Review of Heusinkveld Engineering Prototype Sequential Shifter
|Written by||Simon Maltby|
|Date||31st January 2015|
|Manufactured by||Heusinkveld Engineering Website|
Heusinkveld Engineering sent us a prototype of their up and coming sequential shifter to test. They also agreed that we could write a short review of the prototype and give everyone a sneak preview of what is coming soon from the Dutch company. Heusinkveld Engineering are a small company based in the Netherlands that specialize in simulation solutions. Niels Heusinkveld and Svend va der Vlugt are very approachable and knowledgeable. Their products are very well engineered and prove very sort after in the sim racing world.
If you already know or own any Heusinkveld Engineering products you will instantly recognize the shifter as from the same company. The design and materials are just like their pedals and handbrake. The second thing to note is how small and compact the shifter is. USB electronics are part of the USB cable in the prototype but will be contained in the casing with the final release. The casing is a tiny 70mm long, 50mm high and 35mm wide (excluding bolts). We have been informed that when launched the case will be 4mm longer to cover the electronics. Even at 74mm long it will still be very compact. Sticking out, on both sides, are three bolts. One of these is quite large and has a plastic cover, the other two are normal M6 bolts as used in other HE products. These bolts increase the overall width of the shifter to about 80mm.
Fitting the shifter
The shifter came with a table top mount attached to the casing. This clamps onto a desk and is secured by tightening from underneath using a hexagonal key. Plenty of space is needed under the lip of the table to fit the shifter and the top of the clamp is made of strips of steel which will leave marks in a wooden desk. The desk clamp provides excellent support with fore and aft forces catered for very well. We found the shifter was held in place well and did not move at all while in use.
Other mounting options are available. An optional bracket for mounting to common rigs for example aluminium profile is available and we were able to try this out. Unfortunately it is clearly designed for smaller 80/20 style profile than used in our 45mm rig. The bracket can either be fixed to the shifter using the M6 side bolts or to the base of the shifter where there are 4 treaded M4 holes.
Heusinkveld Engineering were keen to point out that when using the side bolts, they should not be removed from both sides simultaneously otherwise some of the internal parts will move out of position. As we could not use the included bracket to mount the shifter we made our own from a spare aluminium angle. We used the 4 M4 bolts to fix the shifter to the bracket which we countersunk so that the bracket sat flat against our aluminium profile. It is worth noting that the bolts at the side of the shifter make it difficult to mount to the side of aluminium profile. Remember that any shifter will need thought and some DIY when fitting to custom built rig and HE have ensured that it relatively easy. Overall we found fitting to be very versatile and no more difficult that any other shifter we have tried. If you are using a desk, the supplied table clamp is probably all you will ever need.
The tiny size of the HE sequential shifter should mean that it can be used in almost any environment including a single seater cockpit. It is designed to be similar in size to an old school formula 3 shifter. Unlike the very large Fanatec CSQ the HE shifter should be able to fit into any rig without too much difficulty.
The shifter is identical on each side and therefore it makes no difference mounting it for left or right handed operation.
Our shifter came with several gear leaver options and we are told that the retail version will have even more. There were 3 different shafts, each of a different length. The longest shaft is 120mm (80mm between the threads), a mid length shaft at 100mm (60mm between the threads) and a short shaft at 80mm (40mm between the threads). Heusinkveld Engineering informed us that the finish on the retail shafts is not finalized and that there will also be bent shafts included in addition to those we received. The shafts are attached to the shifter by simply screwing the longer thread into the casing and then secured by tightening a 16mm nut which is applied to the shaft being used.
On the other end of the shaft is a shorter thread which accepts one of the 4 provided gear knobs. The gear knob simply screws onto the shaft and providing the shaft is secured to the casing using the nut, can be added and removed easily by hand. The 4 supplied gear knobs were a 50mm diameter round (ball shape), a 40mm round (ball shape), a pear shape (35mm at it's widest) and a tall tapering (30mm at it's widest). All of the gear knobs are made of a shiny black plastic like material which on first glance look cheap and out of place. We would have expected some nice looking aluminium or even carbon fiber on a product of this quality. However, despite the material used in the gear knobs they are very well made and extremely comfortable.
With the shaft and gear knob options the prototype shifter has a total of twelve different combinations, so everyone should find something that feels comfortable. The longer the shaft the less force is required to change gear. The shifter itself does not offer any adjustments, so the shaft length and gear knob are the only way to adjust the feel of the shifting process.
Changing options can be achieved very quickly. The gear knob requires no tools to change, simply unscrew one knob and replace with another. The shaft takes slightly longer and requires a spanner. Simply loosen the 16mm nut with your spanner, then unscrew the shaft from the shifter casing. Remove the nut and add it to the next shaft. Screw the new shaft into the shifter casing and tighten the nut again. The whole process takes less than a minute if you have the spanner to hand. We have to complement Heusinkveld Engineering on the simplicity of changing the shaft and gear knob, it's such a simple design that works really well.
