Direct Drive Wheels Explained: Complete 2023 Buyers Guide
Direct drive wheel bases are often seen as the best racing wheels in the world of sim racing. In this guide I'll run through everything to know about direct drive wheel bases.
What is a direct drive wheel?
Direct drive racing wheels are often seen as the pinnacle of sim racing. They utilise a large motor that is “directly” connected to the motor shaft, and in turn the steering wheel. This is where the name direct drive comes from.
In comparison, most sim racing wheels on the market feature either gear driven or belt driven technology. These types of racing wheels utilise a much smaller motor which in turn keeps costs down. They then amplify the forces that the motor generates by using gears and belts.
The problem with gear and belt driven racing wheels is that you can lose some of the detail and fidelity as you transmit the force feedback data from the small motor to the motor shaft. This creates force feedback which feels a little washy and clunky at times. Also, due to the smaller motors, gear and belt driven racing wheels produce much less power.
Direct drive racing wheels fix this by having a much more powerful motor which creates much stronger forces. The force feedback is then sent straight through the motor shaft and into your hands. This means there is very little loss of detail.
Why are direct drive wheels so good?
Direct drive racing wheels are so much better than gear and belt alternatives thanks to their larger motor and the way it is connected to your steering wheel.
By using high power motors, a direct drive wheel base can produce much stronger forces, sometimes up to 30Nm of torque. This is enough to give you an extreme workout and can be too powerful for some.
By using a strong and sturdy motor shaft that is linked to the motor at one end, and your steering wheel at the other, you feel all of the detail immediately as it’s generated by the motor.
There is almost no loss of detail within the force feedback as it is generated and transmitted to you via the motor shaft.
In comparison, gear and belt-driven wheels lose force feedback detail easily, as it is often sent via a few gears or belts, or sometimes both.
How much are direct drive wheels?
Due to the much larger motor that is inside direct drive racing wheels, the construction has to be much stronger. This means more expensive materials to build the wheel from, as well as an increased cost of the larger motor.
This means that direct drive wheels are almost always more expensive than belt and gear driven racing wheels.
Direct drive wheels often reach up to $/€/£1000 and some can exceed this by a long way. The strongest and most professional direct drive wheels can reach prices up to $/€/£3000. For example, the LeoBodnar SimSteering2 which is a professional level direct drive wheel costs around £2,940.00.
The best direct drive wheels
The direct drive wheel base market is a busy one, with a lot of products to choose from. Below are some of the best direct drive racing wheels available to buy today. I’ve listed out a couple of pros for each wheel base, along with its power and price.
- One of the most affordable direct drive wheels available
- Great performance for relatively little cost
- 8Nm of torque
- From €349.95
- Fanatec’s flagship and most powerful wheel base
- 20Nm of torque for DD1
- 25Nm of torque for DD2
- From €1,199.95
- Comes in three forms, Sport, Pro and Ultimate with varying levels of power
- Great performance for the price range
- Sport has 17Nm of torque | Pro has 25Nm | Ultimate has 32Nm
- From £863.00
- Professional use direct drive wheel base
- Three models with different power outputs
- From 16Nm of torque up to 26Nm
- From £2,940.00
SimXperience AccuForce V2
- More affordable than other wheel bases
- Pro model comes with a steering wheel
- 13Nm of torque
- From $799.00
- Alpha Mini version available at a lower price
- Alpha Mini has 10Nm of torque
- Alpha has 15Nm of torque
- From £895.00
VRS DirectForce Pro Wheel Base
- Well priced for the amount of power generated
- 20Nm of torque
- From $799 / €899
Are direct drive wheels console compatible?
For a long time, direct drive racing wheels could only be used if you sim raced on a PC. They simply weren’t compatible with any consoles. This is mainly because the majority of professional sim racing is done on PCs due to the most hardcore sim racing games being developed specifically for PC.
The most popular sim racing games include titles such as iRacing, rFactor 2 and Automobilista 2. These are titles that are simply never released on consoles.
If you do want to access a direct drive racing wheel on a games console such as the Xbox Series X|S and PS5, then there are some options available.
Fanatec is currently the only manufacturer to create direct drive wheel bases for both the Xbox and PS4/PS5 console.
They offer a range of performance from lower performing, more cost-effective models like the CSL DD and GT DD Pro. Through to much stronger and more expensive wheels such as the DD1 and DD2.
All of the Fanatec direct drive wheels have limited console compatibility and you will often find they work on some consoles but not others. So ensure you purchase the correct wheel base for your console. Below is a breakdown of Fanatec’s current console compatibility with their direct drive wheels.
