The Beginner's Sim Racing Rig and Seat Guide 2022
Last updated: 19 December 2022.
All your gear needs to be fixed to something. If you prefer getting the most out of your Fanatec direct drive, then it’s best not to fix it to a plastic table. Your rig rigidity is the foundation that the rest of your gear depends on.
This piece of gear is the one with the most variability in your sim racing setup. It could just be for your monitor, or it could mount your pedals, shifter, wheel base and seat all on top of a motion platform.
Knowing what you intend to use the rig for and what upgrades are likely in the future is critical to deciding what to go for since that is the primary factor in the trade-offs you’ll end up making.
This guide will inform you of all the factors to consider and what options are out there.
- The Importance of Rigidity
- Factors to Consider
- Type, Rigidity and Material
- Upgradability and Accessories
- DIY Rigs
- Why Do Prices Vary?
- Further Reading
THE IMPORTANCE OF RIGIDITY
Your good friend comes for a visit: you invited him over to show him your new setup. He knocks on the door, you open and give him a cool wink. “Come check this out,” you say, closing the door before leading the way.
“It arrived in the week, and I’ve just got it all put together” you gloat as you enter your man cave. Your friend comes in and within a moment, you see shock wash over his face. He manages to keep his composure, or so he thinks… A smirk creeps onto your face.
As you head over to your setup you suppress your smirk. You turn around to face your friend as you tap your rig: “What do you think of this bad boy?”
“Yes… it’s… it’s…” he awkwardly stammers, “it’s… nice.”
Mmm, may be you shouldn’t make to much of it… What the hell you figure, this doesn’t happen too often, and, anyway, he did this the other week with his new paint job… screw him!
You begin to demonstrate all of its features. It’s sleek design, its unique color and all of the customization options. Your friend smiles and nods, with strain… With each feature, you get more and more giddy. You can’t contain yourself... You turn to your friend, look him square in the eye, with a totally unrestrained smirk, and say: “Bet you wish you had one, don’t you!?”
His eyes widen. He looks at you, he look back at the rig, he looks back at you, and all of a sudden, with dismay and defeat hanging on his every word, he protests: “But… it's... it’s made of plastic!?”
When your rig has flex, or flexibility, it undermines all of your other equipment. What’s the point of a direct drive wheel when the ripple strips are lost in reverberation? What’s the point of load cell pedals if the rig flexes 10° when you brake? Rigidity should be your primary concern when deciding on a rig.
Type, Rigidity and Material
The first distinction to make is that rigs can be single-purpose, or can carry all of your equipment. Generally the bigger the rig, the more rigidity it will confer:
TYPES OF RIG PURPOSES
- ♢ Single-item: Just a wheel mount, or just a pedal mount, as examples. Least rigid.
- ♢ Multi-item: Includes multiple items, like wheel and pedal mount, for example. Mildly rigid.
- ♢ Cockpit: Carries your seat along with several items of equipment. Most rigid.
Once you have decided on what items you want your rig to hold, then you can think about the two main types of rigs:
TYPES OF RIGS
- ♢ Metal frame:Usually, metal tubing is made of various types of metal. Decently rigid.
- ♢ Aluminium extrusion profile:An extruded aluminium square profile with T-slots for nuts, with various dimensions, but 8020 is the most popular. Very rigid.
Metal frames are decent options for your rig. They are not as consistently rigid as the aluminium extrusion profiles, because their rigidity depends on the material you use. It can be aluminium, steel, iron or even some composite. If it is a steel alloy, that is a good sign.
An 8020 aluminium profile is by far the most rigid option to choose. Beyond that, it is also the most customizable. In fact, this profile is not limited to sim racing, but all sorts of DIY folk use this extruded material: For furniture, for storage, for industrial machine frames. I could think of 20… even 80 uses of this product, if not more.
Note that the aluminium market is costing the consumer because demand has recently outpaced supply. This has motivated some manufacturers to seek alternatives. Fortunately, analysts predict an oversupply of aluminium starting in 2025 going forward. Let’s see if any manufacturers make any innovative moves in the interim…
Given its advantages, I was curious how many people prefer an 8020 profile, so I asked the sim racing Reddit:
Almost half (47%) of sim racers use aluminium profiles, so it is the favourite as expected. Metal frames are popular as well (28%). I did not expect 8% of people to use wood! Although I anticipate that this is the option people that use a table chose, not some fancy custom wooden rig I had imagined.
