Featured image: Simtag Hydraulic Pedals
If you’ve been following some of our recent posts, you’ll be up to speed with our view on the best sim steering wheels, wheelbases and frames available on the consumer market. We’ve also gone over how to assemble a rig from scratch, which we covered with a broader look at some of the vital information you need to understand before spending a penny.
Of course, a sim rig isn’t complete without a set of racing pedals, so here I’m going to give a detailed breakdown of what pedal features you need to know about, and what the best pedal choices out there might be when it comes to performance, feeling, and overall quality and design.
Welcome to our sim racing pedal buyer’s guide.
Check out our recommended sim pedals with the links below or read on for more details:
- Fanatec CSL Elite LC
- Fanatec ClubSport V3
- Heusinkveld Sprint
- Heusinkveld Ultimate
- SIMTAG Hydraulic
- HPP – JBV
- STR Pro Pedal Set
How spending a bit more budget on your pedals can yield big benefits
Pedals are, as you might expect, a crucial interface between you and your car’s attitude on the track. Trail braking and good throttle control are the name of the game when it comes to faster lap times. That’s certainly the experience I’ve had over the years; and, with every pedal upgrade I’ve had I’ve found two main issues tend to surface:
- That I have better brake control and can trail into a corner more precisely
- That I can control the car with the throttle more accurately
Generally speaking, you’ll find in “high end” sim racing pedals that the components (and the mechanical design of the units) tend to lend themselves to being able to handle the kind of brake forces you’d expect in a real racing car. They also, critically, have the electronics onboard to measure the input on the throttle, brake and clutch with load cells (check out how excited these guys get about the quality of the load cells they use in their STR Pro pedals). The electronics get quite sensitive the further up the development (and cost!) spectrum you travel, but the benefit of this is that you can notice just how fine your control is over the simulated environment.
What’s a load cell?
A load cell is also known as a “force transducer”. Unlike, say, a potentiometer you can put very high loads through a load cell, measuring the force as an electrical signal that is then amplified in the pedal electronics. The benefit aside from dealing with very high forces is the mechanical aspect of the pedal design can be simpler. A potentiometer would need some sort of leverage reduction to remove the forces (50kg would physically crush a potentiometer!). The drawback is that the electronics required are arguably more complicated; although of course in an engineering sense, the work required to build a good load cell amplifier with a USB adapter is pretty trivial stuff.
None of this is to say that “potentiometer based pedals are bad” because they aren’t. You can do a very nice job of dealing with the pedal signal by using potentiometers too; in fact, the Vishay potentiometers mentioned in the diagram above are considered to be very high quality indeed.
Adjustability to suit your style (or real world race car!)
Something that I really value in a sim pedal set is having adjustability; my Heusinkveld Sprints (below) are separate units, so you can control the spacing from side to side and forwards to backwards. This allows me to set up my pedals in a simlar way to the pedals in my race car:
If you use the heel and toe technique in your driving, this adjustability issue, in particular, can be very important. Most cheaper pedal sets don’t allow for any adjustment of the spacing between the pedals, whereas higher-end pedals can be individually mounted to a pedal plate in whatever configuration you like, so not only can you move them from side to side, but depending on your mounting solution you can even offset them front-to-back and adjust the pedal angle.
Regarding entry-level pedals; I’ve decided to no longer cover the beginner level Logitech G29 and Thrustmaster TCLM pedals. If you’re a beginner and you just want to test the water, or you’re looking for a good starting point, these potentiometer based pedals are OK. You can gather what you need to know by checking out our beginner’s guide to sim racing here.
But if you’re ready to start taking sim racing seriously, read on:
At the very top of the budget range, you tend to find pedals with hydraulic dampers installed. I’ve tested the Heusinkveld Ultimate pedals on several occasions, and as we speak have a pair of SimTrecs GT Pros shipping over at the moment.
