Direct drive wheels intended for sim racing are usually priced upwards of £1000 for a complete kit, so, is that investment worth it?
Today, I’m taking a deep dive into the subject of direct drive sim racing wheels.
What DD wheel is best?
Before I get started, I’d like to tackle the default discussion among sim racers. If you ask for a recommendation in the majority of the forums, you will end up with a bit of a competition amongst owners to declare their wheel the best.
The truth is that with the force feedback properly set up, there is rarely any significant difference between wheels that would fundamentally affect your enjoyment or performance in the simulator. That’s not to say that different manufacturers have their own characteristics, but they’re such subtle differences that few of even the most professional and particular drivers would actually be bothered by them.
If you want to skip stright to the wheels, use the links directly below. Otherwise, read on!
What are the best rated direct drive wheels for sim racing?
- Fanatec DD1 and DD2
- Simucube 2: Sport / Pro / Ultimate
- Simplicity SW series
- Sim Magic M10
- Leo Bodnar SimSteering2 FFB System
- VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base
- Sim Experience Accuforce
- Augury H Kit (OSW)
Much of the development in the wheel technology is actually in the drivers and onboard DSP algorithms – the technology that interprets the output from the simulation package into force feedback, and the inputs coming from the driver’s actions.
This is a fluid thing, software and drivers are updated all the time.
So, there’s no such thing as a “best” DD wheel for sim racing. You could waste a lot of time trying to decide in fact. You could be singularly unimpressed by a wheel because it wasn’t set up by the owner correctly. You could waste more time lusting after a “better” wheel which would be time better spent on your own technique and tuning setup.
I’ve compared (extensively) the Simplicity SW20 vs the Fanatec DD2 vs the Simucube 2 Pro (the DD2 and SC2 I own). I can honestly say that the strengths and weaknesses in each product are more driven by external factors like the hub, wheel compatibility, driver software and tuning menu intuitiveness.
Factors that are important to the typical sim racer
Critically, I want my DD wheel to work! If you’ve spent enough time in the sim, you’ll know that from time to time, things can go wrong.
If you’re quite technically inclined (perhaps you build your own OSW wheels or you’re just interested in the software and technology) then occasional problems aren’t a big deal. But if something stops working just before qualifying, it can be a frustration.
Mainstream equipment providers like Fanatec and Simucube are well developed and ultra reliable.
That’s because they’re not particularly niche and offer good support. They’ve sold enough volume to iron out the problems. By comparison, we’ve found it difficult in the past getting support for lesser known / smaller manufacturers, although some smaller manufacturers have the better customer service out of the whole lot.
Hub compatibility might be an issue, too. As I own several Fanatec wheels, they’re only compatible with Fanatec wheelbases. My Simucube Formula Sport wheel is wireless, which is only supported by the Simucube 2. In particular the stiffness of the Fanatec hubs bothers me when I compare them the the Simucube SQR hub. So much so that I found a modification for the Fanatec hub that fixes this problem.
What is a direct drive wheel?
A direct drive wheel is a sim racing wheel where the wheel itself is directly mounted onto the motor via a quick release hub.
This is unlike belt and gear driven systems where invariably there is a mechanism between you and the motor.
Belt and gear driven systems generally have lower quality parts and don’t have the ability to deliver the same forces (some up to 30nm) that direct drive systems do. In fact, the lowest budget systems barely have any force feedback at all.
Direct drive is simpler, mechanically, but the wheels have far more complexity in their electronics. They tend to be heavier, and built from what often feels like industrial grade metal work. They’re more expensive but offer advantages over low budget systems.
Why is direct drive better?
Direct Drive wheel motors have no lash…. that momentary if subtle relaxing and tensioning on the belt within most conventional wheel motors. The absence of lash in a DD wheel results in the ability to crank the steering weight up without losing any feedback. The result, with sufficient time we can fine tune the steering to achieve any level of expected feel.Simon Mason, Sim Dynamics
To understand why direct drive is potentially better, it’s a good idea to look at what makes a sim racing wheelbase, good.
All of the wheel movement is as intended by the simulation software. There’s less lag in the system, and no mechanical play. The speed that a direct drive wheel can deliver feedback means you can respond more quickly to slides, so you’ll feel like you can handle slides and sudden events quickly and competently. Once you’re used to the forces involved with a DD sim wheel, you’ll likely feel more confident, make fewer mistakes and eventually find a sweet sport where you’re really enjoying the driving.
All wheels go beyond 900° of rotation which means that your steering input matches the simulated wheel rotation precisely. This has been a feature for a long time now.
