing wheels are for the more advanced sim racers, and this is reflected in the high-quality materials used along with the strength of the force feedback provided. The motor in direct drive wheels provides all of the power with no need for amplification, so the force feedback is much more detailed and stronger than that of gear and belt-driven wheels.
The Prices Of Each Type Of Wheel
The Cheapest Option
The price of a gear-driven wheel may be as low as $100 for a low-quality option, but they usually cost around $200-300. These wheels are definitely an entry-level option, and although they can provide a decent level of force feedback, it is not strong enough or detailed enough for those at the more advanced end of the spectrum.
Belt-driven wheels are the next level up, and although they too can cost as low as $200, they usually come in around $500 and can even cost around $1000 for the really high-end models. These are ideal for beginners with a bigger budget but are geared more towards intermediate racers with at least some sim racing experience under their belt.
High-Quality, High Price
Direct drive wheels are the most expensive option, and they can cost anywhere from around $1000 for the cheapest, all the way up to several thousands of dollars. These are not the kinds of sim racing wheels that are aimed at beginners, as they can take a lot of getting used to. Intermediate racers with a big budget may opt for a direct drive wheel, but they are definitely a more advanced option.
So, it is clear that the price of a sim racing wheel is dependent on what mechanism is used internally. But why is that? It is worth taking a look at what actually makes the internal technology work in each case, and why that might cause the prices to rise so substantially as you upgrade from gear-driven, to belt-driven, and then to direct drive.
The Technology Involved
Basic But Effective
In a gear-driven wheel, the technology involved is fairly basic. The cogs may even be made of plastic, which not only makes them liable to break, but also means they cannot cope with as much torque. Torque is a good measure of the strength of force feedback that a wheel can deliver, and so the gear-driven wheels offer much less than belt-driven and direct drive wheels.
The rest of the wheel however may be highly functional, and there is usually a lot of detail in the actual rim itself. Leather steering wheels are common on gear-driven bases, with plenty of buttons for extra customization. This can even make the price of gear-driven wheels seem intimidating for beginners, but they are still by far the cheapest option.
The Next Step Up
Belt-driven wheels have a bit more advanced technology inside them, and the belts and pulleys usually equal more moving parts. This drives the price up on its own, but then you also have to consider the wear and tear that these parts may be susceptible to. That is why these wheels often contain fans to keep everything cool, which again requires more materials that drive the price up further.
The Heavier Choice
Belt-driven wheels are often a bit heavier than the gear-driven wheels, but the real heavyweight is the direct drive wheel. These can weigh upwards of 10 kg, and they can be quite big as well. They usually come as a base with the option to add your own steering wheel rim, and so it is easy to spend upwards of $1500 when everything is considered.
Direct drive wheels can offer torque levels of 25 Nm and above, which is a lot of power. This means they have to be built using tough materials, making them more expensive. The motors used in these wheels are also high-quality, and the outer casing itself can cost several hundred dollars. A lot of engineering goes into direct drive wheels, making them by far the most expensive option.
Not only are the direct drive wheels made out of durable, expensive materials, but they also tend to offer the user more customization. They are packed with electronics, and some have LED screens that you can use to customize every aspect of the wheel. The customizability of direct drive wheels plays a big part in the high price.
Why High Prices Shouldn’t Put You Off
Always Go For Quality
As a beginner, the high prices of belt-driven and direct drive wheels should not put you off sim racing. There are lots of options out there suited to any budget, but you want to make sure that you go for the best quality that you can afford. Going for a cheap option often means it will not last that long, so it is worth paying for quality.
A good sim racing wheel will last for years, so the benefits of buying a durable wheel at the start will far outweigh the cost. Going for a gear-driven wheel as a total beginner is a good idea, but bear in mind that you can find some very affordable belt-driven wheels, and the difference in performance can be very noticeable over time.
Not only will a more expensive, durable option last longer than a cheap plastic wheel, but they will also provide much more realism. If you have been sim racing for a while now and want to experience some good immersion, a high-end belt-driven wheel or even a direct drive wheel will provide so much more than what a cheap one can.
You Don’t Need To Spend A Fortune
Go For Something You Can Afford
This doesn’t mean that your only real option is to spend a fortune on a new wheel right off the bat. If you are just getting into sim racing, it doesn’t make sense to spend thousands of dollars on a wheel that you will struggle to get comfortable with, and probably will not even be able to make full use of for months to come. Thus, a cheaper gear- or belt-driven wheel is your best choice.
Even if you are a more experienced sim racer, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a direct drive wheel just because you think it is time for an upgrade. There are secondhand options on the market, along with some very good direct drive options for around the $1000 mark. As long as you go for one made from high-quality materials, you can get a lot of realism on a reasonable budget.
Obviously, which sim racing wheel you opt for will depend on your level of experience. The prices of sim racing wheels are relatively high because there is a lot of advanced technology within them and they can last for years. Although there are cheaper options on the market, you really do get what you pay for, so quality should be your number one priority.
If you are a beginner, you don’t have to spend $750 on a wheel, and likewise if you are a more advanced racer you don’t need to spend $3000 on a direct-drive wheel base. Do your research, and find a wheel that suits your playstyle and your experience level. Once you buy a good steering wheel for your sim racing rig, you will understand why they often cost a lot of money.