What I’ll say about hydraulic damping is this: When it’s done well, it feels awesome. Go and sit in your road car outside and compress the brake pedal. That hydraulic compression is something that elastomer/rubber dampers simply can’t emulate. As you release the pedal, you might find the pedal return is smooth and consistent. That’s a feature of a two-way damper; compression – when you press the pedal down and rebound when you release. A good two-way damper on a brake pedal is unbeatable for control, provided it’s a good quality item. For what it’s worth, Heusinkveld does this very well although I’ve never personally felt the need to upgrade from my Sprints.
Pedal base mounting and flex
For a long time, I ran with an RSEAT RS1 which, was great with Fanatec pedals but the base started to flex under the sort of 25-30kg brake forces I was using with Sprints.
But check out this video and watch for the pedal base moving:
If you think about it, a mount that flexes even a few degrees is only serving to introduce an inconsistency in your brake technique by making the pedal response different every time you brake. This is far from ideal when you’re trying to be a competitive sim racer, where ultra consistent driving is the key to any kind of result.
Eventually, I upgraded to a nice 8020 style rig, which is completely solid. You’re looking for almost no (preferably none!) chassis flex under braking from your sim rig.
One last think I’ll mention is my love affair with Heusinkveld Smartcontrol:
Having a nice graphical user interface for pedal calibration and response curve management is really nice. I’ve written about a technique I use to set up my pedals for improved threshold braking (where you set the maximum pedal force at just under the wheel lock limit or threshold) – having the ability to set this is a must have for me. Notably, the Heusinkveld Ultimate pedals are not SmartControl compatible (yet).
With all of that out of the way, here are some recomendations for you to take a look at:
Fanatec CSL Elite LC
At the cost of around £210 / €229 / $229 is the Fanatec CSL Elite LC pedal set. For not a lot of money, you’ve got a load cell in your brake pedal. I think the LC’s are the cheapest load cell based pedals – this is the set I learned with in my first simulator. You can apply a realistic and strong pressure with the brake, the throttle feel is pretty good too.
When I sold my Fanatec LC pedals they fetched very close to RRP on eBay, so they’re a good starting point for serious sim use and make for a relatively low risk upgrade item. One issue I did have is that they’re difficult to heel and toe with, even if the pedal spacing is adjustable – I think the brake pad is too big, but that’s a personal choice issue.
Fanatec ClubSport V3
The bigger brother pedal set from Fanatec, the ClubSport V3, is currently one of the most popular and widely used on the market, and for good reason. They have all of the full metal pedigree as the earlier Clubsport pedals, but they also have a nice adjustable load cell feature behind the brake pedal. You can buy different dampers and there are a number of mods available for them on the market.
For value for money (normally being sold for £330 new), I think these are a really good starting point too. The V3’s offer enough feel and sensitivity to see you through many years of sim racing.
Heusinkveld Sprint Sim Pedals
On the next rung of the ladder in the sim pedal market, coming in at a considerable £520, the Heusinkveld Sprint Sim Pedals are a perfect choice for the serious hobbyist and eSports professional aspirant.
They have a strong, compact, and highly adjustable design with custom electronics and they’re compatible with the SmartControl software I mentioned earlier. If you’re looking for pedals that help you to be both quick and consistent, these are a great choice. I’ve had mine for coming up to two years. I’ve tried modifying them with hydraulic dampers and really can’t see that this mod improves them.
I think they’re so good they’re just pretty impossible to improve upon.
One modification I have enjoyed (and stuck with) is a rumble kit mod that uses Simhub’s wheel slip and lock filters to give me more information on the grip levels underneath me. You can read the how-to on that kit installation here.
Heusinkveld Ultimate Pedals
At the top end of the market, the Heusinkveld Ultimate Pedals have historically been the go-to for commercial simulators, enthusiasts and the Pro drivers.
These pedals from Heusinkveld Engineering are suitable for high-end professional Motorsport simulators, and their strong, stiff, compact, and durable design allows for an instant and accurate response.
