12 July, 2020
I'm going to explain what scale RC is, how it fits in with radio controlled vehicle types, talk a bit about the what and how of it, and mention some of the people that got and keep me in this hobby.
Scale radio controlled trucks, or scalers, tiny trucks, or dollhouse trucks refer to working, radio controlled replicas of off-road capable trucks (sometimes modified) that exist in the real world. The scale part indicates their size - typically between 1:10 scale (10 times smaller than the real thing) and 1:8. Some get as big as 1:6, and a few even as small as 1:24.
The term replica is used both strictly and loosely. Strictly speaking the truck must be a scaled-down version of a truck in the real world. Fantasy builds happen but are extremely rare. In the loose sense, replica means a lot of poetic license is applied. Many create their own bumpers and/or after-market parts. People age and weather their trucks, often adding a rust effect and scratches. They modify body panels, and uniquely paint their creations. Long wheelbase vehicles can become short, and short ones long. Yet others create scale buildings and bridges to add realism to events the community likes to attend. Others build scale garages which serve as photo studios for all the pictures we like to take of our trucks.
They're not crawlers. If you're driving it at Bracken Rocks at the UK Scale nationals, for instance, they're not scalers. Many of my trucks would break in a roll-over, and events like the one at Bracken Rock are notorious for breaking tiny trucks.
As mentioned, scalers are replicas of off-road vehicles. Other scale replicas exist. Tamiya for instance makes on-road cars and trucks, as well as 2- and 4x4 rally cars which are all worthy of being called replicas. Very accurate ones at that. And even though many of these buggies, on-road and rally cars are accurate scale replicas, they're not what we're about when we say scaler or scale RC.
Same of course holds for drift cars. These things can be awesome, but they're strictly on-road.
Broadly, there's two types of RC truck - toy grade, and hobby grade. We don't do toy grade, so if you spent $20 at the discount store you're not doing scale RC. A decent hobby-grade kit can set you back anything from €150 for a CC-01 to €700 for a Vanquish. At the extreme high end is Capo Racing. One of their Jeeps will only set you back a measly €2,000.
If you're new to this your best option is to choose a complete kit from a reputable manufacturer -
That list wasn't exhaustive. Choose a kit you assemble, rather than RTR (ready-to-run). Building the kit gives you the understanding you need to choose and install upgrades, troubleshoot, and make repairs.
Upgrades. Adding in different wheels and tyres, paint, upgrades like bearings (looking at you, Tamiya and MST), lights, winch, jerrycans and so on can easily run your bill up by another €500 or more. Beware, especially when starting out, to not fall into the trap of buying up every scale accessory and loading it onto your truck. Less is often more. Find a real truck you like and emulate that. An up-side-down cow strapped to a roof rack is not scale - it's just unrealistic.
Research before you start building. If you're doing an overlander look at the Overland Forum. If you're doing a Camel Trophy replica go to the Wikipedia page and follow their resources for ideas. Geeking out over the details is great fun.
If you're starting with a kit you don't need to worry too much about the chassis - you'll learn all you need to whilst building the kit.
However if you want to step it up and start assembling your own, then a chassis kit like the BRX-01 from Boom Racing is as good a place as any to start. Another is GCM Racing, where things can be as easy or advanced as you make it. My first custom chassis was a J2 Skeleton. In the meantime I've got two more of those, 4 CMAX's (choose between leaf- or coil-sprung!), and my all-time favourite, a DeltΔ. Climbs like a billygoat.
If you really want to take things to the extreme, cut your own frame rails and make your own 😃
Many people buy a kit from one of the vendors listed above, and then want a different body. There are three types of body that are worth knowing about. The first is the one that's been around the longest - clear (transparent) lexan (or polycarbonate) bodies. You need PS paints from Tamiya or similar to paint lexan bodies. They're also painted from the inside - this gives them a high gloss effect.
Lexan is however unpopular in the scale RC world (unless your name is Hemistorm - he's THE god of lexan) because better detail can be achieved with the second type of body, commonly referred to as a hard body. Hard bodies are highly-detailed bodies typically cast or moulded in polystyrene. They can be modified rather easily, and are painted on the outside using automotive paint or Tamiya TS paints. You can find hardbodies here at JS Scale, or here at Loops. Remember that the new body's wheelbase must match the wheelbase of your chassis, unless you're prepared to modify one or the other to make the wheelbases match.
