If you’ve done any amount of research into sim racing, you’ve no doubt come across the phrase “direct drive racing wheel”. What is a direct drive wheel? Are they worth the money? For many sim racers, it’s at the top of their wishlist and a highly coveted core piece of their sim racing rig.
Traditional Belt and Gear Driven Wheels
To understand direct drive wheels, we should first understand belt and gear driven wheels. These types of sim racing wheels were the first iteration of racing wheels. As their name implies, the movement and force the wheel applies against you have to be driven by a motor. In a gear driven wheel, like the Logitech G923, the wheel is directly connected through a series of gears to a motor. In a belt-driven system, the wheel is connected with a belt to a motor. The Logitech G920 is a belt-driven wheel. Belt-driven wheels are a little smoother than gear-driven wheels and provide a little more nuance. Belt-driven wheels tend to be better than gear-driven wheels. Although, they both are commonly used in entry-level, cheaper wheels.
The downside of belt or gear-driven wheels is that they have a “middle-man” or components between the wheel and motor. These are extra components that can get in the way.
Use the Force Feedback
Gear, belt-driven and direct drive wheels all apply torque feedback or force feedback. This technique allows sim racers to get haptic feedback from the wheel to emulate what’s happening in the game. For example, if you’re racing around a corner at a high speed, the wheel will “fight back” and provide some resistance or force against your turning.
Direct Drive Steering Wheel Advantages
Direct Drive wheels are the latest development in sim racing wheels. They were introduced around 2013 and were initially very expensive! These days, prices of direct drive wheels have come down quite a lot. Direct drive wheels provide even more force than gear or belt-driven wheels. Direct drive wheels are sim racing wheels where the wheel is directly driven by a force feedback motor. These wheels are more precise, quicker and a lot stronger than gear or belt-drive systems. Direct drive motors are connected directly to your sim racing wheel. This gives a lot more precision than a gear or belt-driven wheel since there are no components between the wheel and the motor. This means you get the smoothest way to input commands into the sim racing game you’re playing.
A good analogy between belt, gear and direct drive wheels is to compare it to audio quality. Gear and belt-driven wheels will let you “hear” the feedback from your sim racing game, but it won’t be the most high quality. Imagine listening to techno music through some old computer speakers. You might enjoy the music and you can drive fine with one, but you simply won’t pick up the details. Direct drive wheels are so precise that you can feel or “hear” much more detail and resolution on the track. You’d hear the details in the song and get much more feedback.
This precision in a direct drive wheel can make a lot of difference in overcoming understeer or oversteer on the track. Additionally, direct drive wheels should last longer because there are simply less moving parts to break!
Direct Drive wheel forces are measured in newton meters. Generally direct drive wheels are about 5 – 25 Nm of torque. This high amount of torque can give instant feedback and help increase precision for sim racers. Higher powered direct drive wheels can also be dangerous! Many come with an emergency cutoff button. If you were to crash with a direct drive wheel, it could suddenly twist and cause injury if you catch your hand in it!
Consider Your Sim Racing Cockpit
Since direct drive wheels are so powerful, you need to consider the sim racing cockpit you choose to mount it to. Direct drive wheels are powerful and can flex your sim racing cockpit if you’re using a lot of power! Be sure to check out our article on Sim Racing Cockpits to find out what you should consider before building out your sim racing wheel.
Where can I get a Direct Drive Sim Racing Wheel?
Direct drive sim racing wheels have become incredibly affordable since they came out. Initially, you’d have to spend around $1,000 for a direct drive wheel. Today, companies like Moza offer their R5 bundle which includes a 5 Nm base, wheel and pedals for around $500. The Thrustmaster T818 is another great option for those of you diving into the direct drive wheels. If you don’t want to dive directly into a direct drive wheel, check out wheels like the Logitech G29, which is gear-driven but still a great option.