Force Feedback strength and Force Feedback effects
Direct drive wheels can deliver higher peak and nominal (holding) torque levels. The Fanatec DD2, for example has a holding torque of 20 Newton metres (Nm) and a peak torque of 25 Nm. That peak figure is a lot – almost 5 times higher than the belt driven Fanatec CSL Elite.
The availability of torque does open the opportunity to give more concise force feedback effects (see: what is FFB?) – as a driver I like to feel when the car is losing its available grip, and I like that sensation to manifest itself through an opposing force, especially in the mid corner. Direct drive wheels do this exceptionally well, where something like a Logitech G29 would barely let you know you were sliding by comparison.
Detail at high frequencies
I absolutely love feeling the track detail as I’m driving. Kerbs and rumble strips are there to tell you you’re on the track limit with your car. To feel the vibration through the wheel is great. By their nature, the motor and motor control electronics can operate the motor at very high frequencies. High enough, in fact that the Simucube 2 Pro can beep at you simply by sending a high frequency through the motor.
This availability means saw effects like vibrations and track detail are reproduced in exquisite detail.
Rigidity and build quality
High torque loads and heat mean plastics are more or less out of the question. A proper direct drive sim wheel will have at least 4 M6 threads for mounting into an aluminum cockpit. Everything has to be strong and tight to deal with 25nm peak torque.
Most DD wheels feel heavy, industrial by design and as a result feel like they’ll stand the rigors of time.
Defining Torque Characteristics
Torque is the most important aspect when it comes to direct drive systems. Manufacturers tend to talk about two types of torque values:
- Peak torque
- Holding or constant torque
“Peak torque” refers to the maximum output of the wheel motor in short bursts. You might experience peak torque when you drive over a high curb, during a high-speed direction change or in a crash.
“Holding torque” refers to the strength of the motor in resisting rotation.
In sim racing the driver is regularly resisting the car’s self-aligning torque through a corner, causing the motor to heat up. High holding torque performance is crucial to a consistent driving experience.
“Torque ripple” is a very subtle vibration you would feel in the steering wheel during constant rotation
What’s inside a Direct Drive Wheelbase?
Most of us would never dream of unscrewing our wheelbase cases to find out what’s inside. Fortunately, youtubers like Barry Rowlands at Sim Racing garage does on a regular basis! Here he is taking a Fanatec DD2 apart:
Fundamentally, you have a motor, a power supply, a motherboard, digital motor drive and a USB converter.
Types of motor
You’ll encounter a few different types, arrangements and manufacturers of motor in a DD wheelbase. Here’s what you’ll commonly come across.
Conventional inrunner motors have the stator coils on inside of the case and the magnets are attached to a rotor in the center. The shaft rotates with the magnets. This is a typical motor arrangement found in a DD wheel.
Outrunner motors have their magnets attached to an outer casing which rotates around the stator.
The motor shaft when spun would also spin the outer motor case. The permanent magnets on the outrunner are placed on the rotor and the rotor spins on the outside case. On the inside of the motor are the stator windings which do not rotate, they are fixed in position.
Outrunners are able to produce more torque, but have a lower RPM per volt. The Fanatec DD1 and DD2s use outrunner motors as their preferred component choice as they feel the outrunner can deliver more torque at low RPMs.
Stepper motors are DC motors that move in discrete steps. They have multiple coils that are organized in groups called “phases”. By energizing each phase in sequence, the motor will rotate, one step at a time. The advantages of step motors are low cost, high reliability, high torque at low speeds and a simple, rugged construction that operates in almost any environment. The main disadvantages in using a stepper motor is the resonance effect often exhibited at low speeds and decreasing torque with increasing speed. (source)
A servo motor is not a motor type per se, but a motor that has an encoder built into its casing to measure position, torque and rotation. This is critical for fine control of the output rotation and sensing the driver’s inputs (resisting forces, steering inputs and so on) through the digital motor drive.
MiGE are a popular servo manufacturer in the sim racing community and their products tend to form the basis of most OSW wheel kits. This particular item comes with an optional Fanatec hub adapter meaning that with a USB conversion board like this you could make a start building your own direct drive sim wheel quite cheaply.
So, if you have the right motor to hand, what would you need to build a direct drive wheel for your sim?
Digital Motor Drives
A digital motor drive is designed for driving servo motors and steppers motors. This product from IONI allows controlling motors with position control, velocity control and force / torque control which makes it an ideal component for a self build project.
Motherboard with built in Force Feedback controller
Simucube offer a motherboard (to seat the digital motor drive board) with a combined force feedback controller:
The Simucube board provides a slot for the digital motor drive, connectors for motor power, I/O and USB adapter. With this device you’ve got almost everything you need, except a power supply and a USB converter called a SimpleMotion V2.