If you've the patience and ability (or are willing to acquire that skill) you can do the third kind -- building your own body from scratch. Turning flat pieces of styrene into 3-dimensional truck bodies. Scratch-building is my favourite part of the hobby (see my builds page). Scratch-building takes time and patience. It is rewarding however, and you end up with a truely unique body. This is something nobody else in the world can own - not an Arabic oil sheik, not the queen of England, and not Elon Musk.
Inspiration can come from anywhere, starting with a build you've seen, to something you saw on the street or at a car show, TV show, or -
You're going to need a transmitter and receiver. Popular brands are Spektrum and Flysky. Your receiver's brand must match your transmitters'. Choose something with an appropriate number of channels. You only need two to drive - steering and throttle. However you may optionally want additional channels to turn lights on or off or operate a winch. I use a Spektrum DX4s with 4 channels (I believe these are no longer available, so I guess the DX5 PRO is the next best thing), but also a DX6e because I'm building an RC aeroplane.
While I've personally never used more than 3 channels in a build, I've seen radios with up to 16 channels used for crawlers 😲
Also note that transmitters let you connect to many RC vehicles, so you won't be needing a new radio for every new truck you build - just a receiver. Other bare-minimum electronics you'll need to get your truck running are:
Popular additional options include lights and a winch.
Scalers are often as much about the build as they are about the builder. Some are skilled and creative in ways others want to learn from. Others move this hobby forward by drawing in new enthusiasts. Vendors have sprung up to provide products for the more exacting amongst us. Finally, events. Events are often what make scale RC so much fun, and there's that select few who go to inordinate lengths to bring like-minded builders together for little to no personal gain.
So here my who's-who of people I value in this hobby, in no particular order,
The trouble with a list like this is that there are soooo many other useful mammals in this hobby 😍 -- jonwhittle191, MaddyDaddy, mhnhaven, Delux, Peat30, pacman69, ollyman, Michael from Crazy Crawler, Dirtboar, Raven67 (this guy is unbelievable), Chris from SnakepitRc, Bill and his green Hilux and many, many more...!
The biggest challenge I've encountered is finding narrow axles and small tyres. Way too many scale trucks have an unrealistically tall suspention, a track width that makes a Jeep look like a forumla racer, and tyres so big you'd swear you were at a glory hole.
There's a steep learning curve when you start. And that's why you should ask questions. There are many that will happily share their knowledge with you. However demonstrate that you've done some homework. Go to the forums (SBG is a great one, as is Scale RC in the UK, or https://www.rockcrawler.de/ if you're German *), and see if you can't find your answer there. If not, ask in the appropriate thread in the forum. You will get your answer (everyone loves to show off with how much they know 🤓). Stay away from Facebook other than for the eye candy. Advice from the Facebook community is usually of the Wallmart variety.
And speaking of Facebook -- this hobby is evolving. Used to be a time when the entire community lived in the forums, documented their builds there, researched techniques, troubleshot, bought and sold trucks, arranged events...
Then Facebook happened. And we all learnt about dopamine. That hit of yay you feel when your photo gets 30 likes in RC Realistic...
Unfortunately posts on Facebook are ephemeral. They appear on news feeds for a day, maybe two and then... poof, gone, never to be seen again. Facebook search is useless. And unfortunately this is by design, as making anything posted to Facebook exist only briefly makes people return for more. Facebook relentlessly driving user engagement is the biggest threat our hobby faces.
Another annoying side effect is that people become accustomed to just asking questions on Facebook without first researching their problem. And so you get the same questions, over and over and over again. Nobody bothers to search. Although Google is about as dismal as Facebook when it comes to respecting our privacy (use Duck Duck Go instead, they're awesome)!
The solution I see is one that that melds the best of both forums and Facebook. Something that has the persistence of forums, and the ease and dopamine of Facebook. Sure a realistic solution is more than a trite suggestion like merging forums with Facebook, but it starts with that. Things like meta-data driven search are nuances for whomever it is that decides to build such a thing.
* My French is merde, so I'm unable to recommend a forum there. Or in Italy, Portugal, Poland or Hong Kong, all of which also have very active scale RC communities.
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