They can be used in the most demanding environments, and they’re capable of simulating the pedal forces as experienced in F1 and LMP-cars. The two way hydraulic dampers in the clutch and the brake are in my opinion delivering the best sim pedal feel you can get in the market at the moment. We recently tested the Ultimates and compared them to the Sprints.
SIMTAG Hydraulic (Ultimate Black Edition)
If money is not an issue, and you won’t settle for anything but the best, you’ll want to grab yourself a set of SIMTAG Hydraulic pedals (below and featured image) that have been fully optimized for strength and weight using their Finite Element Analysis (FEA) process.
Currently considered by many in the sim world as the holy grail of pedals, these bad boys will set you back a cool £1,800.
For that amount, you’ll get race-proven automotive technologies that include a Tilton 600 forged aluminum 3 pedal floor mount assembly modified by SIMTAG, a hydraulic brake pedal with an adjustable pedal ratio which enables the brake pedal to be tuned to driver preference, and throttle position sensors and pressure sensors made by Bosch.
Plus, it also comes with Cosworth dust and moisture-proof connectors for maximum reliability, plug-and-play electronics by Leo Bodnar, a fixed balance bar manufactured by SIMTAG for the precise pedal control, PTFE coated aluminum clevises for increase durability and reduced friction, and oil-impregnated bronze bushing pedal pivots. This is an exceptionally high-end piece of kit; though be warned – you could spend an awful lot less on a pair of Ultimates and get (in our view) pedal feel that is just as good.
HPP – JBV Series Hydraulic Sim Racing Pedals
HPP’s new fully hydraulic transducer pedal system is designed specifically for sim racers, rather than being based on components originally intended for Motorsports. It’s the brake (as usual) that is the most compelling in the set, although it’s plainly obvious that this pedal set is of a new generation of completely custom-designed, fully hydraulic, transducer-based systems.
Rated for 50 million loads, HPP uses an extremely high-quality transducer to monitor hydraulic pressure, instead of a load cell. All of the usual adjustments are available via adjustable pre-load, with interchangeable poly bushes.
If you can get a set of these (they have a 4 to 6 week lead time as they’re custom assembled for each order!) then you’ll own the latest generation pedals available in the market today.
Featured image (top): SIMTAG hydraulic pedals with a modified Tilton 600 series pedal assembly.
SimCraft PRO Sim Racing Pedals – 2 Pedal Set
These built to order racing pedals from SimCraft are based on the Tilton Engineering 600 Series Racing Pedal set that you will find installed in the cockpits of real Touring, Formula and Sports prototype racing cars. Pitched as “advanced sim racing pedals with the developed feel of an actual race car”, the adjustability of the brake (a 100 kg Load Cell and damper unit with adjustable travel and resistance) appeals to drivers who find themselves driving Formula sim racing one day and touring style or GT3 cars the other:
The pedal feel has been developed with real world Motorsport drivers and comes supplied with everything you need to install and go racing.
STR Pro Pedals
These black powder-coated units have a handy Simucube connection variant (the alternative being standard USB) so if you’re a Simucube 2 owner, you can connect these directly into the back of your wheelbase.
Unlike a number of other manufacturers, STR have developed their own load cell amplifier electronics, and given the rack style mounting of the rear connections, they’ve given the design of their pedals a lot of thought. I particularly like that the mounting template matches the Fanatec V3 pedals, STR is aiming squarely at the Fanatec upgrade path, which is smart!
The maximum brake pressure is 200kg, which is well beyond what I’d ever be capable of. However, if you’re a Formula driver in training, 200Kg is actually a good peak. There are 4 Brake spring rates via the 2 springs supplied with the unit. A “True linear output” is made possible with the Mavin load cell they’ve chosen, all bearings are oilite bronze bushes with Lumberg screw connectors on the rear. This is clearly a very professional grade bit of kit, priced at a very reasonable £899.00.