VNM Handbrake Long Term Review
Product link: https://vnmsimulation.com/
Every rally driver or drifter needs a handbrake. A nice handbrake can look amazing on a rig and when positioned and used correctly can give you superpowers behind the wheel. As our sim racing journey evolves, the quality of our hardware goes with it. It’s actually an incredible time to be a sim racer. Where eBay style handbrakes were once our only option, now we have many choices for all budgets.
This is the VNM handbrake and I’ll kick this video off by saying, that despite not being perfect, I think this is the best handbrake I’ve ever had on my sim rig. I’m Laurence, welcome to the channel.
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Handbrakes are often an accessory coveted by those who wish they knew how to use them properly. They’re often bought and if installed, rarely used. The fact is that most people don’t actually need one, and those who do need one, know that they will use it a lot.
Yes, in theory, a handbrake is either on, or off. A button can achieve 90% of what a proper handbrake does. However, the experience of pulling a handbrake in a real car is not a simple button press. It’s a marriage between upper body strength and precise clutch engagement. A handbrake is rarely pulled once and released. Often, you can use the handbrake 3,4, even 10 times in a corner, depending on your discipline.
- First Impressions
I had a very experienced and reputable sim racer over to my house and in a sea of equipment, he sat at my rig and one of the first things he said was: “That’s the best handbrake I’ve ever seen on a sim”. I have to agree with him. I have used the heusinkveld mk1 handbrake and although I really liked it, it didn’t make an impression the way this one did.
The sleek flat black coating on incredibly well machined parts makes this lovely to admire, and to touch. The handle is very functional and simple and wouldn’t look out of place in a real race car or road car. However, the looks are probably not to everyone’s taste, as the load cell is proudly displayed alongside the elastomer, spring and mechanism. Personally, I find it just a little bit busy and would love a front cover which matches their beautiful shifter.
There’s a VNM logo buried below the load cell and it has a purple backlight. Unfortunately, there is no way to change the colour of this but worse than that, there’s no way to turn it off. It’s just a little… purple… I’m not a fan of it.
All in all the quality of the materials and the incredibly high standard of finish does make it easily identifiable as a compliment to the VNM Shifter which I reviewed a few months ago. One of the benefits of it all being open, is that the adjustments are relatively easy to achieve. I’ll cover that in more detail in a later section. Out of the box it already feels like a formidable device and even without the ability to adjust it, I very much see the value for money. Which leads us nicely into our next section.
€199 (or $199 USD) may seem like a tall price tag for most sim racers and it is definitely not something a cheap purchase. We need to consider the competition. Other than the ‘ebay’ style handbrake for around €50, the only other realistic options are the a Fanatec hanbrake for around €130, the Thrustmaster handbrake at around €240 and the Heusinkveld handbrake which comes in at just under €300. The Fanatec and Thrustmaster handbrakes come with native console support, which is a huge selling point. However, neither of them is loadcell and comparing them to the VNM is not really fair on the VNM which is less of a toy, and more like it came out of a rally car.
The performance kit is comprehensive and comes in at €39. This kit is essential if you wish to mount the handbrake handle at 90 degrees. The additional elastomers and springs are definitely worth the upgrade, but most will actually find that the default setup, with a little bit of preload, is already far superior to the afore mentioned Fanatec handbrake.
I’ve also got this €10 addon plate which I deem essential if you already own a VNM shifter. It’s rock solid and does the trick nicely. It gives the handbrake the perfect mounting position beside your shifter without the need for additional rig accessories, which save a lot of clutter.
The VNM does not work on console, and plugs in as a standalone device. At €199, it’s not within everyone’s budget. But within seconds of seeing and opening the box, you’re met with incredible build quality and the main selling point of this handbrake, a beefy load cell. When it comes to load cell, as mentioned, the only mainstream competition for this handbrake is the Heusinkveld handbrake, which I have not had the pleasure of reviewing yet. The Heusinkveld comes in just shy of €300, which is €100, or for those of you who like percentages, 50% more than the VNM. I’d love to compare them in the future, but on paper, that’s a significant price difference. I have used the Heusinkveld handbrakes, but unless I put them through the same test and review process, it’s not fair to even begin to compare them.