- Fanatec CSL DD – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC compatible
- Fanatec GT DD Pro – PS4, PS5, PC compatible
- Fanatec DD1 – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC compatible
- Fanatec DD2 – Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC compatible
- Fanatec Podium F1 – PS4, PS5, PC compatible
Read our guide to find out if the DD1 or DD2 is the better direct drive wheel.
How realistic is a direct drive wheel?
Lower cost gear and belt driven racing wheels break the immersion of racing a real-world race car due to the lack of force feedback detail. Gear-driven wheels in particular also suffer from grinding and gear popping which feels extremely unnatural.
In comparison, a direct drive wheel doesn’t suffer from any unnatural feeling such as grinding or clunking. Instead, direct drive wheel bases can be and should be extremely smooth to operate.
This smoothness of the force feedback really adds to the immersion of driving a real-world race car. The strength of the force feedback can also really sell the fact that you should feel like you’re driving a car.
With most direct drive wheels you will feel much more refined and subtle details in both the road surface and how your car is behaving. You should feel every bump and imperfection in the surface, and be able to feel when your car is losing grip and about to break traction.
In this regard, a direct drive wheel gives you the most realistic driving experience possible from a racing wheel.
Is a direct drive wheel worth the money?
Only you will be able to answer the question of whether a direct drive wheel is worth its price tag. Direct drive wheel bases are generally much more expensive than other products. This makes them a much more considered purchase.
The introduction of the Fanatec CSL DD and GT DD Pro has changed this landscape slightly as these two direct drive wheels are much cheaper.
The CSL DD wheel is priced from just $/€349.95 which is the same price as many racing wheels using inferior gear and belt technology. In this instance, anyone looking to upgrade from a budget racing wheel to direct drive should seriously consider the CSL DD and GT DD Pro from Fanatec.
When it comes to the more powerful direct drive racing wheels, you really need to consider how often you will use them, and how much enjoyment you get from sim racing. If the answer to both of those questions is “a lot”, then an expensive direct drive wheel base could be worth investing in.
When buying a direct drive wheel base ensure you keep in mind the platform or console you will be racing on. If you are racing on a console such as the Xbox Series X|S or PS5 then ensure you purchase a wheel base that is compatible.
Also, consider the peripherals you will be using with your direct drive wheel. Most direct drive wheel bases that are PC compatible can be used with most other sim racing peripherals such as pedals and shifters.
You do need to ensure that which ever steering wheel rim you are planning on using can be connected to your direct drive wheel base of choice.
The Best F1 23 Racing WheelsView the very best racing wheels for F1 23 on Xbox, PC & PS5. View the best wheels
Can you use any steering wheel with a direct drive wheel base?
Each direct drive wheel base will have its own compatibility requirements. Some can be used with almost any steering wheel, while others such as Fanatec wheel bases can only be used with another Fanatec product.
Check with the manufacturer that a compatible quick-release is available to pair your steering wheel of choice with your wheel base of choice.
Direct drive vs gear vs belt racing wheels
As mentioned above, gear and belt driven racing wheels are generally always inferior to direct drive wheel bases.
We have written a comprehensive guide comparing direct drive vs gear driven vs belt driven wheels.
- Low cost
- Gears can be felt grinding together sometimes
- Under strain or quick direction change the gears can pop causing harsh movements through the steering wheel
- Low cost
- Smoother than gear driven wheels
- Force feedback detail can be lost while being moved from the motor through the belts
- Can feel wishy-washy and muddy
Direct drive wheels
- More expensive
- No loss of force feedback detail
- Much more powerful motors
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Frequently Asked Questions
Are direct drive wheels better than gear or belt wheels?
Generally yes. Gear and belt driven wheels both have disadvantages such as loss of detail, clunking and weak power. Direct drive wheels don’t suffer from this, and have much better force feedback.
Are direct drive wheels console compatible?
Some direct drive wheels, such as those from Fanatec are compatible with Xbox and PS4/PS5 consoles.
How does a direct drive wheel work?
A direct drive wheel works by connecting a large motor directly to the motor shaft, which in turn is directly connected to your steering wheel. This gives true 1:1 performance.
Why are direct drive wheels better?
Direct drive wheels are better because of their increased power generation and increased force feedback detail.
Why are direct drive wheels so expensive?
Direct drive wheels produce much stronger forces than belt and gear driven wheels. This means they need to be constructed from stronger materials, which in turn increases the cost.