Last updated: December 20th, 2021
If you’ve been following our recent posts as we build your sim racing cockpit, you’ll have had the opportunity to add some great upgrades. Of course, another appealing component that can add an extra layer of immersion to your sim racing experience is a handbrake.
While you do not need a handbrake to play racing sims, having one can provide a much more immersive feeling. If you plan on only playing F1 games, then a handbrake will have limited use. However, let’s say that rally or drifting is your favourite racing discipline. Then it’s vital to consider adding a handbrake to your rig.
Some drivers just love to have extra control with a handbrake, particularly for rallying and drifting. What’s more, your gameplay will feel more authentic and you’ll have more control of the vehicle which will give you better lap / rally stage times. With all this combined, a handbrake becomes a very fun and practical addition.
Some interesting facts to note is that certain shifters can also work as handbrakes by switching the mode. This includes Thrustmaster’s TH8A and TSS shifters. Also, handbrakes do not work on all sim racing games. This is usually due to either compatibility or support issues. It’s a good idea to double-check that what you’re buying is compatible with your simulation software, particularly if there’s a load cell installed.
Sim racing handbrakes: contents
- Fanatec ClubSport V1.5
- Universal USB handbrake
- Heusinkveld Sim Handbrake V2
- Meca Handbrake
- Simtag Hydraulic Simulator Handbrake
- Thrustmaster TSS Sparco Mod+
- Aiologs Hydro Handbrake
- Akina Handbrake
- VNM Handbrake V1
Fanatec ClubSport V1.5
The Fanatec ClubSport V1.5 is a sturdy, all-metal construction with a foam style grip. It has actually been available on Fanatec’s website for a long time which, I suspect is a sign of the quality of the thing. If it isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it! This is a very popular handbrake and, treated with respect, can prove to be very durable.
The handbrake can be set up vertically or horizontally which is a level of customisation that really appeals at this price point. This can help a lot when you want the handbrake to be in an upward position like the set-up of a rally car. One downside is the lack of mounting choices which are not much better than that of the universal handbrakes and will require a similar custom solution to connect it securely to your rig.
In terms of connectivity, everything is fine if you plan on using this handbrake in unison with a Fanatec wheelbase. The ClubSport is compatible with PC, Xbox, and PS4/PS5 (assuming you’re using a Fanatec wheelbase). However, if you want to use another brand of wheelbase and use the Clubsport handbrake as a stand-alone device on a PC, you’ll need to purchase an additional USB cable from Fanatec. Priced at a very appealing $160, the Fanatec ClubSport V1.5 handbrake is a great step up from the entry-level models, but still doesn’t give as much feedback, or provide as much connectivity as some of the higher-priced items further down the list.
Universal USB Handbrake
For a highly budget-friendly suggestion, I recommend checking out a universal handbrake which can easily be found on online marketplaces like Amazon. There’s a good selection of styles, colours, and sizes to choose from, all for less than $100. If you’re trying to save up money to purchase other peripherals, but are also looking for a sim handbrake, then a generic handbrake could be the right choice for you.
How you mount the handbrake to your rig will, of course, depend on which model you choose, but most likely you will need to devise your own custom mounting solution for handbrakes in this category which is fair enough when you consider the price point. One very important thing to note is that these types of handbrakes generally only work on PCs. Having said that, considering the economic price, this lack of compatibility can be forgiven. In general, the overall quality of these devices is not bad, but they cannot compare to other choices on this list.
This type of handbrake is a safe bet when looking for a starter-level item for your set-up. However, if you know you’re planning on creating a top of the range system, perhaps it’s best to keep on reading.
Heusinkveld Sim Handbrake V2
Anyone familiar with the name Heusinkveld will know that the company is heralded for its top-shelf offerings, and the Heusinkveld Sim Handbrake V2 is no different, and in our opinion is probably the best pick of the bunch. It’s only slightly more expensive than the Thrustmaster TSS, but don’t forget that this is a dedicated handbrake only. Still, if you can afford it, then it’s worth making the investment.
This Smartcontrol compatible offering from Heusinkveld uses an upgraded load cell to measure the forces between the real world and the simulated environment; which at the time of development was quite a technically impressive thing to do.
Compatibility wise, this is a PC only device although at least the USB cable is included with the unit. Mounting choices are still not amazing, even at the top end of the scale. It seems to be an area where manufacturers across the board have room for improvement when it comes to sim handbrakes. Still, all those little niggly issues aside, if you want to truly immerse yourself into a game like Dirt Rally, Automobilista, or Richard Burns Rally, then this is the handbrake to get.
Meca is a small manufacturer based in the Czech Republic. They’re actually better known for their Meca Cup1 hydraulic sim racing pedals (in my opinion!). As their pedals get great feedback, so should their 200kg load cell based sim racing handbrake:
The load cell (pictured) is a strain gauge based single point Load Cell with a max load rating of 200kg (item: NA151) which is mated to custom electronics that Meca have designed in house. You can set your own output curves and dead zones using their MECA CONTROL PANEL software, much like you can with the new Heusinkveld handbrake on the Smartcontrol platform. The platform offers adjustable stiffness by swapping out the polyurethane rollers – there are 3 in total supplied with the handbrake.
Simtag Hydraulic Simulator Handbrake
At the very highest end of our options, the Sim Tag hydraulic handbrake features Motorsport componentry in order to simulate the feeling of applying a real handbrake, in a real racing car. Featuring a Wilwood master and slave cylinder, as well as stainless steel flexible brake lines with industry quality brake fittings.
Two types of bushes are included in the package which is designed to change the stiffness of the handbrake lever action. The red bushes are stronger and stiffer, while the black bushes are softer and lighter. This makes the hydraulic action on the handbrake something you can tune to feel the same as your car, or track car!
Thrustmaster TSS Sparco Mod+
The Thrustmaster TSS Sparco Mod+, like the TH8A, is a multi-purpose device. However, this model offers an alternative set up, capable of being a sequential shifter or an analogue handbrake. The build quality and overall feeling of this piece of equipment are in a much higher class. Working with Sparco, Thrustmaster released the TSS; a close replica of actual Sparco gear you might find in a real race car.
Just like its little brother, this handbrake works with most sim racing titles on PC, Xbox One, and PS4. On a PC it can be used as a standalone product with the correct cable which is included in the box. A switch on the side of the case activates the shifter.
Aiologs Hydro Handbrake
Check out this compact analogue sim racing handbrake which connects via USB to your PC. It features non-linear force using hydraulic damping to accurately replicate the real-world feel a Motorsport spec handbrake would:
It’s frankly, quite a work of art (see the video at the top of this article!), and the hydraulic feature at this price point makes it an extremely compelling rig upgrade.
Akina’s 3Drap series handbrake is one of the “must-haves” currently touted in the sim racing community. With some enthusiastic backers, it’d be a shame not to include this one:
The unit, made in Italy, designed by 3Drap is manufactured in laster cut brushed steel. It has an “Alcantara-like” stitched seam handle.
There’s a proprietory “DMF system” which allows the user to adjust the feeling of the handbrake, from “hydraulic-like” behaviour to “conventional-like” which they feel makes this handbrake the better choice for drifting in the sim.
VNM Handbrake V1
One of the newer entrants to the sim racing handbrake space is this very tidy offering from VNM:
In terms of a high-end build, the V1 from VNMK is definitely up there. With a generous aluminum CNC machined chassis, this handbrake features an adjustable, pre-load sprung elastomer cell and a MAVIN 100kg load cell. These units are designed to feel “like the real thing” and with and an STM32 16-bit ADC board to interpret the load cell inputs, you can really finesse your handbrake inputs on the rally stage.