- Installation – Hardware
There are lots of slots and mounting holes both tapped and untapped for you to mount this device. The mounting points are situated at the rear and sides as shown. As I already have the VNM shifter, mounting this handbrake is made easier by using the addon plate that they offer. This 7mm plate will withstand even that toughest of conditions.
Those of you familiar with my VNM Shifter review may recall that it wasn’t too easy to mount on my t-slot rig. This plate makes everything a little simpler though and allows me to ditch those table clamps completely. The mounting points are not perfect but it’s still relatively easy to get this all hooked up and mounted. You’ll see from the marks on my mounting plate, that I tried several configurations before deciding that this is most suited. One thing to keep in mind, is that if you wish to mount your shifter and handbrake like this, you’ll need an extra length of aluminium profile, and some corner brackets as shown.
Once mounted up, this configuration is great. Sure, it’s possible to introduce negligible amounts of flex in the aluminium profile by hanging off the handbrake with your full force, but realistically, that’s not an issue.
I’m a little disappointed to see that the handbrake requires a dedicated USB connection to your hub or PC, when I feel they missed an opportunity to daisy chain it through the shifter which does expose peripheral ports. When you get into the realm of adding handbrakes, shifters, button boxes, etc, USB ports become precious.
There’s also an ST-link connection with a little button on it which is pretty useless unless you have the right connection, and even if you do, you should never need to use it. You can adjust the angle of the handle by moving the bump stop. This bump stop is a very clever use of an elastomer to prevent excessive wear and tear caused to traditional rubber stoppers or metal to metal contact. In my months of using this device, there’s not one sign of wear on it.
- Installation – Software
Although you can calibrate the handbrake using the VNM software, you shouldn’t need to and for all intents and purposes, this is a plug and play device. Every title I tried, recognised this device and I didn’t have any real issues other than Automobilista 2, where I needed to restart the sim several times before it recognised any of my peripheral devices.
The unit comes pre-calibrated and this setting is enough for me. Do note though that there’s an inherent dead zone at the end of the lever throw which some may not like. You can tweak this out with the software but honestly I don’t want to be pulling it THAT hard every time I need my car to rotate.
The software gives you the ability to change the curve at which your load cell takes most effect, not dissimilar to the heusinkveld sprints software. However, I noticed little difference between the standard linear mode and all the others. They do get 10 out of 10 for this funky dynamic graph though.
- How it performs
I’m in a lucky position in that I have owned and driven several real life drift cars and really relied on having a good hydraulic handbrake in real life situations. I know what it should feel like and as a result, have high expectations from any devices which carry claims of realism. Some cars have a long handbrake handle throw, others have a very short and sharp throw. I feel that the VNM handbrake strikes a happy medium. Before you hop into a sim, and even with the default spring and elastomer configuration, it feels good. I do recommend tightening up the pre-load slightly which just gives it a more realistic feel in my opinion. This section only covers the default setup and not the performance kit. I’ll cover that in the next section.
As I said before, In some disciplines, you can use the handbrake several times in one corner. It’s a common misconception that you pull the handbrake once and then you’re done. This only holds true for front wheel drive cars. So that everyone is on the same page, the handbrake is always connected to both rear wheels, and has no impact on the front wheels whatsoever. The goal of a handbrake is to allow you to rotate the car quicker, or to position the car wider or shallower in a turn. Even in a hairpin turn on a rally stage, pulling the handbrake alone is not enough to use it to your advantage. You need to control your momentum by setting the car up before you initiate your handbrake. If you’re just going straight, you will keep going straight as the handbrake alone cannot rotate the car. When controlled correctly, you can position your car in such a way that gives you the best exit out of a corner. In drifting, the handbrake is an essential tool to position your car into ‘clipping zones’ or close to other cars in a controlled way.
