Direct Drive wheels are the choice of serious simulator users, not because they make us faster but because they offer significant gains in tuning detail and therefore immersion.
Before going further it is essential we understand the negatives of Direct Drive ownership. These are as follows:
1. Direct Drive wheels are expensive sums comfortably north of £1000 and this assumes owners already own a suitable steering wheel, sim chassis and PC.
2. DD wheels must be mounted to a very rigid sim chassis. They produce constant feedback vibrations, with sudden curb or impacts potentially reaching 15Nm or more in torque. At best a poor quality sim rig will absorb a good portion of the wheels feedback reducing the value of its potential. Worst case it will help make your sim rig unsalable as bits fall off, crack, bend or even break.
3. The high detail and specifics of use in the tuning menu require a good level of existing knowledge with motorsport simulators.
So, in essence a Direct Drive wheel is not a good choice for first time DIY builds or those on a budget with time constraints without ownership support.
Ok, thats the negative out the way, now why are they so good and what should you do about it when considering options.
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 loosing any feedback. The result, with sufficient time we can fine tune the steering to achieve any level of expected feel.
When I started building simulators, the only choices of Direct Drive where from Leo Bodnar at the top end, Accuforce in the serious home simulator end and OSW (Open Sim Wheel) motors at the work it out for yourself end of things. Now what is interesting is that most OSW DD wheels used controller elements from Granite Devices in Finland through which a global community of very clever sim enthusiasts grew. Granite Devices commercialised the OSW concept and created the Simucube brand. I still use my OSW Simucube 1 to this day and apart from an indistrial look it performs identically to any Simucube 2 I've used.
Both Simucube and Fanatec entered the DD retail market with competitively priced, consumer packaged products in 2018, changing sim racing aspirations overnight. There are a few newer, cheaper suppliers of DD wheels to the market but for high end builds, I need reliable, aesthetically acceptable and supported wheel motors that I know how to set up quickly. However, for any evolving DIY simulator owner these newer alternatives are worth serious consideration.
Having set up and used all the wheels mentioned over the years, one thing stands out… they are all brilliant, once dialled in! Some simulator owners will always argue their choice of brand is the best and I say fair enough, it is choice and yours is the right one because they are all good when tuned well. A VR back to back test of each brand of well set up DD’s will confirm this as fact.
Much like buying a car, the difference between the DD wheel choices is predominantly aesthetic, practical and emotional. I like the Fanatec DD’s only because the wheel eco system allows for a huge choice of options at sensible prices for my existing sim customers. It also makes it more cost effective to move up from a belt drive CSL Elite or V2.5 when the specifics of a DD become practical. Fanatec are also a little easier to tune which is great for customers who begin fine tuning their own set up as encouraged.
In contrast the Simucube has a higher quality design and feel but equally is a slightly more expensive upgrade proposition requiring emulators or expensive new steering wheels to get started. Ultimately any steering wheel can be used on either wheel base, the costly and time consuming part is the transition with Fanatec simply being a tiny bit more practical for most.
It can be argued that the Simucube is slightly easier to use straight out of the box than a Fanatec DD in particular if upgrading from a Clubsport. However, once given the correct drivers and firmware followed by tuning they are the same in what maters… immersion detail.
The final piece of advise I would like to offer relates to the power output of the wheel motor. DD wheels can deliver between 15Nm and 32Nm of peak torque... that is personal injury territory. The more peak torque the wheelbase can deliver the higher the tuning detail that wheel will be able to offer with increased loads. This means on paper and for marketing purposes the big numbers make the best wheel motors. Now to the practicality of these numbers…
…No one runs their 15Nm+ wheel at 100% on all available tuning options, doing so delivers nothing more than a full upper body work out and almost undriveable simulation… so with this knowledge we have to ask ourselves, "how much power do I need". Head room in specification is always nice obviously, so with money no object aim for the sky as we do in our ProBespoke builds. If you are unsure what to do and budget is a factor but you want a great simulator upgrade I would advise aiming at the Fanatec DD1 or Simucube Pro2 Sport and you will not be disappointed, I promise.
Another way of looking at this advice is the knowledge that a badly built or light weight sim chassis will literally shake and wobble, in some cases even jump off the ground with a 15Nm DD wheel running at around 60% of its potential peak torque. If that isn’t enough power, maybe its time to rethink the driving style.
I sincerely hope this short guide on Direct Drive motors has been useful to at least one person entering the brilliant world of Motorsport Simulation.
Now go on... "Send it!"