December 10, 2014

HE Pro Pedal Impressions

Couple of weeks ago I took delivery of Heusinkveld Engineering Pro pedals.  For two years now I've been using the CSP V2, which I think are great pedals and a fantastic value.  Obviously, it's completely unfair to compare the two sets as they are in different leagues, but I will compare them in a few ways anyway to show you just how different of a league the HE Pros are from the CSP.



The CPSs are fairly popular among those that are even somewhat serious about their simracing hobby, and chances are, if you're reading this, you probably own a set and maybe looking to find out what the hype is all about with all of these ~$1000 pedals that have appeared recently.  Since I happen to have just gotten the HE Pros, I will gladly tell you.

I'd like to stress again that this isn't a direct comparison, but a relative one, because its a lot easier to convey how different these HE pedals are if you already own CSPs. :)

Unboxing

As you've seen in other posts, the HE Pro pedals come in box, nicely packed. I'll skimp on the details here as you can read and watch other reviews, but just for the sake of formality I'll mention a bit on the unpacking and assembly.
The pedals come with a bunch of nuts and bolts, plenty of washers, a ton of plastic spacers and a pair of all allen key sizes you'll need to adjust them.  I also purchased the pedal plate just to make sure I had something stiff to mount them on.  I've read that they need to be mounted solid due to the extra forces required to press them, so I decided not to chance it.   ...and good thing I didn't as you'll read in a bit.

The assembly was pretty straight forward.  As far as assembling the plate, you just have to be careful and read the directions exactly how the different plates and rails assemble as the plate is designed to fit both the Pro and Ultimate pedals and configures slightly differently for each.

As noted in the instructions, the edges on the pedals and plate are sharp!  I did cut and bruise my knuckles couple of times in the process of assembling and handling them.  It was quite painful, but as with all things involving great passion, they can’t be fully appreciated without some bloodshed. They are also very heavy when assembled fully, so don't drop them as they will most certainly dent your floors, or worse, break your toes! :)

As you assemble them you notice how these pedals are just so solid.  They have very tight tolerances and its very obvious that they were built very precisely and engineered quite cleverly.  They literally look and feel like they can survive anything.

They're also a bit bigger and taller than the CSPs, but not really wider, which is great, because even with the pedal plate, they should fit between the posts of most rigs.





How they work
Each pedal presses on a load cell with a small spring near the pivot of the pedal.  The load cells are always under load, meaning, that when you first calibrate your pedals you will see that the pedals already report some percent of the available values as pressed.  This preload pretty much guarantees that you will have 0 dead zone regardless of what the actual position of the pedal hardware is.  The pedals are also extremely sensitive!!  You can just brush them with your finger and you'll see that they report values.  So it's very important when calibrating them to dial in a tiny bit of dead zone so that you can rest your feet against them without causing the sim to think you’re pressing them.

Calibration is done via the DIView.exe provided on the HE site.  In iRacing calibration is done within the sim and the DIView calibration has no effect.

Just to note, the pedals don't consume the full 4096 steps.  The range of the steps is also affected by the pedal travel configuration.  On my configuration where I have the gas restricted to a little more than half way of its total travel, the clutch at full travel, and the brake at its softest (no travel adjustment there), the gas and clutch consume a little over a 1000, and the brake a little under 4000.  Here you can see the min and max values. The red values indicate the raw steps, the black values indicate my calibration range.

MIN:


MAX:


The actual raw range is really not important and shouldn't freak you out, as you still get plenty of resolution.  It's only important to note this because this makes it absolutely necessary to calibrate them the first time you use them, otherwise they just won’t function if you plug and play.  Again, depending on your pedal travel adjustments, your values will vary.

The pedals are also very quiet.  Most of this is due to the blue stoppers which act as stops both when the pedal is pressed and released.

There is no clunking when you press or release the pedals and no weird spring tension noises.  Just some very muted and light engagement sounds that convey more rigidity than the government buildings of Stalingrad.  As far as any noise level they produce, they are most certainly spouse/significant other/roommate friendly.  (One of my wife's biggest complaints used to be the noise of the CSP pedals whenever she was in the room with me while I raced.  No more.)

Mounting
Mounting these pedals is non-trivial, and should probably be your biggest concern if you're thinking about getting these.  Not because they're hard to mount, but because it's not exactly trivial to mount them to something so stiff and resilient that will allow you to press the brake pedal fully and for your rig to be flex free!!!  :shock:

My CSPs were mounted at a slight angle on my 1st gen Obutto Ozone.  The rig comes with a pedal plate that locks in nicely, and I had them bolted onto it.  They were mounted solid and never had issues with them.

When I mounted the HE Pros in the same way, two things happened. The angle was too steep forward, and the pedal plate flexed.  After reinforcing the pedal plate, then entire front end of the rig flexed!! I could see the wheel move when I would hit the brakes to the max.

