close up of cube controls paddle shift

How to choose the best sim racing wheel for you and your budget 2

I’ve been a bit of a connoisseur of sim racing wheels for some years now. The rim that delivers that all-important force feedback is a connection between you and the sim racing universe. Owning a steering wheel that looks the part and feels right is very much part of the joy that is sim racing. Lots of sim racers like to collect them too. I’ve seen people post pictures of their shelves with as many as 10 different rims on display!

But if you don’t want to spend many thousands of euros on a huge wheel collection, how do you choose? Today I’m going to write a guide to choose the best sim racing wheel for your simulator.

Hopefully, with this guide, you’ll find something that you love driving with, the first time around.

close up of cube controls paddle shift
Close up of the paddle shifter on a Cube Controls Formula Sport

The anatomy of a sim steering wheel

As a beginner, you might not know where the wheelbase ends and the sim racing wheel begins, after all, we’re all learning and it’s a very powerful thing to understand fully the product you’re shopping around for. So I’ll do my best to explain and bring you up to speed.

Style

What sort of racing would you like to spend most of your time doing? Naturally, Formula racing is a bit of a no-brainer, if you want to mimic the cockpit of an F3 car then a formula-style rim would make sense.

Similarly, if you’re interested in touring cars and GT racing, a GT-style rim would be more sensible. Or you could try a more hybrid style wheel, for example, the Cube Controls GT-X.

Cube Controls GT Pro OMP sim racing wheel
Cube Controls OMP Pro GT Style Sim Steering Wheel

A “GT Style” sim racing wheel tends to comprise of a few different parts:

  • Buttons / Button Box
  • Steering wheel (rim)
  • Paddles / Clutch
  • QR (quick release) hub and hub adapter

A “Formula” or F1 style rim tends to have the button box integrated with grips, buttons on the faceplate, and the QR hub and adapter on the back.

Custom RSR GTE wheel, OMP GT Pro Wheel, Cube Controls Formula Sport
Clockwise left: Custom RSR GTE wheel, OMP GT Pro Wheel, Cube Controls Formula Sport

Complexity

You can just mount a rim straight onto a hub with no button box if you like although this is quite an unusual thing to do! Because most drivers like some control over their software during a race, assignable buttons and rotaries are the way forward.

If you’re new to sim racing, you might not think you need much more than paddles. But, your wheel can be a very powerful game controller.

Close up: Funky switch in anodised blue aluminium with a backlit momentary push button, thumb rotary and standard rotary for TC

With every steering wheel I use I look to assign a bare minimum of the following functions:

  • Enter / Exit Car (momentary push button)
  • Brake bias (rotary)
  • ABS (rotary)
  • Pit limiter (momentary button)
  • Ignition on/off (toggle switch if available)
  • Engine stop/start (toggle switch if available)
  • Headlight flash (momentary push button)
  • Black box next / previous (rotary or funky switch)
  • Select control in black box (rotary or funky switch)
  • Increment / Decrement values (rotary or 2 x momentary buttons)

iRacing is the only simulator I’m currently using and, for the most part, the functions above are easily mapped to any Cube Controls, Fanatec, or Ascher Racing wheel.

If you’re racing, pit limiter and the ability to adjust settings in your black box and your brake bias are somewhat critical, although there are other ways to control iRacing with macros on your keyboard, a button box, or a stream deck.

Compatibility

Starting with Fanatec, the usual hard and fast rule is Fanatec wheels on Fanatec wheelbases only. This isn’t entirely true, of course as you can use the Fanatec Podium Hub or the equivalent unit from Sim Racing Machines to mount practically any wheel rim to your wheelbase.

I must say though, Fanatec is invested in keeping wheel compatibility limited to their own wheels, and mounting say, a Cube Controls wheel to a Fanatec wheelbase is a little bit cumbersome.

Cube Controls wheel mounted on a Fanatec Podium Hub
A Cube Controls wheel mounted on a Fanatec Podium Hub adds a lot of hub length!

This route is not impossible, but sub-optimal. You lose the ability to modify the wheelbase settings via the steering wheel which can be frustrating.

In any case, the higher-end wheels from Fanatec are very high quality, especially the F1 LTD edition range which, if you can get one on eBay, I recommend for Fanatec wheelbase owners.

I got to a point where I wanted to explore different wheel options and found Fanatec was limiting that choice. Which is one of the reasons why I found myself in the Simucube universe. With my Simucube I have the option to mount pretty much any sim steering wheel to the SQR hub, provided the hub adapter is 50 or 70mm PCD compatible.

rear of wheel with hub adapter, BG Racing hub extension, SQR hub
Left to right: rear of the wheel with hub adapter, BG Racing hub extension, SQR hub

In my guide to QR hubs, you’ll learn all about PCD measurements and how to match a hub adapter to a QR hub compatible with your wheelbase. Frankly, it’s very simple. You can mount almost anything to a Simucube using their SQR or QRX hub.

