A Guide to Sim Racing Steering Wheels 2022
Steering wheels matter, although pedals and wheel bases are more important… but hey! What are you doing with your wheel base if you don’t have a steering wheel!?
There are various things to consider when buying a steering wheel. Is it compatible with your base? Does it match the car you are sim racing? Do you care whether it matches the car you are sim racing?
This short guide will give you an overview of everything you need to look at when buying a steering wheel.
- Steering Wheels vs Wheel Bases
- Factors to Consider
- Bolt Patterns (PCDs)
- QR Hubs
- Wheel Styles: Shapes, Sizes and Weights
- Wireless vs Wired
- Console Compatibility
- Paddle Switchers
- Grip, Gloves and Longevity
- Is a Good Steering Wheel Worth It?
What’s The Difference Between a Steering Wheel and a Wheel Base?
The Moza Racing GS Steering Wheel attached to a Moza Racing R9 direct drive wheel base. Available for pre-order on Simplace.
It’s worth distinguishing wheel bases and steering wheels. A wheel base is the motor that produces the force feedback while steering. Wheel bases are either gear-driven (like the logitech G923), belt-driven (like many of the Thrustmaster options) or direct drive (think Fanatec, Simucube and the like.)
Steering wheels are then attached to the wheel base and that is what you lay your hands on. The common folk call it a steering wheel. There are a couple of different ways that steering wheels attach to wheel bases:
- Fixed: This means the steering wheel is permanently fixed to the base. No upgrading, no replacing. You’re stuck with what you’ve got.
- Swappable: You can replace the wheel with another wheel, with the help of a QR hub.
All the wheel bases with fixed steering wheels are budget or entry-level. You can see this table of every wheel base on the market in 2022, compared by price, fixed vs swappable wheels, torque and more.
Factors to Consider
Bolt Patterns (PCDs)
Steering wheels come with various bolt patterns, also called Pitch Circle Diameters (PCDs). For example, Ascher Racing has a PCD of 6 x 70mm. What does that mean? That’s 6 bolts evenly spaced around a circle with a 70mm diameter.
These are the PCDs of some selected brands:
- MOMO. 6 x 70 mm.
- Sparco. 6 x 70mm / 3 x 50.8 mm.
- Precision Sim Engineering. 3 x 50.8 mm.
- Ascher Racing. 6 x 70mm.
- Fanatec. 6 x 52 mm.
- Cube Controls. 3 x 50.8 mm.
The PCD is the specification for how you attach your steering wheel to your base. But, there is a part sandwiched between the two: the QR hub.
The Quick Release (QR) Hub
The Fanatec Podium Hub allows any 6 x 70 mm or 3 x 50 mm steering wheels to attach to a Fanatec wheel base. (Image from Fanatec.)
QR hubs are the what connect your steering wheel to your wheel base:
Steering Wheel > QR Hub > Wheel Base
You screw your bolts through your bolt pattern on your steering wheel onto a QR Hub, and then the QR Hub slides on to the wheel base shaft.
Now the issue is that many wheel base brands want to keep you within their ecosystem. Take Fanatec as an example. Firstly, depending on what wheel you use within their ecosystem, you may need one of two QR hubs.
Secondly, if you want to connect a non-Fanatec wheel, you will need to buy their Podium Hub for around $200. That’s a pretty penny, but it’s versatile. It has various PCDs to accommodate any of the major steering wheel brands.
Wheel Styles: Shapes, Sizes and Weights
The Simplace GT3 Steering Wheel with an open D shape. Available on Simplace now.
There are three main styles wheels take. So, what are the different styles of sim racing steering wheels?
- F1 Wheels. These are open on the top, with the real world function being that it increases visibility. They are usually very square. Usually 27-29 cm.
- Rally Wheels. These are usually very round to enable lots of rotation of the wheel, where your hands change grip regularly. Also useful for truck driving. Usually 30-33 cm.
- GT Wheels. “Grand Tourer” cars designed for distance and speed, a very popular sim and IRL racing category. Wheels come in open D, D and double D shapes. Usually 30-32cm.
If you’re new to sim racing, it’s important to figure out what type of racing you want to main in. Maybe you want to race with a sleek BMW M4 GT3 or maybe you want to emulate Kimi Raikkonen… note that for that, you’ll also need a short temper. You can find that anywhere on Twitter.