Quite a few selected other, but they did not specify what. It could be that they use a non-wooden table of some kind for their wheel, or bricks to keep their pedals in place… I can only speculate.
Upgradability and Accessories
As noted, 8020 rigs also takes the cake when it comes to upgradability. 8020 profiles are modular by design, which means you can keep adding on and adjusting the frame as long as you care to. People even print 3d parts to attach to their rigs. I’m sure a drink holder would impress your friend!
You can go even further with an 8020, which is particularly appealing to those too far gone: you can create mechanisms which allow you to quickly swap in a new wheelbase or new pedal plate without reconfiguring the entire rig.
Metal frames, on the other hand, are limited. Yes, there is room to slide your seat back and forwards, but making wholesale changes are not possible. It’s not modular by design.
As a reminder, these are the things you would consider mounting on your rig:
ITEMS TO MOUNT
- ♢ Monitor(s)
- ♢ Wheel base
- ♢ Pedals
- ♢ Seat
- ♢ Shifter
- ♢ Handbrake
- ♢ Button box
A less obvious and common addition is adding motion! Motion platforms only support aluminium rigs at present and that will probably continue to be the case given the rigidity advantage an 8020 profile provides.
With the advantage of customizability, comes a disadvantage to all us lazy folk: convenience. You’ll need to be ready and willing to assemble and tinker with your rig, and do it all again when new gear arrives.
Big Foot may be a mythical monster, but Big Footprint is a mechanical monster standing in your living room, demanding massive square footage and paying no rent. That is the charm a table setup provides: all it requires is you sit a few feet back from your desk.
So, when you consider buying a rig, keep in mind exactly how much space you have available and exactly how big your rig will be.
Given that 8020 aluminium profiles are applicable within many industries, it is certainly a DIY option. You can buy the base parts and design your own rig.
The other popular DIY material is wood. It’s much easier to work with than metal tubing, it’s cheaper than aluminium profile and of course, it’s sturdy. An excellent choice for those that dabble in handyman tasks.
A sim racer’s first-ever woodworking project turned out quite nicely! (My DIY sim rig by Tiefman on Reddit.)
So, the rig is the structure everything attaches to, while the seat is the thing that can make or break… your back. This is certainly an element you want to consider closely and not skimp on. When you spend 30 minutes, 1 hour or 4 hours seated, why not make it a comfortable experience?
First, be aware of the different types of seats:
TYPES OF SEATS
- ♢ GT Seats: Upright, bucket seats without reclining options.
- ♢ Formula Seats: A reclined seat that pushes your legs up and lies your body diagonal, like F1.
- ♢ Generic Seats: Upright seats that can be reclined to various degrees.
Note that although you don’t have a lever to recline in the first two options, you can alter the degree of position in the rig itself, which is then fixed as you drive. The advantage these have is that you have a firm foundation from which to push the brakes. The importance of rigidity shows itself once more.
Also, consider ergonomy:
- Will your butt fit in the seat?
- Will your VR headset hit the neck support?
- Is there high-density padding to support your back?
- Does the material breathe?
Why Do Prices Vary?
For rigs, there are various factors to consider. For metal frames, the material, size and strength would be the biggest factor. For 8020 rigs, the width and height of the base, motion capability and how many accessories it can hold are all important factors.
For seats, material quality and size have the biggest impact. Of course, the price will also vary by seat style.
Also, note that some seats are FIA-approved. The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) is the governing body that cecks the suitability of seats and other equipment for real-world racing. That means it is fine for sim-racing of course, but it will add a small premium and since it is not necessary for sim racing, you may find a cheaper, near-identical seat elsewhere.
Note that we have also up-to-date guides for the following:
> A Beginner's Guide to a Sim Racing Setup: This article provides an overview of your entire setup.
> The Wheel Base Guide: A comparison of every single wheel base on the market. We show the torque, platform compatibility, price and other relevant information in tables.
> The Steering Wheel Guide: See types of wheels and the other considerations when buying one.
> The Wheel Compatibility Guide: See the bolt patterns and QR Hubs of all the major wheel and wheel base brands.
> The Rig and Seat Guide: See the two types of rigs and the other considerations when buying one.
> The Shifter and Handbrake Guide: A comparison of every sim racing stick shifter and handbrake on the market.
> The Pedal Guide: A comparison of all the budget and entry-level pedal sets, and the most popular mid-range and high-end pedal sets on the market.
> How to Earn Money in Sim Racing: An overview of the various ways in which you can get income from your favourite hobby.