Rather usefully, Cube Controls wheels come with a hub adapter fitted to the back of the wheel. They’re pre-drilled for either 50mm PCD or 70mm PCD. Half of the holes are threaded which makes fitment pretty simple.

If you’d like a hub extension like the image above, just check the PCD measurements are correct – the item pictured is a 70mm PCD extension.

Wireless or Wired?

Simucube has a feature called Wireless Wheel Technology. It’s basically very similar to Bluetooth, although the signal is encrypted meaning you have to own a Simucube to take advantage of the compatible Wireless wheels.

At G-Performance, several of our cube Controls wheels in stock have a wireless version, as do the Ascher Racing wheels, denoted by “SC” in the product code.

Wireless is convenient as you don’t need the USB cable! But it comes with a few minor limitations too – namely, that a Wireless wheel isn’t USB compatible as a PC game controller so, it will only work on your Simucube.

cube controls formula sport

The Wireless versions have a hard limit for buttons and paddles too – so you won’t see an analogue clutch on a Wireless wheel and you might have fewer buttons. But I do like Wireless and own a Cube Controls Formula Sport Wireless for the days when I feel like a blast around in the F3 car.

Wheel Display

More advanced wheels like the Cube Controls Formula CSX 2 which has a colourful 4.3″ display screen configured with Ultimate Gametech Manager compatible.

Fully custom 911 RSR sim steering wheel by VPG
Fully custom 911 RSR sim steering wheel by VPG

A lot of Custom sim racing wheels have screens that run in Simhub, like my custom RSR wheel by VPG. Having the data right in front of you, particularly the lap delta, best lap time, position, shift and rpm lights – these are all features that really get you immersed into the simulated environment.

Personally, I’m a big fan of an F1 style display! But there are other options if a screen stretches your budget too far – you can set up a mobile phone to create a dashboard with Simhub or buy a separate screen to mount on your wheelbase.

What does a high-end wheel feel like?

When you’re buying a wheel, you’ll want that wheel to “feel” right. But what does feel actually mean?

The first thing you notice when you’re holding a high-quality item in your hands is the weight of the rim and its overall stiffness. Every time I pick up my OMP GT Pro from Cube Controls, I’m surprised by its weightiness and how solid the rim feels.

Of course, Cube Controls are using a real steering wheel rim that I could remove from the button box and fit to a real racing car – it is entirely the same thing!

If you inspect the wheel, especially around the back you’ll always find that nicely made wheels are completely sealed in a properly machined Aluminium chassis.

Behind a Fanatec Formula Clubsport F1 wheel
Behind a Fanatec Formula Clubsport F1 wheel – this is a brilliant budget wheel but makes more use of plastics and cheaper manufacturing processes

Less expensive items tend to use a lot more plastic, even the hub itself in the case of the cheaper Fanatec wheels. These material choices are important – better material and engineering tends to make a more solid object that has no flex (play) any strange rattles and no view of the interior electronics contained within. The machine work is always nicer, with nicely finished edges and a good overall fit:

Cube Controls wheel rear
A Cube Controls wheel even at entry-level pricing has beautiful attention to manufacturing detail

Switches and rotaries

The switches and rotaries tend to have machined aluminium knobs and the (monetary) buttons and toggle switches may have backlights. It’s really nice to have a backlit set of buttons because you won’t be able to make out a sticky label in the dark!

Aluminium rotary knobs are a nice finishing touch

Paddle shifters

Finally, a nice set of paddle shifters is a lovely and very satisfying addition to a wheel. You can definitely feel the difference – a stiff, but certain feel while shifting – well-made shifters make it easy to be consistent and can reduce your mistakes.

I don’t mean to bash budget wheels – there are some incredibly good deals out there for only a few hundred euros. For what it’s worth, the Fanatec Clubsport range, especially the F1 Clubsport or their higher-end LTD edition wheels are well worth the money. But in the high-end sim world, there are other options.

It’s not the wheel, it’s the technique that counts

Despite my advice, whether you choose a custom, high-end or a beginner / intermediate wheel – it’s your racecraft and driving technique that counts.

That’s the beauty of sim racing – it’s the great leveller. You can be on very inexpensive hardware and beat every other driver on the circuit. Conversely, you can be sat in an expensive rig and be the slowest car on the track! But, if you want to build a really professional-feeling simulator, a higher-end sim racing wheel should be at the top of your shopping list.

2 Comments

  1. Fanatec all day!

  2. Cool guide! The guys from VPG are the greatest and most wonderful wheel developers. Own an Elemento and a custom rally. For F1 the Elemento is not to beat. It’s absolutely perfect. Stay safe
    Rolando

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