Accessible Racing VXP Hands-only Wheel Bar Review

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Accessible Racing VXP

When I first heard of a the equipment that the team at Accessible Racing (AR) were building, it took me back to one of the earliest simracing controllers I owned and a race at Monaco in the Papyrus-produced title Grand Prix Legends.

I had my wrist in a cast and at the time drove with a Thrustmaster steering wheel. There were no pedals with the wheel and I used the analogue (controller not only detects input, but how much input) paddles on the back of the wheel for throttle and brake, using buttons on the front to shift gears. I ran that race in a little pain by the end, but after resting my bad wrist onto of the other and basically racing with my arms crossed the whole time, I felt like I had climbed a mountain simply being able to race at all. It was a challenge and I felt I beat it…

For fans of racing that have Spinal Cord Injuries, almost everything they do is a challenge of copious proportions: Race tracks which I have visited (among them Spa-Francorchamps – Belgium, Lime Rock Park – USA) provide very little accessible fan areas for wheelchairs and it is sad to see because if you go to most oval tracks (Pocono – USA, Talladega – USA) or even any other sporting venue (Soldier Field – Chicago, Fenway Park – Boston) it’s very clear to see that they’ve tried hard to not only make the venue accessible to fans; they’ve set aside some very good areas!

Why is it that racing is one of the least friendly sports to these fans? Why is it that even as Alex Zanardi proved that a hand-controlled car can win, we still see so few avenues for disabled (or rather, upper-body able) drivers to get behind the wheel?

Without people like Accessible Racing (who put people in specially modified real racecars), there’s really no way to do this – until now – because Brian Hanaford (who suffered a brain injury at age 18, forcing him to re-learn basic motor skills) and his team at AR have created a new hands-only steering wheel. The wheel closely replicates methods used in some road cars, meaning that not only can some of these fans get on the real track with AR, they can spend time on the virtual one, too.

VXP

Control Method

The new device attachment is basically a bar which extends out from the base of the wheel to the left side. Because of the G-forces involved in racing, your weight (including your arms) are thrown forward under braking, it makes sense to setup the controller so that you push to brake and pull to accelerate so that you are not made to accelerate when you intend to brake. It is possible that some road cars have this setup the opposite way around (manufacturers make the same error with sequential gear shifters, too), but the G-forces experienced on the road do not match those of the race track.

You have the option to push or pull the lever either way, it depends how you set it up inside the software you’re racing with, but push-to-brake, pull to accelerate is more realistic.

Construction

The controller itself seems to be rigid plastic construction. It feels quite solid and I don’t think I’d be too concerned of breakage. It is attached to the bottom of a Logitech Momo and I am told it will not work with any other wheel (though from the attachment type I saw, it should plug into the pedals port on the base of any recent Logitech wheel’s pedal port). The unit is attached to the wheel by its clamp and comes with its own clamp suitable for desks or at-home racing cockpits beneath.

Precise Control

The movement is analogue and allows a varying degree of throttle/brake input. Pushed fully forward you’re at maximum braking and as you pull it back the braking force reduces to nothing, then as you pull past the center the acceleration increases from nothing until you reach the maximum point you can pull the stick back to. The stick does spring back to the middle (where it does not input either throttle or brake) when released.

I am far more precise with my hands than with my feet on pedals and I actually found myself driving in a way which gave the cars greater stability. I felt forced to get all my braking done before I turned and felt more able to make tiny adjustments to the throttle as I rounded the turns… On certain tracks I actually set my best ever lap time using the controller, but I think it’s greatest benefit was with my overall consistency due to that extra bit of fine adjustment from my hands versus my feet on pedals.

Controller Issues

You are limited to turning only 190 degrees left and 80 degrees (with comfort) to the right. You need to have a hand on the throttle/brake at all times and this means you’re unable to cross arms or turn past the location of the bar. Of course if you are only racing on oval tracks, you don’t need to worry about this because the amount of turning lock available is plenty.

The increased height of the wheel with the controller underneath forced me to reduce the height of my steering mount. Not a big deal, but I normally have my wheel mounted fairly high – almost enough to show over the bottom of my screen (where the cockpit wheel shows).

It is quite difficult to shift gears. I wound up using the paddle on the back of the wheel (right side) to shift up and a button on the front of the wheel (right side) to shift down with my thumb.

Working With…

If the wheel being used (the one shipped was a Logitech Momo), has the ability to do so, you should limit its turning to a total of about 180 degrees within the Logitech Profiler software. This is due to the issue mentioned above where you are unable to physically turn right with one arm past about 80 degrees.

