8020 Rigs Pros & Cons
What are the Pros and Cons of an aluminium (aluminum) extrusion, or 8020, sim racing rig?
Originally posted in October, 2020 by Martin Ellingham
By now, you have probably seen a lot of different types of sim racing rigs. We will try and demystify the aluminium (aluminum for our American cousins) extrusion rig. We will see what the positives and drawbacks are to buying and owning an aluminium extrusion rig.
Aluminium extrusion rigs are often called “8020 rigs”. 8020 refers to a particular size of aluminium profile. However, 8020 is not the profile size used in most rigs today. It is however still the common name given to most rigs of this type so we will run with it for this article. It is a bit like how every vacuum cleaner is seemingly a Hoover, or hot tubs are almost exclusively called Jacuzzis. In this article we will use the names “aluminium extrusion rig”, “aluminium profile rig” and “8020 rig” interchangeably.
Aluminium extrusion rigs are not suitable for everyone. In this article we will provide as much information as possible so you can make an informed decision on whether this type of rig best suits your needs.
An aluminium extrusion rig, the PRO SIMRIG PSR1.
Let us start with the Positives
It is tough stuff and built to last.
Aluminium extrusion “profiles” as they are called are extremely hardy. The material is often used in vehicle construction where strength to weight ratio is critically important. If you have never handled the material and only ever seen it in photos, it is hard to get across just how substantial it feels in the hand. It will take a lot of punishment and a sim rig made of the right sized profiles is not even close to testing its potential strength.
If a car manufacturer can use it to build cars and trucks, you can be sure that it is stiff stuff. If you run a powerful force feedback wheel (such as a direct drive wheel) e.g. Fanatec DD1/DD2, Simucube, Leo Bodnar, etc. then you will need a rig that is rigid. It is no good if you are hammering your Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car into the Carousel at the Green Hell, only to have your perfect racing line derailed by flex in the rig. You will not typically get that from a strong 8020 rig. Force feedback fidelity is sapped every time there is an unwanted movement in a rig. Quite literally, there is no point having a powerful wheel if it is married to the wrong rig.
Be careful: not all 8020 rigs are made equal. Both the materials (particularly profile size) as well as layout and design will have a big impact on whether the rigidity is up to scratch. It is certainly possible to buy a bad 8020/aluminium extrusion rig and have flex. Make sure you do your research!
Only your imagination will hold you back on what you can do to an extrusion rig. You can add accessories from different manufacturers like shifters, button boxes, etc. You can buy extra profile and extend your rig to do whatever you need it to do. YouTuber Chris Haye calls it “Lego for adults”. I think that’s a pretty accurate description.
Cheaper rigs or wheelstands often have a fixed seating position. With aluminium extrusion rigs you can typically alter the height and angle of the seat, as well as how far it is from the wheel and pedals. Got short arms but long legs? No problem, pull the wheel deck towards you and push the pedal deck back.
8020 rigs allow you to fit a seat slider to allow for easy in and out and fine tuning of your racing position. This is also a great feature if you have friends over who want to see how easy it is (ha!)
Basic rigs often mean having to settle for very little, or no adjustment to where the steering wheel sits. There are some fundamental rules to how near or far you should be to the steering wheel, so it is vitally important you get this right. Like the seat position, 8020 typically allows you to alter the height, distance to your driving position as well as the steering wheel angle for maximum comfort and leverage.
Got a dodgy knee from a freak parkour accident in your youth? You might want to think about how you can position your pedals. An aluminium profile rig will give you the most options for adjustment on your pedals in terms of height, distance and angle. In other rig types, sometimes there is either a fixed pedal position, or only the distance is adjustable. Need a steeper (or maybe less steep) angle in the pedals? Not a problem, just tweak it until it feels comfortable.
Be careful: again, not all 8020 rigs are created equal here either. Some have very little adjustment in the pedals. Make sure you know how the pedal section works and what flexibility you will have with the one you choose.
Remember the seat slider we just talked about? 8020 rigs also typically allow you to fit a slider to the pedals too. This allows even more adjustability than just sliding the seat on its own. Again, perfect if you have friends over who have the legs of a giraffe, but the arms of a baby t-rex.
Some rig types are quite low to the ground and so getting in and out is a chore. If you have a mobility issue, you may prefer the rig to be higher (particularly if you are swapping from a wheelchair to the rig for example). Typically, aluminium profile rigs naturally sit higher, but they can also be raised again through the use of adjustable feet.
