Direct drive wheels. In the sim racing world, this phrased term is universally associated with the best quality and highest level of experience that anyone can have in the genre. If cost is of no concern (before the CSL DD), the go-to option of all sim racing enthusiasts will always be direct drive wheels.
Fundamentally, there are three very important reasons for their universality. These are really just its basic advantages, but it helps us understand why they are almost always technologically preferred in sim racing.
Direct Drive Wheels are Much More Powerful (Traditionally)
Direct drive wheels make use of one big motor connected directly to provide force feedback for the entire system. Inherently, this makes it much more powerful than gear or belt drive wheels. These older types of sim racing wheels use considerably smaller motors, and they simply compensate with gear systems or belt configurations in order to amp up the (minimum) force feedback necessary to simulate the translation of vehicle movement.
Needless to say, the larger motor creates high levels of direct torque in the system. A typical direct drive wheel can have at least five times or as much as ten times more force feedback torque than its technologically inferior counterparts. This alone creates the additional sensation of weight and resistance to the sim racing system.
- Logitech G920 (Gear Drive Wheel) = 2 Nm (estimate).
- Thrustmaster T300 RS (Belt Drive Wheel) = 4 Nm (estimate).
- Fanatec Podium DD1 (Direct Drive Wheel) = 20 Nm.
Along with the raw weight of the motor itself, direct drive wheels are the perfect analog for recreating the conditions of real-life driving in a way that can never be replicated by older types of wheels.
The most obvious drawback of such a configuration is, of course, cost. The larger base motor is often several times more expensive than those used in gear or belt drive systems. Well, except for the Fanatec CSL DD and Moza R9, which are budget direct drive wheels that currently compete toe-to-toe with mainstream belt drive wheels, and are torque-specced at 5-8 Nm and 9 Nm, respectively. Here’s a comparison between this range of torques using the CSL DD wheel — it’s not as big as you might have thought.
Direct Drive Wheels Have Very Accurate Force Feedback
The wide range of torque, along with the fact that the motor is directly connected to a shaft that also uses the rim, makes it possible for direct drive wheels to replicate much, much more accurate force feedback than any of its predecessors. With correct software configuration, the motion of the vehicle in the game is accurately translated into the wheels, with negligible loss of detail (if there’s even any), to whatever or wherever it is that the vehicle is running on in-game.
Generally, the main appreciable benefit of very high force feedback accuracy is a better-simulated driving experience. That being said, it also provides an additional sense of tactile feedback that can be used to play the game even more precisely potentially.
Regardless of how players benefit from direct drive wheels, the end result is that they can be used in a wide variety of sim racing titles and still be able to replicate the sensation of driving various vehicle configurations without feeling off. Again, with the certain caveat of being able to properly configure the game to provide the information that the direct drive wheel would “translate”.
Direct Drive Wheels Require Minimal Maintenance
Perhaps more conveniently, direct drive wheels are also inherently less prone to premature failures and require much less maintenance. It’s just a single huge motor after all, with no additional moving parts like interconnected cogs or turning belts (of different material compositions) that would add complexity and points of failure to its overall internal system.
This is especially true when compared to the slightly more premium belt drive wheels. These are often considered as the stepping stone tier before direct drive wheels. However, despite being technologically superior to gear drive wheels, belt drive wheels are inherently more prone to failure since the rolling belt system wears and stretches over time.
Continued use also results in the belt’s grip becoming less and less accurate ever so slightly, diminishing the already inferior detail retention performance that it has over direct drive wheels even further.
As for direct drive wheels, such things are of no concern at all. The only real problem of a single-motor system (aside from premature manufacturing errors) is dust buildup, which is not really even an issue given how direct drive wheels are generally designed.
So long as no other issues such as overheating or overvolting (or even plain simple physical shock) are introduced, direct drive wheels generally require no maintenance for very long periods.