After couple of sleepless nights thinking how to mount them, I ultimately mounted them inverted.  This did two things.  It allowed the brake pedal forces to travel down along the angled support pillars, resulting in no frame flex, and reduced the force with which I was applying the brakes, making it harder for me to reach 100%, or 50 kg on the load cell.  Overall, it felt more natural.



It did take me a few more days to figure out the exact angle and range of the pedals though to make them more comfortable.

Overall it took me about a week just to mount them in a way where I was happy with them.  At first I really thought maybe the pedals weren’t all that great, but turned out that after adjusting them and mounting them so that I was comfortable with them made a big difference.

I also ended up making this clever pivot mount, which allowed me to very easily adjust the pedals, by flipping them over.  Kind of like opening the hood of a car!  How awesome!






I’m not going to cover all the ways the pedals can be adjusted as Niels’ videos do a pretty good job, but I’ll just make couple of notes.

Gas pedal travel & feel
The gas pedal is a lot firmer and offers various levels of tension, from too little, to too much.  Whereas the CSPs offered too little to almost enough.  The pedal travel for the gas is plenty.  To match up to what I’m used to with the CSPs, I have them set to travel a little more than half way of their full range.  This also limited the available resolution, but at around 1100 steps, it’s plenty.

Brake pedal travel & feel
Comparing the brake pedal to the CSP V2's brake pedal, it is extremely stiff.  It feels really, really stiff even in its softest configuration.  You really need a lot of effort to compress the pedal with your hands, so much so, that I wouldn't recommend trying it because it's likely you'll injure yourself.

The brake pedal is very rigid. Unlike the CSPs, when you press it hard, there is no slight side to side wobble.  It’s just straight in and hard.  When I press the brake pedal to 100%, I generate quite a bit of tension against my seat.  To me this feels like a lot more pressure than what I experienced driving a GT3 car.  The brake is also not as soft as on a road car.  It’s got fairly limited pedal travel, maybe as much or less than the CSP brake pedal, but offers stellar control and feel.

Clutch pedal travel & feel
The pedal is extremely smooth and at 3” of travel it’s just long enough.  It is not as long as on a road car, but if mounted at the right angle and applied at the tip, it’s enough where you’ll need to extend your knee a bit to press it in.  It definitely has more travel than the CSP clutch.  The degressive feel is very good and very smooth in its default setting. The resistance is excellent, but could also be heavier.  The Ultimate pedals supposedly have a much heavier clutch.  However, after a week of use, I don’t have much complaints on the clutch feel.

Personal tweaks
On the overall feel, there were couple of things that I wanted to fix.  The pedal faces were a bit too narrow for my platypus feet.  The edges of the pedal faces were also very sharp, so if I didn’t quite land on the pedal right because they are narrow, it downright hurt pressing the pedals.  This isn’t an issue if you race with shoes, but I’m lazy enough that if I had to put on shoes to race, I probably wouldn’t race.  I solved this by finding some sort of rubbery insulation sticky thing that came with my kitchen sink.  I don’t know what it is, but it looks tough, and it easily molded and adhered to the pedal faces.  In other words, instead of putting shoes on my feet, I put shoes on the pedals.


The last issue I have is since the pedals are inverted, when my foot glides against the flat plates, the gliding is awkward, because the tension point goes up the foot rather than down the foot.  At full press, I have more tension on my toes, rather than consistent tension across the center of my sole.  I think a curved plate will solve this issue. The Ultimate pedals do come with curved plates, so I may consider then at a future date when they become available.
However, I may just end up getting used to this, or finding some curved pedal face I can mount on top of the existing faces.




...

Difference of feel when racing
No matter how well the pedals are engineered, how they affect your simracing is ultimately the most important factor.  I’d like to tell you most about this part.

Accelerating

Ever try the Indi car and give up due to spinning and over driving only after 5 minutes?  I’m happy to say that this certainly wasn't the case when I tried driving it with the HE Pros.  The acceleration is extremely precise, and extremely smooth.  Even though the resolution is almost the same as the CSP gas pedal (around 1024), it somehow felt a lot more precise and as if I had more resolution to play with.  Part of this is attributed to the extra available pedal travel, and part of it to the harder pedal spring, and of course part of it to the magical engineering wizardry of Niels.

In fact, the accelerator is so sensitive and precise that when I rev the engine at a standstill, I can very easily target and keep very specific RPM points.  On my Fanatec wheel, I can just choose and stay at say, the second yellow light on the LED, and move between the first and third without going into the red or blue.  Total and unbelievably precise control!

