Best Racing Wheel and Pedals for iRacing and Your Budget
Before you dive into the wild world of sim racing, you're going to need a wheel and pedals. Skip the cross-shopping and check out these favorites.
Tim StevensFormer editor at large for CNET Cars
Tim Stevens got his start writing professionally while still in school in the mid '90s, and since then has covered topics ranging from business process management to video game development to automotive technology.
If you want to get into PC-based sim racing, it can be daunting to know where to start. There's a ton of stuff like graphics cards, gaming monitors and other accessories that can help enhance your simulation racing experience. But the most essential piece of gear you can get is a racing wheel and pedals set. These are the only components that you'll actually touch and the only accessories that mimic the tactile sensations of a sport that's largely based on feel.
Needless to say, getting the best racing wheel and pedals setup is hugely important for racing simulation, but finding something that fits your budget is also key. You can easily spend more on a sim racing setup than you might on a real race car -- which sounds ridiculous until you start to do the math on what actually being competitive at gaming costs in the real world. There's also no way to begin to explain the type of variety available in racing simulator components -- think a plethora of wheel settings, pedal setup assortments and more. Racing simulators require something very different than a typical game console setup.
I've been sim racing for nearly 20 years now, and in that time have tested a lot of wheels, pedals and motion rigs from a lot of companies. Jump on in and we'll find you the best racing wheel and pedals set for your budget. This list is updated periodically.
A place to play
Before you start shopping for a PC racing wheel, it's important to figure out exactly where you're going to drive. If you already have your PC set up at a desk, clamping your racing wheel on there is probably the easiest -- and certainly the cheapest -- way to go. However, it's not for everyone, especially if you hate having extra cables slung around your workspace.
Additionally, many higher-powered wheels cannot be clamped to a desk, simply because they're way too powerful. So, if you have the budget and the floor space, a dedicated sim racing cockpit with a wheel stand makes a world of difference. You'll spend less time fiddling with cables and more time just sitting down and driving. Plus, you can start customizing your cockpit with bespoke seating and button pods and all sorts of fun stuff.
Watch this: The 3 best wheels and pedal setups for iRacing
This is definitely an area where recommendations are difficult, because preconstructed sim cockpits vary hugely in price, size, construction and intent. For my needs, I wanted something sturdy so that I could test out high-power wheels. I needed a small footprint, however, to keep from giving up too much of my office. And I also didn't have thousands to spend.
I opted for the Next Level Racing GTtrack. It's only 21 inches wide, so it slotted in nicely next to my desk, yet is sturdy enough to handle the most powerful direct-drive wheels on the market. It's also easily customizable, with an open, box-frame construction featuring plenty of exposed holes and surfaces for adding on whatever you like. You can also upgrade to a motion platform down the road, should you feel like adding a little momentum to your rig.
At $899 it isn't cheap, but Next Level Racing has other, more affordable options, like the $499 F-GT, suitable for midlevel wheels, and even the $299 F-GT Lite, which you can fold up and stuff in the closet.
Those are three great choices, but if you're looking to save some money and don't mind going the DIY route, Open Sim Racing has dozens of plans that rely on inexpensive extruded aluminum sections, meaning you can make a truly custom setup.
Logitech Driving Force G920, G29
For the entry-level racer, I'm going to recommend the Logitech G920 or G29. Either will do, because they're basically the same wheel -- the former is for the Xbox, the latter for the PlayStation, and both are PC-compatible.
If you're only doing iRacing and the like on the PC, you can go with either, but I will say the Logitech wheel has more buttons and knobs, making it the slightly better choice. It's a minor difference, though.
Either way, you're getting a well-built racing steering wheel with primarily metal construction and a stitched leather wrapping. The 900 degrees of wheel rotation will handle anything short of a big-rig racing simulator and the force feedback is perfectly adequate.
There are a few shortcomings. For one thing, the wheel diameter is less than 10.5 inches, meaning this racing wheel feels somewhat toylike compared with the real thing -- or, indeed, some of the later wheels I'll mention. The bigger problem, however, is with the pedals. The brake pedal uses a potentiometer, a means of digitally detecting the degree of rotation.
Potentiometers work well for the throttle and clutch pedal, but the hydraulic brakes in a real car work not based on how far you press the pedal, but how hard. Since potentiometers only measure movement, accurately modulating the brakes can be a challenge. Logitech attempted to replicate the feel of a load cell by limiting the travel of the brake pedal, but if anything that just reduces precision.
Really, though, at this price, that's the only fly in the ointment. The Logitech G920 and G29 are excellent wheels for a great racing experience. Plenty of pro-level iRacers use them, which is about as good a vote of confidence as you can get. I raced with a G27 for years and if $400 is outside of your budget, I'd highly recommend hitting up eBay for a used G27 or even a used G25. They're largely the same wheel, and a healthy modding community will ensure that they'll work for years to come.
Got a bit more to spend? Check out the Thrustmaster T300, particularly in the Thrustmaster Ferrari Integral trim. The Thrustmaster racing wheel offers a larger-diameter, Alcantara-wrapped wheel that feels more like the real thing or a leather wheel. That wheel is also swappable, should you want something different down the road.
If your budget hasn't reached the breaking point yet, welcome to the Podium level. While Clubsport is Fanatec's midtier product, Podium is at the top, and the $1,200 DD1 is my pick at this price level. With a whopping 14.7 pound-feet of torque at your disposal, it can quite literally rip the steering wheel out of your hands. So, do be careful -- the warning labels on this thing are not for show.
That torque is a nice talking point, maybe even needed for those desiring the ultimate realism when simulating vintage cars with no power steering. For me, I turn the torque down to about 65% when I'm driving with my DD1. Why? More force from your racing wheel won't make you faster. If anything, it can make you slower as you fight the wheel.
For me, the real draw of the DD1 is the fidelity of the sensations. While all the wheels I've discussed thus far rely on gears or belts to get the force to the wheel, the DD here means direct-drive. That is to say, the steering wheel is more or less directly attached to the shaft of an electric motor. The feel is perfectly smooth, just like in a real car.
It's a premium piece of kit and something that I feel good about using, but the great part of Fanatec parts is that you're buying into a healthy and always-expanding ecosystem. The steering wheels you use on a Clubsport Wheel Base can be used here, as can the pedals and things like external gear shifter, handbrakes and lots, lots more. So, as your skills and your needs grow, so too can your setup.
You can get a solid racing wheel for around $250, or less if you're willing to buy it used. But if you want something serious, something like the pro sim racers are using, you're looking at upward of $1,000.
Are racing wheels worth it?
If you're serious about realism, a racing wheel is absolutely worth it. When you're playing driving games with a wheel you can start to develop skills that will help you in real life. You can't do that with a normal controller. But, if you're a casual racing game fan, just playing to relax and not that concerned with realism, a wheel might be overkill.
Why are racing wheels so expensive?
There are a lot of factors at play here, but racing wheels are complex machines, mostly due to the internal motors that deliver force feedback. This makes the wheels far more realistic, but also more expensive. You also need fine sensors to detect all the inputs and those sensors have to be durable since there's a good chance you'll be using these things a lot and not particularly delicately. Finally, they have to be made with well-made materials because holding onto a cheap, plastic wheel is no fun at all.