What direct drive wheelbases are available today?
Fanatec DD1 and DD2
I’m a huge fan of my Fanatec DD2. It’s extremely easy to install and setup making ideal for a first time DD wheel user. In fact, I upgraded from a CSL Elite to the DD2 and have always felt that this was a good choice.
The DD1 is pretty much exactly the same device but de-tuned to deliver a peak torque of 20nm.
Fanatec’s outrunner style motor is unique in sim racing and allows for a really convincing torque delivery throughout the torque range.
I think their drivers, in particular are very strong too. There’s a sense of realism I get from my DD2 which I find hard (not impossible!) to replicate in other wheels, especially in the MX5 and Ferrari GT3.
If you’re new to sim racing and want simplicity and a high quality experience overall, this is a great wheel.
Simucube 2: Sport / Pro / Ultimate
I’m a very happy owner of a Simucube 2 Pro. I like it for different reasons to the DD2, though.
Simucube’s Direct Drive brushless torque motor is super smooth, and you can absolutely tell that the build quality and componentry in this wheel is of an exceptionally high standard.
The SQR hub leaves absolutely no flex on the table and there are just a bunch of amazing features including their latest ARM CPU and motor control electronics that make this thing so fast and responsive, it’s a surprise at first. I use my Simucube for Formula car racing; it seems to have an edge over the DD2 for that application.
Simplicity SW series
For the money I think the oft-overlooked SW series from Simplicity is one of the best OSW based concepts on the market. It has a loyal following, good customer support (if you’re the original owner!) and the most intuitive tuning software I’ve come across.
I recently tested an SW20 V3 DD wheelbase and found it to be absolutely on par with the DD2, for about half the money. Read my review here.
Sim Magic M10
Sim Gagic’s M10 DDW is a 10 NM torque direct drive sim racing wheel system intended for the mid range spectrum of the direct drive scene.
The stepper motor based system would make for a worthy transition from something like a CSL Elite. It has a loyal following and lots of positive feedback with various support and forum discussions easily found online.
Leo Bodnar SimSteering2 FFB System
If you walked into an F1 team’s simulator room, you’d probably find a SimSteering2 FFB system:
Typical applications of the SimSteering V2 force feedback system include: Race car training simulators, Road car training, Public display simulators (such as static F1 show cars etc), Off-road and military vehicle training. The system is used by many teams participating in race series including F1, GP2, F3, LMP1, LMP2, GT and WTCC.
The wheel features a brushless servo motor that offers ultra smooth and precise force feedback up to 20.5Nm of torque. With the iRacing mode, little setup work is actually required (unless you’re an F1 team!) so if you can stomach the price at around £3,000, this is probably the best DD wheel money can buy.
VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base
Retailing at around £899.00 the new VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base consists of the VRS controller, a 20Nm Small MiGE motor, 3m motor cables, high quality USB cable and AC power cord.
For what you get, the VRS DirectForce Pro is a high-end, competitively-priced 20Nm sim racing DD wheelbase. After receiving strongly positive feedback at the SimRacing Expo earlier this year (driver quotes here), we are excited to bring the VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base to market early 2020.
Stocks are due to hit the shelves later this month; I suspect this will be one of the most popular direct drive MiGE based wheels on the market.
Sim Experience Accuforce
The SimXperience AccuForce is a professional racing simulation steering system with extremely low latency and high frequency digital signal processing. We’ve never tested one at SRC HQ but Accuforce have been around since the very early days of sim racing, so the liklelihood is that this is a great wheel.
The prices is a highly reasonable $699 – a lot of wheelbase for your money. Check out the extensive specs and detail here.
Build your own OSW direct drive sim racing wheel
During my research I came across this video of a self-build OSW DD wheel project using Simucube components. It’s really astonishing that you can build your own wheel with very little electronics engineering expereince. Thanks to Granite devices, the boards, motor and power supplies are available and completely modular:
Here’s the kit list:
|Servo Motor||MiGE 130ST-AM10010|
|Controller Board||Simucube Order Together With Ioni Pro|
|Servo Drive||Ioni Pro (Or HC if you wanna use Large MiGE)|
|Power Supply||MeanWell NDR-480-48 or choose from this list|
|Shaft Wheel Adapter||Ascher Racing 70mm adapter|
Augury H Kit (OSW)
Based on OSW principles, Augury Simulations have their own DD wheelbase:
The H Kit is the SimuCUBE force feebdback controller, coupled with the IONI PROHC digital motor driver. This manages a maximum current load intensity of up to 25A. The power supply unit (PSU) is a Mean Well PSU, much like the one in the video above.
Everything is encased in thick aluminum which really makes it look like a professional piece of kit.