What is most interesting is that not only am I able to get a much smoother rolling into the throttle and get the car to bite without over driving it, but when the car starts to slip and slide, I can modulate the gas back a little and feel the car regain control. In fact, I was so surprised by this, I’m starting to think iRacing’s physics may not be all that broken after all.  Maybe all that is needed is some higher quality hardware to unlock all of this extra feel.

This was especially noticeable for me when driving the McLaren at spa though Les Combes and accelerating out of the Chicane.

I’ve just never had this sort of ability to modulate the pedal before and actually feel and regain grip by letting off a little throttle without losing a lot of time.

The difference in being able to throttle this throttle is very significant and noticeable over the CSP’s gas pedal, which by the way, is very good.  I remember when I upgraded to the CSP from the G25 pedals and I was impressed with how much more range and smoothness the CSPs operated.  However, this time with the HE Pros, I’m not only getting that much more smoothness and precision, but it also feels that I’m getting more information from the sim.  It’s as if throttle modulation in the sim all of a sudden became a lot more detailed and I’m able to zoom in on specific points and keep it there.

Braking

The most talked about feature of these pedals is the brake.  Just like the throttle, when applying it in sim, I feel like I have extra resolution and modulation ability.  I also for the first time started hearing differences in the noise the tires make as they approach their lockup threshold.  I can also lock them up, release then, and lock them up on demand.  The braking is that sensitive and accurate.  I no longer go past some point of no return, but rather can consistently reach and play around the threshold zone.  It is simply a superb feeling that gives you so much more confidence in being able to brake hard, and so much more feeling of control.

Trail braking is easier than before.  On my last track day back in May at COTA, I remember how easy it was to trail brake the car I was driving and hold its nose down with the pedal, slowly easing off up to the apex.  While I could kind of do that on my CSP pedals, I felt like I had very limited range, and couldn't quite get my foot to be sensitive enough to modulate within that range.  However, with the much heavier and precise HE brake pedal, I can actually do this now, and quite accurately. This was most noticeable again at Spa, when driving through Bruxelles, keeping the nose down of the car through the hairpin and easing off the throttle.  The effects of this in the sim were very clear and distinct.

The brake on this pedal set offers so much more control than the CSP pedal.  The fact that you can hit the brakes really hard and arrive and play with the threshold and hear all of the different tire squealing going on is just incredible.  It really brings out the subtleties and details of the physics in iRacing.

Clutching

For the first time ever, and I mean ever, I am now able to get a car to engage slowly and smoothly from a dead stop in first.  The clutch feel is so precise, and gives such great push-back, I can actually slip the clutch and modulate it.   I've always thought the clutch in iRacing was modeled somewhat iffy, or the auto clutch just never game me a chance to engage smoothly.  WRONG. I just never had a pedal set with a clutch that allowed me to do so before.

I was so excited about this newly discovered feel for the clutch, that I quit iRacing and fired up LFS to go practice parallel parking in manual on a hill! :D  Wow, was it so much easier than before.  I was able to slip ever so gently and smoothly from 2K RPM without stalling, just like in a real econobox car that I would drive on the street.  I very much got the sensation that I was connecting a heavy clutch plate to a drive shaft and had perfect clarity on the amount of slip and bite available to balance it correctly with the gas.

Back in iRacing I loaded up my favorite combo, the RUF RWD at Bathurst.  An intense ride only second to the L79 on the same track.  I always missed shifts on the front straight leading up the mountain and coming back down from the mountain due pressing the clutch too fast and too little. This time this didn't seem to be an issue at all.  The degressive and much stiffer clutch than the CSPs really took me through the full travel of the pedal, even though I was on and off of it quickly.


Overall Impressions
Did these pedals make me faster?  It’s hard to tell actually, and probably not, in fact at first they made me a lot slower.  This was because all of a sudden I not only had a different sensation of the physics pedals to deal with, but I was getting more information from the simulator that I didn't know what to do with.  They certainly gave me a whole new insight and feeling into the physics of iRacing under acceleration, braking, and gear changing.  It’s as if they unlocked some extra information from the sim and slowed down time. After a week and a half of practice I can now very precisely target specific brake pressures and modulate the throttle.  There is a very distinct feel when I brake a little, medium, a lot, and hard.  The same for the throttle, I know exactly how much throttle I’m applying and can see and hear how the car is reacting.  All of this new information is something I need to further get accustomed to, and I imagine that anyone who is willing to take their sim racing to a further level will definitely benefit from these pedals.

It’s not that the pedals will make you faster, but rather they will give you more information about what the sim is doing, and let you interact very precisely and finely within very small ranges and thresholds.  It’s up to you to harness this new level of control and information, and figure out how to use it to go faster.

At around $800 USD, they are more than 3X as expensive than the CSP v2s.  However, I can easily say that they are also more than 3X better in almost every way. So, if you have money to burn, burn them with a set of HE Pros. ...or Ultimates if you have more!