Always short-calibrate the controller (don’t push the bar fully to its boundaries when being asked to show software where its limits are). This will give it a little bit of movement that still gives you 100% throttle/brake so you can have an occasional flinch or loss of grip on the bar without losing any input.

Force feedback should be turned either off or very low. The throttle and brake are now attached to the wheel and if you are on the limit, you don’t really want a shock wave to travel through the wheel and force you to apply more throttle than you intended to. I did find myself getting more used to this though and could eventually drive at my regular strength, but I think gradually building that strength may be a good idea.

Conclusion

I can’t help wondering if it wouldn’t be simpler and cheaper just to buy a joystick and have exactly the same effect. The forwards/backwards axis would be calibrated in exactly the same way, while the left/right axis would be ignored by the software…

At this time, the organization sells the product complete with steering wheel, which I believe is probably good for some, but not for all. I would think allowing people to just purchase the unit without steering wheel would be a more profitable way to do things as it also does not restrict the wheel the device can be used with. I certainly think that based upon conversations I have had with iRacing members, this would be a definite requirement for some of them to buy it. It’s also probably a good idea for them to construct a USB compatible standalone device so that they no longer have to rely on having the exact wheel Accessible Racing choose.

Overall this is a good and solid piece of kit that fulfills its promise and hopefully will do so for quite some time. I am delighted that an organization has chosen to create a controller specifically for this purpose. There are others out there (Thrustmaster still offer wheels with analogue paddles behind the wheel) which could be used as a hands-only controller, but the fact that this one is designed around a recognizable method which matches one seen in road cars means that people who will never get to sit in one of Accessible Racing’s adapted cars will still feel right at home infront of their home computer and the iRacing.com simulation.

[review pros=”Matches controllers seen in Accessible Racing’s race cars.
Almost forces you to drive with good practices.
Well-enough constructed to last a while…
Perfect for oval racing.” cons=”Would like more choice on wheels.
Cheaper ways to do this.
No USB option.
Won’t work so well on a clockwise roadcourse.” score=80]

Price: $350 (with racing software $450). Purchase from: Accessible Racing.

3 thoughts on “Accessible Racing VXP Hands-only Wheel Bar Review

  1. Thanks for the review Tim, As a Paraplegic sim racer this article is very usefull and interesting. I will be investigating more closely,,
    My only grip is that a g25 is not used and there could be a clutch lever on the end of the hand control (such as a motorbike clutch) and a couple of buttons therefore allowing you to use up to 900 degreees of lock steering with the palm of you hand when needed, As a road racer only the lock is a downfall.
    However its great to see a product aimed at us Disabled drivers and lets hope to see it further evolve.
    Thanks again for the review
    Chris

    Shame on you logitech for depriving me of sim racing!!!!

  2. Great review Tim. We hope this inspires disabled drivers to visit our web site, http://www.accessibleracing.com, and share suggestions and concerns with us before we begin designing VXP II. Design of VXP II will begin after we have established a stable racing foundation and have an expressed need for a ‘fresh product, first we need interest from potential clients to visit our web site and tell us what they think.

    Brian E. Hanaford

  3. As a disabled driver my entire life, I’ve done more than my share of unauthorized racing in vans, cars, and pickups. And I’ve found the best way to provide the throttle and braking in a natural way is to use a lever below the wheel like the one shown, but which you push toward the floor for braking and down at a right angle from the braking axis toward the knees for throttle. This allows one to use brake and gas at the same time and prevents the problems caused by the changing g-forces involved. A suicide knob on the right side of the wheel can be added as a replacement for “palming” when necessary, and with an auto-clutch, up and down gearing can be added with paddles on the rear side of the wheel where ever most comfortable to the individual. I would love to see this made for sim racing!

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Racing Simulations Category Information

I grew up in a household where waking up at 2am to watch races in Australia or Japan were the norm. We were huge fans of motor racing, so playing racing games seems like a natural extension of that.

My first racing game addiction was with Geoff Crammond's 'Formula 1 Grand Prix' released in 1992 on the Commodore Amiga. This game kept me going for a long time thanks to various editing tools which were available, and I continued to play it until I owned a PC. After that, I played through most of the Papyrus and Image Space Inc. titles, but have most fond memories of Grand Prix Legends.

I founded a major sim racing site that led to my employment at iRacing, Image Space Inc. and later on, Studio 397. The difficulty in working in the industry is how little time you often have to play your own games. Quite often I escape with space games instead!

Left: GP cars at Silverstone in rFactor 2.

 
 
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Tim is British and lives in the United States with his wife and kids.

He works for software developers Image Space Inc. and Studio 397 on their racing simulations, and is a fan of Gaming, Motorsports, and photography.