Handbrakes get even more complicated than that though. The most common mistake I see, despite some sim titles allowing it, is when people do not engage the clutch pedal while using a handbrake. If you think about it, the clutch pedal basically disconnects your engine from your currently selected gear. When you are in gear, your engine has a connection to your wheels through your clutch, gearbox, drive shafts, diffs and axles or half shafts. Now, if you pull the handbrake while your drivetrain is all linked up, you will cause excessive wear in a real car and in the best case scenario, you’ll just stall the car because the handbrake just locked up your rear wheels while they were still ‘connected’ to the engine, and now the engine has stopped. To avoid this, you need to engage your clutch pedal every single time you pull the handbrake. Even a sequential rally car which allows flat shifting through the gears, will usually have a clutch for stage starts and for when the driver needs to ‘apply the wand’.
Anyways, that was a little bit of a tangent and perhaps warrants its own video, but it’s extremely important when realising how complex using a handbrake can be. This also leads me on to why I chose this mounting solution. As with the Fanatec handbrake and my real life drift car, I like to have the handbrake between my steering wheel and my shifter. The main reason being that you use the handbrake mainly in corners, between steering inputs and gear changes. If you’re pulling the handbrake to make last second corrections, the distance between your steering wheel and your handbrake has a direct impact on your reaction times as your hand needs to travel from one to the other. The shorter this distance, the quicker you can jump between the two.
Everything I’m mentioning here emphasises that this product performs the way I would expect a real handbrake to perform. This is an incredible product.
- Performance kit / Adjustment
Out of the box, this is already a very respectable handbrake. If you want more grunt, or if you want to run the handbrake handle at 90 degrees, you’ll need the optional €50 “handbrake pro kit”. It’s a bit of a shame in ways that you cannot buy the angle bracket separately but from a sales point of view, it makes sense for them to have one package with all the upgrades in it, to avoid any confusion.
The angle bracket is great and very functional. Although I did try the handbrake in this other orientation, it wasn’t for me and I quickly changed it back. The feel was good, but it took up too much space on my rig.
To swap out the spring or damper, you simply undo these bolts either side of the bearing that holds the load cell stack in place. Remember the order stuff came off in, and put it back accordingly. The top ring is knurled which allows for tool less adjustment of the preload on the spring. Further adjustment does require basic Allen keys though.
The uprated polyurethane damper is great, especially when combined with the blue spring which is the middle strength spring. If you want an even heavier throw, the red spring has you covered but honestly, it was a little bit overkill for me. I have used real hydraulic handbrakes that felt like that but I prefer this setup as shown. It’s heavy and requires good aggression and power to be activated. I highly recommend the performance kit, but those used to a fanatec handbrake will already be blown away by the standard offering. If budget is a concern, just buy the handbrake pro kit at a later stage.
- Final Thought
This is the best sim racing handbrake I have ever reviewed and possibly, the best I have ever used. There’s a lovely amount of travel, which is akin to most real life hydraulic handbrakes. The unit feels like it can take an absolute hammering and in the past 4 months of use, it hasn’t missed a beat. I said it before with the shifter, that VNM really meant business when they said they wanted to take on the big players in the current market. What they’ve done here is something that any company who thinks they can make a good handbrake, now needs to live up to.
Pulling the handbrake is not just something that feels rewarding if and when it goes right, it’s a tool that real rally and drift cars depend on heavily. This VNM handbrake goes beyond a game controller accessory and functions perfectly as a training tool to build that muscle memory and coordination that you need in the split second of your real life rally stages or drift clipping points.
The ability to be aggressive or smooth with this handbrake is second to none. The feeling of the handle is excellent. So simple and functional. The black finish is also incredibly durable as I often used it while wearing my wedding ring, but with absolutely no visible wear on the handle despite loud and aggressive metal on metal contact.
I’m delighted to have been able to review this handbrake long term. It definitely gets my approval and anyone who buys one will be delighted.
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Feel free to ask any questions and if this was useful, feel free to thumb it up and share it with your communities. I’m Laurence, thank you for watching and I’ll chat to ye later.