You may never buy another rig again. Aluminium extrusion rigs can take you all the way from a basic gear driven wheel (think Logitech et al), all the way through belt driven wheels (think Fanatec, et al), and all the way up to strong direct drive wheels (think Simucube, Leo Bodnar, et al). Rather than changing your whole rig, you can just change the wheel mount (and you may not even need to do that as some wheel mounts can take multiple different manufacturers / types of wheels and wheel bases)
Just gone from a spongy brake pedal to a load cell, or even a hydraulic setup? Just rip off your old set and throw in the new pedals.
How it looks
You like the industrial look? You are in luck!
Like Silver/Grey or Black? You are in luck again! The neutral colours mean that it pairs well with a lot of things, even that ghastly floral wallpaper you refuse to take down (okay, maybe that is stretching it a little far, but it does pair well with most surroundings).
You love DIY / building stuff
We said earlier that aluminium profile / extrusion can be compared to Lego (Editor: I will be honest; nothing will beat my pirate ship with 8 firing cannons). If you are the sort of person who likes to stand back after an hour or three and admire what you have built, then why are you still playing with Lego? An aluminium extrusion rig will be far more satisfying! This can obviously be a negative if you are not into the building phase.
Overall lifetime cost
If you are starting with a cheap wheel temporarily clamped to an office desk (which is how I personally started, a wheelstand was a dream at the time!), then you may be thinking about moving up to the next level. If you are thinking you need to go to a wheelstand next, take a second and understand why. It is absolutely possible to go from a flat pack office desk straight to an 8020 rig. It means you will not have to buy (and sell at a loss) any of the intermediary steps (like a wheelstand), but it will seem like a big investment at the time (see negative #1).
If you do decide to take small steps each time, slowly improving your setup, you may end up spending more in the long term. Before you go one way or the other, think about your long term goals for your sim racing and how quickly you want to get there. We at Race Anywhere are always happy to discuss your options so you make the best choice for you. Even if we do not have the exact product to sell you, that doesn’t matter, just drop us a line, we are always happy to help fellow sim racers.
Let us end with the Negatives
Your initial outlay is typically more expensive than other types of rigs. But why?
Aluminium is quite an expensive material to start off with. Then you must coat it. Then you must cut it (you go through cutting blades at a rate of knots). Then you must handle it (see point 3 below, it is heavy stuff!). Then you need to pack it well so it cannot move in transit. Then you need to ship it (and the box often resembles a chunky wombat). All of this adds to the total cost that the sim racer needs to pay for the product.
There are more expensive rigs on the market (anyone fancy modifying a 1980’s turbo F1 cockpit into a rig for me?), but of those that are in the affordable range for the majority, 8020 rigs are typically at the higher end.
Got a hot date coming over and you are not quite ready to admit you have an unhealthy addiction to sim racing? Uh oh. It is going to be hard to hide an 8020 rig. You can move it (see point 3 below), but unless you never, ever skip arm, back and leg day, you will not want to be moving it often.
Some wheelstands for example collapse down, fold away, or come apart easily which means they can be put away with relative ease and might be a better option for those with no space to dedicate to a permanent setup
It is quite heavyWe said earlier that it has a great strength to weight ratio. Nevertheless, due to the amount of material used in the construction of a rig of this type, it is not uncommon for just the rig alone to weigh over 50kg. When you add on a wheel base, wheel, seat rails, seat slider, seat… you could be pushing more than 70kg. Luckily because it is built in sections (profiles), no one single piece is too heavy – only the final constructed rig is.
One way to overcome the weight is to add castor wheels which makes moving the rig around a room lot easier. Need to constantly move a rig up and down floors in your house? Unless you can afford to buy two, one for each room, forget it. You will soon grow tired of disassembling and reassembling.
You hate DIY / building stuff
We have all had that flat pack experience where we stand back to admire our Swedish creation only to realise that the drawer handles are for some reason facing inwards, haven’t we? (Editor: err, no?). 8020 is not like flat pack, because it is not flimsy and easily breakable, but you will need to wield a spanner and screwdriver to put a rig together. There are some build services available (something we are also looking into at Race Anywhere) for those who do not want to face doing it alone, but that will obviously need to be factored into the cost. Next best option? Call your closest “Dave” (everyone knows a Dave who is handy on the tools, right?) and bribe him with copious amounts of chocolate biscuits.
How it looks
You do not like that industrial look? You are out of luck! The extensive utility of the material means that it is of almost universal design. You can do some small tweaks to make it less industrial (fill the channels with slot specific rubber can mask some of its industrial traits a little), but it is always going to look like an 8020 rig.
You think Silver/Grey and Black are too boring? Unless you are famous for tagging your town with a rattle can or are a budding Banksy, you are probably out of luck again. Typically, these are the common colours for this type of rig.
What are your top pros and cons for aluminium extrusion / aluminium profile / 8020 rigs? What have we missed? Let us know and we will include it to help others like you make an informed decision.