Our prototype shifter had a USB cable hard wired into the casing with some electronics by the USB plug. We expect the retail product will use a normal USB cable with a socket in the casing and the electronics hidden inside. Plugging the USB cable into our PC we were instantly able to see the device in game controllers. The device was properly labeled as "HE Sequential shifter". No software is required and there is no configuration or calibration, windows simply see two buttons. All that remains is to tell each of your games which of these buttons to use for up-shift and down-shift.
While configuring the shifter in iRacing we started to question which way it should be setup. Should it be forwards for up-shift and backwards for down-shift or the other way round? After trying both we settled for forward to up-shift because it felt more comfortable. As soon as Niels at Heusinkveld Engineering saw our test video he pointed out that we were using the wrong method and that for racing cars, it should be backwards for an up-shift. So we commissioned a quick survey on the iRacing forum and it became clear that Niels was quite correct 92% (out of 125 votes) said backwards for up-shift. Most road cars use forward for up-shift in their automatic/semi automatic vehicles but racing cars always do the opposite with backwards for up-shift. The reason for this is that in a racing car there are more forces on the driver at work and these influence the how best to move the gear leaver. While up-shifting, the driver is being pushed backwards, due to acceleration, and would be fighting this force to push the gear leaver forwards at that time. Likewise while breaking the forces push the driver forwards, so down-shifting would be much harder if trying to pull backwards on the gear leaver. So we consider ourselves educated and since then have been using the shifter in race car configuration.
Now that we had the shifter mounted, recognized by windows and setup in our game we started to test it out.
Using the shifter
Every shifter we have ever used has had quite a lot of play in the shaft while at rest. The HE sequential shifter does exhibit a small amount of play, but it is far less that the other shifters we have tried. This movement is tiny and we are being excessively critical by even mentioning it. In other shifters we have used, like the Fanatec CSQ V1.5, the play feels very loose and as if its not meant to be there. The HE shifter's play as well as being far less, feels more controlled and almost as if it's there by design.
Moving the shifter forwards you feel instant resistance and as you increase pressure it will suddenly snap forwards as if finding the teeth of a mechanical gear. The feeling is quite realistic. At the end of travel you hit a fairly solid stop with a slight clunking sound. Pulling the shifter backwards has a slightly different feel than going forwards although the difference is very subtle. We found that slightly more force seemed required for a backwards shift although this may just the affect of our body weight causing momentum on the forward shift. The clunking sound as the stop is hit is a little more pronounced on the back shift. No shifter is going to be silent, indeed, you want to hear something and feel the end of travel to be sure of a precise gear change. The HE sequential shifter is not quiet. We would describe the noise as slightly louder than expected. The use of racing gloves reduces the noise level quite a lot which is something to bear in mind if noise is a concern for you.
Here are a couple of short videos. The first shows the noise level while mounted to our rig while the second shows the shifter in action using the Lotus 79 at SPA in iRacing (using the wrong shifting direction oops).
Heusinkveld Engineering have told us to expect the shifter to become less stiff after use and in the first few days we certainly felt this. There is no lessening of feeling, but we have found that we can be slightly more delicate the more use it gets. It's almost like the shifter needs a running in period.
We tried every combination of shaft and gear knob while testing and settled on the tallest 120mm shaft with the larger 50mm round gear knob as our personal preference. As time goes on and the shifter wears in we expect to move to the medium length shaft.
After using the shifter for the best part of a week we can honestly say it has not missed a gear change. Bad driving and improper use of clutch and throttle blipping have always been the cause of a bad or missed gear while driving, the shifter has not been at fault once. Gear changes feel very consistent and it is easy to get very comfortable with the tactile feeling. The shifter has a very short throw. Measured at the base of the shaft the throw is under 5mm horizontally. This really helps to provide a solid and repeatable experience with every gear change. While using the shifter you are left feeling that you are interacting with a piece of engineering and not a toy. We have described the HE Pro pedals in a similar way in the past. This shifter is unquestionably an HE product, very well engineered and built.
Some of the shifter mechanics are visible and on a couple of occasions skin was pinched while pulling backwards on the shifter. The bolt holding the shaft goes quite close to the edge of the casing and fingers can get caught. Despite this, we love the openness of the shifter and a few bruises are a small price to pay. The product would be less special if the top had a gated cover added although from a safety point of view this might be a good idea?
We have been very impressed with the HE sequential shifter and it will remain on our rig after this review. In theory a sequential shifter is a very simple device basically comprising of a couple of switches which are activated moving a lever. Heusinkveld Engineering has taken this simple process and engineered an elegant solution which feels very realistic.
The shifter has been in development for what seems an age and as you start to use it the reason for the long development time becomes clear. We are not looking at a simple device here, despite it's small size, the engineering and design of this is superb.
Up till now we have only been looking at a prototype and although mechanically the retail version is expected to be the same, the retail product can only be better.
The price of the retail version is expected to be just under €200. The engineering alone is worth that. For a purely sequential shifter it does put it at the high price end of the market. It would be nice to have better looking gear knobs, even if they were optional. However you can buy real car gear knobs and they should just screw on as the thread size is universal.
Pros – things we really liked
- Design and Engineering.
- Ability to change shaft and gear knob quickly.
- Table mount.
- A little louder than expected.
- Plastic style gear knobs.
- It is possible to catch fingers in the mechanics.