Featured image: Simtag Hydrualic Pedals
If you’ve been following my recent posts, you’ll be up to speed with some of the best sim racing wheels 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:
- Beginner: Logitech G29/G920 (view)
- Beginner: Thrustmaster T-LCM (view)
- Intermediate: Fanatec CSL Elite LC (view)
- Intermediate: Fanatec ClubSport V3 (view)
- Advanced: Heusinkveld Sprint Sim Pedals (view)
- Advanced: Heusinkveld Ultimate Pedals (view)
- Advanced: HPP – JBV Series Hydraulic Sim Racing Pedals (view)
Depending on who you talk to, some sim racers will rank pedals as the most crucial component you’ll need to immerse yourself into a realistic driving experience. In contrast, others contend that the wheel and wheelbase are where you should invest the most significant chunk of your cash.
Either way, everyone will agree that a good set of pedals will ultimately improve your overall experience and help to improve your lap times, which is essentially the aim of the game.
The goal of this article is not to steer you towards any particular product, but rather to arm you with the right knowledge so that you can apply it during your research and make sure that you’re asking the right questions about the equipment
It’s important to understand that regardless of how much money you spend, at this point, no set of sim racing pedals is perfect. That’s to say that no set of pedals currently on the market can reproduce the feeling of things like pedal shudder as a result of ABS activating, or the textured feel of brake pads interfacing with a spinning rotor.
Some sim racers have gone as far as to hook up their pedals to a caliper and brake rotor, to try to replicate the feeling of fluid moving throughout the system.
There’re all sorts of things that you can do to achieve a more authentic feel, but certain things are not possible at the moment. This includes all the things that happen in a real-life race car, such as a sense of the effect of brake fade due to changing fluid viscosity relative to temperature or tyre under rotation leading to more meaningful brake modulation approaching a corner.
Some tricks that manufacturers use, such as vibration motors on the pedals or the implementation of hydraulic dampeners, can certainly provide some valuable feedback.
However, there is a flip side to this because generally speaking, a lot of the variables that exist in real life that impact a car’s braking capacity might vary around a racetrack, such as different types of road surfaces, oil spills, or chassis and firewall flex.
All these sorts of things don’t tend to have as big of an impact in the sim world as they do in the real world. This does compensate to an extent, but each game handles these sorts of variables differently. Therefore, I tend to find that braking consistency is a little bit easier to achieve in the sim world than in the real world, simply because there’re fewer variables at play.
However, the gap is starting to close, and we saw a big step forward recently with Assetto Corsa Competizione, for example, with the implementation of chassis flex. You can expect that things will continue to improve in that sense as sim technology becomes more advanced.
At present, there’re four main types of pedals available on the market; potentiometer based, hall effect sensor-based, load cells or hydraulic pressure transducers. If you’re wondering what all that technical gobbledygook means, don’t worry. I’ll go into more detail later, but fundamentally, the difference between an expensive set and a cheap set of pedals besides build quality being the overall feel and response of the brake in particular.
Hence in this article, I’ll be giving more preference to the brakes’ feeling compared with the clutch and accelerator.
The brake pedal in a real car generates an increasing amount of resistance against your foot as you push it down. The harder you want to brake, the more force you have to apply. In a racing car, drivers use a lot more force under braking than a road car. This area is where most people will feel the biggest difference between pedal sets.
Cheaper pedals tend to have a more consistent feel throughout the majority of the pedal stroke.
They only really stiffen up right at the very end of the range of travel when you reach the bump stop, which, as you can probably guess, makes it a lot more challenging to establish muscle memory. As they tend to use cheaper materials in construction, they might not withstand the same pedal loads that better made sets might endure. With cheaper brakes, you find yourself having to teach your brain to move your ankle to a specific position to apply maximum braking force without locking up rather than using a consistent amount of force. For a racing driver who drives by feel based on the feedback from the car, this is not a good way to drive.
Since physical force provides a physical point of reference, it’s much easier to train your brain this way. This is why many experienced sim racers will tell you that a better-quality pedal set is one of the largest contributing factors to faster and more consistent lap times.
Typically, you’ll find cheaper pedals will use a potentiometer for all three pedals, whereas more expensive ones will use either potentiometers or hall-effect sensors for the throttle and clutch, and a load cell for the brakes. Another point worth mentioning is that real-life clutch pedals often get lighter towards the end of their travel. When you’re pushing the clutch, you can feel it gets a little bit lighter towards the end, right where the friction point is.
Many sim pedals simulate this by using a regressive spring system to allow you to adjust the effort, travel, and feel.
One thing that’s often overlooked is the horizontal spacing between the pedals themselves:
If you do a lot of heel and toe driving, this 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 should you wish to do so.
Speaking of mounting solutions, having a solid base for your pedals that won’t slide around on the floor, flex, or move relative to your chair is absolutely essential, so make sure that you’ve got this sorted first and foremost. The heavier the pedals, the more of an issue this is going to be. Access for servicing is also a useful feature in a sim rig too:
The last major consideration I’d like to mention before getting to my pedal choices relates to the different software and ecosystems available depending on what brand you opt for. Many manufacturers such as Thrustmaster, Logitech, and Fanatec all have their own ecosystems which allow you to connect all of your peripheral components such as your pedals, shifter, handbrake, etc., all through your PC via a single USB connection. This has a couple of distinct advantages.