Obviously you can race all types, but note you might need multiple steering wheels in that case. A D-shaped GT wheel is a good all round wheel, especially if immersion is not that important to you.
So does size matter? Well yes. Smaller wheels will have more torque, will steer sharper, but can be a little less precise. Smaller wheels also tend to be lighter, which can influence how responsive the wheels feel, although a heavier wheel can feel more real.
Of course, the material used can also influence the weight of the wheel and the feel, so be sure to check that out. A full aluminium wheel will be far sturdier and have less flex than one with plastic parts.
Wireless vs Wired Wheels
Most steering wheels come with USB cables that plug into your PC. This does introduce a risk: ripping out your cable mid-race for a sim racing mechanical DNF… who would’ve thought? It is a rare occurrence so don’t stress about it.
Many steering wheels support wireless connection to the PC, like Cube Controls for example.
Almost all wheels are compatible with PC, but when it comes to Xbox and Playstation, it’s not as straightforward. Both really on specific security chips inside the hardware.
Playstation requires the security chip to be within the wheel base while Xbox requires them in the steering wheel. That’s why you can’t buy a Playstation compatible steering wheel, only an Xbox compatible one.
The P1 Sim Formula Steering Wheel, with clutch paddles and a display. Available on Simplace.
Think of how complicated iRacing’s UI can be! You’ll need an array of buttons to navigate menus, change settings and adjust things during the race, for e.g. a pit limiter. Button plates allow you to do that and come either as a part of the wheel or as a separate stand-alone.
There are 4 switch types to look out for:
- Momentary Push Button. Press down. Used for a pit limiter, for e.g.
- Toggle Switch. Up and down, or all four directions. Used for ignition, for e.g.
- Rotary. Rotate clockwise and anticlockwise. Used for brake bias, for e.g.
- Funky Switch/7-Way Switch. Up, down, left, right, push, rotate clockwise, rotate anticlockwise. Used for menu navigation, for e.g.
Pay attention to the layout and build quality. When you are in a race you will want to find the button easily, without fumbling about, and you want visual and/or audio feedback that your input took effect. For example, a rotary that clicks into place is preferable to a smooth turning rotary.
These sit right behind the steering wheel, where your fingers can reach while your thumb holds the wheel. They're for shifting and/or clutch control.
Not every steering wheel comes with paddles and for some brands you can add it as an option. Fanatec has the Podium Advanced Paddle Module in case you want the shifters and clutch paddles on your steering wheel (it can be mounted on any Fanatec steering wheel or the Podium hub).
You’ll want something that has a stiff, responsive feel. A flimsy switcher will put your timing off and so too your confidence.
Some wheels come with screens embedded in the wheel plate. It can communicate various important pieces of information: tire health, brake bias, lap times, position, lap number, etc. All the stuff you want to know on the fly.
Displays are not a budget option, but you can DIY! You can set up mounting brackets on your wheel base or wheel for your phone so that it can serve as a display.
Grip, Gloves and Longevity.
You don’t even need racing gloves, garden or golf gloves also work! (Image by GardenerGloves from Wikimedia.)
As for the grip, there are a three different options to choose from:
- Leather. Cow hide. Gloves or bare hands.
- Suede. Fuzzy cow hide. Gloves or bare hands.
- Alcantara. A fire- and moisture-resistant synthetic material used in real racing cars. Only with gloves.
Alcantara is very common because it has the best grip and has great durability. However, do not use it bare hand: the sweat and oils from your hand will ruin it.
That is generally why gloves are recommended, because they prevent your natural bodily fluids from destroying the grip. Look after your stuff!
Are Sim Racing Steering Wheels Worth It?
A good quality steering wheel, with no flex, a great layout of buttons and an in-built display will do wonders for immersion. Yet, it is a small factor in pace. You don’t need a high-end steering wheel to be fast and consistent.
So, if immersion is important, by all means, splash out. If not, you're better off choosing an entry-level steering wheel and spending the rest on git gudTM.
Browse and purchase F1, GT and rally sim racing wheels from Simucube, Innato and several other brands on Simplace.