One of the first things you’ll buy 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 controller is substantial. However, sim racing wheels are expensive.
Sim racing wheels are expensive because they are usually made out of high-quality materials, and the technology involved is very advanced. Sim racing wheels are designed to last a long time, while offering lots of realism and immersion, and that all comes at a cost (typically from $100-$1,000+).
There are of course lots of options to choose from when you first get 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. So, let’s take a look at some options!
The Different Types Of Sim Racing Wheels
There are 3 main types of sim 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.
The Best Gear-Driven Sim Racing Wheel
The best gear-driven sim racing wheel comes from Logitech, with their G29 and G920 Driving Force wheels. The G29 is for PlayStation users, while the G920 is built for Xbox (both can be used on PC too). It’s a simple, budget friendly wheel that is ideal for beginners, and it’s usually bundled with a set of pedals too. Its gear-driven force feedback is a bit clunky, but it’s a great starting point.
Belt-driven wheels use a system of pulleys and belts to amplify the power of their internal motors, and this results in smoother force feedback than with gear-driven wheels. 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.
The Best Belt-Driven Sim Racing Wheel
The best belt-driven sim racing wheel is the Thrustmaster T300 RS, which is built for PC and PlayStation use (the TX wheel is similar and is ideal for Xbox racers). This wheel offers much smoother force feedback than the G29/G920, and it’s stronger too. This is a good starting point for beginners that are serious about sim racing, but it’s ideal for intermediate 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 Best Direct Drive Sim Racing Wheel Bases
Sim Racing Wheel Prices By Type
Gear-Driven – The Cheapest Option
The price of a gear-driven wheel may be as low as $100 for a low-quality option, but these wheels usually cost around $200 to $300. These gaming 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 – The Intermediate Choice
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 $1,000 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 (pun intended!).
Direct Drive – High Quality, High Price
Direct drive wheels are the most expensive option, and they can cost anywhere from around $500 to $700 for the cheapest (see the Fanatec CSL DD and the MOZA R5), 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’s clear that the price of a sim racing wheel is highly dependent on what mechanism is used inside it. But why is that? It’s 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 In Sim Racing Wheels
How Gear-Driven Wheels Work
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 damage, but it also means they cannot cope with as much torque. Torque is a measure of the strength of force feedback that a wheel can deliver, and so gear-driven wheels offer much less than belt-driven and direct drive wheels.
Key Fact: A gear-driven wheel might offer about 2-2.5 Nm of peak torque, while a belt drive system might produce up to 6 Nm. The most powerful direct drive wheels can produce 25+ Nm of torque!
But the rest of the wheel 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.
Why Belt Drive Is More Expensive
Belt-driven wheels have a bit more advanced technology inside them, and the belts and pulleys usually mean there are 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.
What Makes Direct Drive So Pricey?
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 (22 lbs), 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 $1,500 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 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 OLED 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.
KEY POINTS• Gear-driven steering wheels are the cheapest and most beginner-friendly option
• Belt-drive wheels are the middle ground in terms of technology and ease of use
• Direct drive wheels are the pinnacle of sim racing wheels, but they’re very expensive
Why High Prices Shouldn’t Put You Off Sim Racing Wheels
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 to suit 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’s 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, and you may want to upgrade fairly quickly.
Not only will a more expensive, more durable option tend to last longer than a cheap plastic wheel, but it will also offer a much more realistic experience. 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
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. So, 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’s time for an upgrade. There are secondhand options on the market, along with some very good direct drive options under the $1,000 mark. As long as you go for one made from high-quality materials from a reputable brand, you can get a lot of realism on a reasonable budget.
Which sim racing wheel you should 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!
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