You don’t have to start messing around with racing sims for long before you get to hearing about load cell pedals, and when you start investigating them, the central idea might sound a little ridiculous. Basically, you spend a decent amount of money to change the brake pedal you have to one that detects the amount of pressure you’re putting on it, rather than how far the pedal is being pushed.
Why you’d want to make this change is twofold: One, that’s how real cars work, so it’s an extra step forward in actual simulation. Two, it’s a lot easier to apply the same amount of braking force on the same corner using muscle memory rather than remembering the distance to push the pedal. They might sound like trivial reasons, but when you’re at the point where you’ve spent hundreds on a steering wheel and wrestled with a proper sim, they’re absolutely not.
The initial investigation can be a little intimidating, mostly because getting a load cell brake sounds like a lot of messing around. Most people recommend a conversion kit for the pedals you already have (especially for the ever-popular G27 pedals), and it means buying a kit, stripping down your exisiting pedals, voiding all of your warranties and hoping you don’t screw it up. I looked at the options, I looked at the last shelf I tried to put up, I knew it wasn’t for me.
So, thankfully, pre-built units exist. Fanatec are probably the best known manufacturers and produce a few different lines, one of which is the CSR Elites – they cost around £120, which is probably the cheapest pre-made load cell pedals you’re going to get. And yes, I know. That’s a lot – especially when you consider it’s just pedals and not even a wheel, but, well, they’re really rather good.
To start, they’re strikingly good looking, so much so that they make stock G27 pedals look toyish. Each pedal is a big chunk of brushed steel, bolted onto big springs attached to big steel runners, attached to a big steel and plastic base. It all looks incredibly smooth and sturdy, and of course, it’s reassuringly heavy (which combined with the velcro underneath means they don’t slip an inch).
With each pedal on a separate runner (they’re not really *runners* but it’s what they look like. They keep each pedal attached onto the base), they can be unbolted and re-positioned easily, and the spring positions can even be adjusted for a higher resolution (more movement able to be detected). It took me a couple of minutes to put the brake closer to the accelerator for easier heel-and-toe maneuvers for example, and then upped the amount the accelerator can be moved a notch. The only big oversight really is that on the highest resolution, the accelerator gets a huge deadzone because Fanatec didn’t put enough notches on the push-rod thing. Is this getting a bit technical? Sorry.
Tested with F1 2012, pCars, iRacing and nKPro, integration has been seamless on all counts, which was incredibly surprising. I was expecting there to be endless problems because of using a Logitech G27 wheel with separate Fanatec pedals, but as soon as the drivers were installed everything has been fine first time. Plus, most importantly, they’re really nice to use.
Pressing into the brakes as hard as you can and knowing that it’s actually doing something is very, very satisfying, and being able to ease off pressure rather than pulling your whole foot back feels a lot more natural. The general extra sensitivity in the throttle and to a lesser extent the clutch is great too – I feel much more in tune with each car. It’s not a night and day difference mind, but there is a difference and it is absolutely better.
In the end, if you’re on the fence as to whether you need load cells, then it will only ever be a personal choice, and in all honesty it’s very rarely going to be an actual need – a want is much more accurate. I see it as an investment – they’re making every PC racing game I play better and, by the looks of them, they’ll last a significant amount of years before they’re going to wear out. That £120 is still a high price – even at the low end of load cell tech – and while you can pick up conversion “mod” kits for much less if you’re a bit more DIY inclined, as far as I’m concerned, it’s well worth paying the bit extra for something so high quality and pre-fabricated.