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Direct Drive vs Belt drive vs Gear drive gaming steering wheels

Sim racing is a hobby that offers many options to the player in terms of upgrades to get faster and these can get quite expensive, pretty quickly. The sheer number of driving options out there is exhausting to even look at — not to mention the sims.

However, one of the more important aspects of the sim racing experience are the wheels, which can be narrowed down to three main types: Belt drive, Gear drive and Direct drive.

All three have their own pros and cons and more importantly, price tags. In this article, we’re going to take a look at three parameters — pricing, build quality and force feedback — and find out which wheel is the best.

Also read: 7 ways to get faster in Sim racing

Pricing

Cost is always a leading factor in terms of getting into any new hobby, let alone sim racing.

Direct Drive vs Belt drive vs Gear drive gaming steering wheels
The T300 is a pretty good gear driven wheel. Photo by Nathan Robin from Flickr

At the bottom of the price spectrum are gear drive wheels. They come in around $250-300 for a good setup. Belt wheels are slightly expensive at around $400-500 and a direct drive set up can cost as much as an old car with just the wheelbase starting at around $1500. 

In terms of price to performance ratio, gear and belt drive are quite similar. Direct drive wheels, however, are on a different spectrum altogether. 

Build Quality

You essentially get what you pay for, which is the case for most gadgets. Gear and belt drive wheels are rather simple in terms of construction and are mostly plastic. You might find bits and pieces of metal or other premium materials here and there.

Direct Drive vs Belt drive vs Gear drive gaming steering wheels
My makeshift G29 setup

Direct drive? You get an all-metal industrial construction where everything from the wheelbase to the buttons on the steering wheel is top-notch. Oh, and you get to have interchangeable wheels too. 

Force Feedback (FFB)

The most important factor why you would want to invest in a better wheel and much like the two parameters discussed above — you get what you pay for. 

Belt drive and gear drive wheels use a relatively smaller motor, which is connected to the wheel using a belt or gear respectively. Now, this has its own pros and cons.

While having a smaller motor helps keep costs down, transferring the torque to the wheel is a bit of a hassle. On gear drive wheels, the FFB might be a bit jerky and you might be able to feel the gear’s notches as you turn the wheel around.

On belt drive systems, a belt is used instead of gears. This means that the FFB is a lot smoother as the belt dampens it out. As a result, the FFB gets a bit weak and you might miss out on some minor details. 

Direct Drive vs Belt drive vs Gear drive gaming steering wheels
Direct Drive are the best wheels you’ll find, period

Direct drive wheels, as the name suggests, have a motor directly hooked up to the wheel rim. This means that a bigger motor is needed and more often than not, these motors are really big.

To put things in perspective, a direct drive wheel can produce a peak torque of 30Nm while a G29 barely reaches 3.

Also read: Sim racing on a budget: Viable or not?

Which one is the best for your SIM racing needs?

The answer is really pretty straight forward here, if you’re starting out in Sim racing, get either a belt or gear drive wheel and you’ll be good to go. There are really good options that provide good performance without breaking the bank. 

Then, once you’re on the inside and can afford to, step up to a direct drive wheel. That’s pretty much the way to go when considering sim racing equipment. 

Here are our suggestions for all three types if you’re looking for some help

  • Gear Drive: Logitech G29 (personally owned, tried and tested; it’s amazing). Costs around $300 but you can get it for as low as 150
  • Belt Drive: Thrustmaster T300. A little bit more expensive than the G29 but one of the best belt drive options. Base price is around $400.
  • Direct Drive: Fanatec Podium DD1. Pricing generally depends on a bunch of factors so it’s a bit hard to put a number on it; however, it should cost you around $1,711 for the wheelbase.

Also read: Logitech G29 vs Thrustmaster Ferrari Red Legend Edition

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