Firstly, it allows you to make fine-tuning adjustments to things like your braking force through a single software package, and in the case of Fanatec for example, you can even adjust your settings on the wheel itself without having to open up any software. The second advantage is in reducing the number of physical USB connections required, and this is quite important for a number of different reasons. It’s quite easy even with today’s hardware to overwhelm the USB drivers on your PC and start experiencing random interruptions as a result, plus some older sim titles don’t play well with multiple input devices plugged in and it can be a real hassle to get them working if they work at all.
I’m not saying that a universal ecosystem is required, but they are certainly quite useful and will save you a lot of time.
Entry Level Pedals
A potentiometer is essentially a position sensor. It uses variable resistance to measure the position of the pedal and this is interpreted by the game as a braking force. While manufacturers are getting increasingly smarter with the types of springs and dampers that they use to make the pedals feel more realistic, the bottom line is that in the real world, the brake pressure in a car is relative to the amount of force that you’re physically putting on the pedal, not the brake pedal’s position.
As potentiometers rely on a mechanically moving dial, this also introduces the opportunity
for complete or intermittent failure, as well as variations in sensitivity over time as dust inevitably
finds its way into the spaces around the sensor.
You might have noticed that beginner-level pedals are often sold in a bundle along with other racing hardware, and this is perfectly fine if you’re just starting out. The Logitech G29 and G920 wheels both come with pressure-sensitive pedals that include an accelerator, brake, and clutch, so this combo package would suit a novice sim racer looking for a budget option.
However, if you want something with a bit more bite, then freebie pedals won’t do the job. You’ll want to try something like the T-LCM Pedals from Thrustmaster, which are available for a reasonable £190.
Plus, these pedals incorporate a load cell force sensor on the brake.
The strength and build quality of these pedals allow you to put your foot down with confidence when they’re mounted properly, and in our view they’re a significant step above the Logitech equivalent.
Fanatec CSL Elite LC
Moving up the ladder a little more at the cost of £210 is the Fanatec CSL Elite LC pedal set. With these pedals, the proprietary load cell is integrated directly into the pedal arm and measures the pressure on the pedal arm itself. You can apply a realistic and strong pressure and precisely control the brake with muscle tension, much like in a real car.
One of the best features about all of the Entry Level Pedals I mentioned is that they are all
compatible across PS4, Xbox One, and PC, and are all basically plug-and-play straight out of the
box. Plus, they all hold their value well when you decide it’s time to upgrade and you want to sell
them on eBay.
Intermediate Level Pedals
Hall-effect sensors essentially achieve the same result as a potentiometer but they work by measuring the distance between a magnet and the sensor itself which is then converted into an electrical signal and interpreted by the game as a braking force.
While this is still measuring the physical position of the pedal rather than brake pressure, it does have a significant advantage of not relying on mechanically moving parts which greatly reduces the opportunity for failure.
Fanatec ClubSport V3
Another great pedal set from Fanatec, the ClubSport V3, is 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.
They are great value for money, normally being sold for £330 new, and offer enough feel and sensitivity to see you through many years of sim racing.
Heusinkveld Sprint Sim Pedals
At the top end of the Intermediate Level Pedal market, coming in at a considerable £520, the Heusinkveld Sprint Sim Pedals are a perfect choice for both casual sim racers as well as eSports professionals.
They have a strong, compact, and highly adjustable design with custom electronics and powerful ‘SmartControl’ software. If you’re looking for pedals that help you to be both quick and consistent, these are a great choice.
Advanced Level Sim Pedals
A load cell is fundamentally different in how it operates when compared with the previous types. It uses a transducer to convert physical load or pressure into an electrical signal which can be interpreted by the game as a braking force. This works in a similar manner as the way braking force is applied to a pedal in a real car, and boosted through the hydraulic booster system then applied to the brake pads.
So, all other things being equal, a load cell brake pedal is going to do a better job at producing a more lifelike braking performance in terms of how the force is related into the sim. However – don’t be fooled into thinking that just because a set of pedals has a load cell it automatically means they’re going to feel great!
“Load cell” has become a bit of a marketing buzzword in recent times and just throwing a load cell into an otherwise entry-level pedal set isn’t going to magically transform them, and in actual fact, putting a load cell into a cheap set of pedals would more than likely make them feel worse due to the lack of mechanical resistance fighting against you.
One important thing to understand is that load cells do have a physical limit in terms of their measurement range, and you usually see this advertised as a weight such as 90 kg. This means that the sensor will be maxed out at a pressure of 90 kg of force applied and pushing beyond that limit won’t result in harder braking. The more you spend on your pedals the higher this limit tends to be.
Load cells, potentiometers, and hall-effect sensors aside, higher-end pedals will generally provide a more progressive feel just like in a real car. They do this with either metal, foam, or elastomer springs, or a combination of different types with different compression ratings as you begin to push the pedal down.
Heusinkveld Ultimate Pedals
At the top end of the market, the Heusinkveld Ultimate Pedals are a fantastic choice for sim enthusiasts. When these pedals are mounted on an aluminium frame for maximum rigidity and strength, you might be mistaken for thinking you were driving in a real-life racing car.
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. You can read more about our experience with the Ultimates here.
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.