If you’ve ever watched a Twitch stream, walked into a computer store, or have a really die-hard PC gamer friend, you’ve probably seen these ridiculous “racing” gaming chairs. No, I don’t know why a chair designed for PC gaming is also a “racing” chair, but I do know this is the most comfortable chair I’ve used at home in a long, long time.
The racing gaming chair style was first popularized by a company called DXRacer. For all intents and purposes, they seem to be the “original” however it’s a little hard to tell because there are so many knock offs, including brands like Vertagear, Respawn, E-Blue, and others that are just as functional (and in many cases cheaper) than the original. It doesn’t help that “DXRacer” isn’t exactly the most unique, ear-catching brand name. That’s how I ended up with a chair from the GTRacing, which sounds like it’s skirting the lines of intellectual property infringement closer than The Asylum.
For the purposes of this review, that’s the variation I’m focusing on: my GTRacing chair. Of all the many knockoffs on the market, this is the version I found for a decent price ($160) with the features I wanted. I also frequent a gaming bar with a couple dozen DXRacers and, having compared both, they’re virtually indistinguishable unless you look really closely (in fact, I thought the bar had this particular knockoff until I examined them while writing this review). This does mean I’m not technically reviewing the original. Sorry, DXRacer. We’re a review site so we’ll be happy to review a specific model in the future, but for now we’re taking a look at the concept of gaming chairs as a whole.
The term “racing style” may sound ridiculous (chairs are stationary, race car go zoom, and coloring one like a Formula 1 car doesn’t mean it’s part of a Formula 1 car), but the set of features they tend to come with form a genuinely useful piece of office furniture. Since there are so many knockoffs and variations, obviously we can’t confirm that every racing chair has these features, but in general, you’ll find the following:
- Adjustable armrests. Where your arms need to rest is dependent on how long your arms are and how tall your desk is. Fixed position armrests are frustrating, but thankfully the racing style chair armrests can usually be adjusted higher or lower depending on your needs. Some can also be adjusted wider, allowing for more waist sizes to fit comfortably.
- Tall, wide back with ergonomic shoulder rests. Some office chairs only go up to the middle of your back. This is fine, but the tall back on the racing-style chairs gives support for your entire back and head, which is especially helpful when reclining.
- Adjustable incremental backrest. The backrest can be set to almost 90 degrees to help force you to sit upright, a more leisurely 130-degree reading mode, or all the way back to 170 degrees which is so flat and comfortable you could take a nap in this position.
- Headrest pillow. There’s a pillow that straps to the top of your chair, which is perfectly position for your head to rest on when you recline the chair into nap mode.
- Lumbar support pillow with placement straps. This is amazing. You can buy a lumbar pillow for plenty of office chairs and just set it in the small of your back, but racing chairs come with one that’s strapped in place. This keeps it in position so you always have support where you need it.
- Absurd, “edgy” color scheme. For some reason, anytime someone makes things for “gamers” it gets stuffed with jagged angles, LEDs, and bright primary colors. Mercifully, racing chairs don’t have LEDs in them (yet), but most still tend to come with some godawful color scheme that has all the subtlety of a rainbow shrimp’s fashion designer. Then again, you’re not looking at it while you work, so who cares if it’s a little tacky as long as it’s comfortable?
Most of the differences between the various brands of racing chair are slight. A slightly different curve of the seat back, or arm rests that can be adjusted outward for wider hips. Some may even be made of nicer materials. By and large, however, they follow the same basic design.
When you spend most of your day working at a desk, the chair you sit in can’t just be comfortable. Encouraging good posture and adapting to your specific needs are paramount. Every generic office chair I’ve used was designed to be generically comfortable. They had a mid-size back with a vaguely supportive curve, and usually attached arm rests in a fixed position. Most of them lacked any kind of lumbar support, apparently assuming that you’ll bring your own lumbar pillow if you care about your precious spine so darn much.
Put simply, this design sucks and so many chairs use it. Even some decently pricey mid-range chairs are woefully inadequate at basic ergonomic support. My racing chair, by comparison, is a breath of fresh air. One of the key features I wanted was adjustable arm rests. My old chair couldn’t fit under my keyboard drawer thanks to the arm rests, which already went a long way towards ruining my posture. With the racing chair, I can slide the arm rests up when I need them and tuck them away when I don’t.
Racing-style chairs may be borderline gaudy looking, but they offer ergonomic design choices you simply don’t see in other chairs in the same price range.
The lumbar pillow, though, is my favorite bit. The straps make it look like the chair has seat belts, but they have a purpose. These keep the lumbar pillow in position, so you can place the support wherever you need it for your back and it stays there. It’s also pretty firm so it doesn’t end up deflated halfway through the day. I admit I have terrible posture if left to my own devices and this chair doesn’t let me off the hook very easily.
Finally, there’s what GTRacing calls “take a rest mode.” The seat back can recline up to 170 degrees (various versions of this chair have a different maximum reclining level, so check the one you decide to buy). You would never use this mode while you’re working, but if you want to take a break, you can recline the chair to be almost perfectly horizontal. Surprisingly, the chair is perfectly balanced in this position.
The first time you try it, you feel like you should be falling over, but you don’t. This mode is excellent for taking a break, relaxing, and stretching your back and legs, and giving your head a rest. The pillow strapped to the top of the chair is even comfortable enoug that you could take a nap in this position if you wanted to. Now that I’ve had a chair I can turn into a comfy cot, I never want a chair I can’t sleep in ever again.
Adjustable arm rests, lumbar pillows, and reclining nap modes aren’t unique to racing style chairs. If you have the money to blow, you could spend hundreds (or, seriously, a thousand) on a high-end office chair that does most of what these racing style chairs do. They’ll probably look a lot better in your office. However, the racing chairs have one major advantage over all of those other office chairs:
They’re ugly and popular.
It’s seriously hard to overstate how ugly these chairs are. That works in its favor, though, because it’s hard to forget this chair when you see it. That helped make it really popular, at least for certain market segments where chairs don’t have to look restrained or professional. Once it became popular, imitators inevitably popped up offering the same features for a lower price. The result? A relatively cheap, high-quality, feature packed chair.
I was worried that this race to the bottom would result in a lower-quality product. While the ergonomic design is fantastic, maybe my GTRacing knockoff would be made of crappier materials or something. To my delight, it’s virtually indistinguishable from the original. I’ve seen how the original stands up to long repeated use and abuse thanks to the gaming bar (aside from some minor cracks in the arm rests and stolen lumbar pillows, they’re remarkably solid after two years and hundreds of people using them), but I can’t say if the GTRacing chair will similarly hold up. Given that the materials seem identical, though, I have high hopes.
A part of me wishes I had a better-looking chair—or at least that I was the kind of person who could find this chair attractive—but the support for my spine, arms, head, and neck are more than worth it. The fact that it’s relatively cheap thanks to a bevy of manufacturers capitalizing on a popular, if ugly design, is just icing on the cake.