This article was originally published in RC Driver’s December 2015 issue.
Photos: Edwin Rodriguez
My mission in RC over the years has been simple, to inspire and capture new hobbyists in the radio control car world. Some aspire to rule the block with the fastest RC car and some move on to the racing world in hopes of bring home trophies. For some time I wanted to bring home all the gold too, but I found much more satisfaction in helping people get into RC successfully. From my view, Traxxas is a company that helps this cause that is so near and dear to my heart. That is also perhaps why I have recommended Traxxas products to new RC enthusiasts over the years; from the time I was a teenager working in a hobby shop to the present day where I fill these pages with RC info. Traxxas creates some really cool products, but the one I recommend most often is the Stampede platform, so much so that it’s what my two boys currently drive. The Stampede is a cool looking truck designed to take a beating while dishing out performance and fun. Traxxas has recently added two Stampede based machines to their line; the Skully and Craniac trucks with a cool, youth-capturing look backed by the same solid platform. This looked like a perfect opportunity to talk about getting into RC again here in the pages of RC Driver, so I grabbed two new trucks and my kids and set out to have an easy and great experience in RC thanks to Traxxas once again.
AT A GLANCE
WHO MAKES IT: Traxxas
WHO IT’S FOR: Entry Level and up
PART NUMBER: Skully, 36064; Craniac, 3609
HOW MUCH: $219.99
BUILD TYPE: RTR
The Traxxas Stampede based Craniac and Skully monster trucks are great 2WD electric, ready to run, off road trucks that will supply tons of fun to entry level drivers on a variety of surfaces. If you want to get into RC with ease, these trucks will make it happen and if you want to hop up the truck or ever need to repair it, Traxxas has you covered with lots of options and support
TOOLS AND ACCESSORIES INCLUDED
• Charger, shock clips, high-speed pinion, Allen wrenches, turnbuckle wrenches, box wrench, body washers and manual
• 4 “AA” Batteries
• MaxAmps.com “AA” Batteries
HOP-UPS WE RECOMMEND
• FastEddy Bearing Set, Traxxas-Skully-RS, The bronze bushings that support the drive components can wear and will cause the stub axles or front wheels to wobble. FastEddyBearings.com offers ball bearings for just about every vehicle on the market at a very affordable price and will allow these parts to spin free with less wear.
• Traxxas Aluminum Shock Caps, 2667, The plastic shock caps will take hard hits on a truck like this, but it just takes that one hard hit and a cap can pull off of the shock body. Aluminum caps will lessen the chances of a shock blowing out during an intense bash session.
• Aluminum Rear Stub Axle Housing, 3652A, Tumbles can wreak havoc on rear axle housings and sometimes they can break where the camber link attaches. A set of aluminum housings will beef up the suspension. Traxxas offers them in a variety of colors.
The slim semi-tub chassis on these trucks keeps things simple with the battery sitting in the center of the frame and held in place with a simple strap holder. There is room in the battery tray for several LiPo pack sizes in case you want to upgrade your power later. Front and rear ladder braces give the truck support and that cool, raised monster truck look. The color of these braces may change depending on the style of truck you choose. The steering servo bolts to the front of the chassis and steers the servo with direct adjustable tie-rod links with a servo saver to protect the servo from damage. A small tubular bumper with upper impact absorber protects the front end.
The front suspension on the trucks is Traxxas’ tried and true lower composite arms with carriers and bearing-in steering knuckles. The top link is a solid fixed link for better durability and is secured with shoulder screws. The steering turnbuckles, however, are adjustable if the driver wants to change steering toe adjustments. The oil filled shocks get springs that color- match the vehicle so here Craniac gets red and Skully gets green.
The rear suspension gets stout suspension arms, fixed upper links and oil filled, coil over shocks to damp the vehicle. Standard Traxxas hubs support the stub axles that connect to telescoping universals. We did notice that bronze bushings are used to support the axles to keep the cost of the kit down so we suggest finding a ball bearing kit to replace the bushings as soon as your pockets allow.
For those looking for a well equipped kit, Traxxas offers a nice package with the Skully and Craniac. The only things you’ll need to purchase with these kits are fresh “AA” batteries, but what you do get is the assembled truck with painted and decaled body on top. The electronics are installed in the truck too and the included radio is already set to the machine and trimmed. There are some accessories like tape, spare clips and body spacers along with a great manual to get familiar with what’s what in the kit and how to get started. A new addition to recent Traxxas kits is the 4-Amp AC charger fitted with an ID plug to charge the included 7-cell NiMh battery. The AC charger does require you to use a 12V socket for charging, but unlike included factory wall chargers from other brands that have a dismally low charge rate (which means a slow charge time,) the 4-Amp Traxxas charger speeds up the charge process but still keeps kit costs down.
The driveline on the Skully and Craniac is Traxxas’ tried and true Magnum 272 drivetrain with steel internal gears to prevent driveline damage. Further protecting the tranny is the included heavy duty slipper clutch to handle the torque of the stock motor and it will handle an upgrade to brushless. Telescoping universal axles send power to the wheels with Terra Groove tires mounted up. The only issue we have with the truck is the bronze bushing used to support the stub axles both front and rear. In this day of RC car evolution, bearings are a must-have in RTR’s but to keep costs down Traxxas went with this setup. Luckily a bearing upgrade is easy and inexpensive.
Now on to the important part, the electronics package! Traxxas took care of many important details when building a monster truck for the masses. Starting off, the truck has 2.4GHz Traxxas TQ radio system that has the basic trim features necessary for this type of truck. The receiver is tucked into a water resistant radio box. There is a high torque standard servo for steering which is also waterproof. The XL-5 speed control resists the elements, and can be programmed for three different modes, including Standard Mode that allows forward, braking and reverse, Race Mode which is forward- only with braking and Training Mode which allows forward, braking and reverse but at 50% power. The ESC powers the Titan 550 12T brushed motor that pumps out speed and handles the elements and finally powering the electronics is a 7-Cell NiMh battery.
ON THE TRACK
My twin five year-old boys have been playing with Traxxas Stampede based trucks for over a year now and I’m happy to report the trucks are still going strong with very few trips to the LHS for repair parts, but the trucks do look a little beat up. So it was perfect timing when Skully and Craniac arrived for review. I had a suspicion my boys would love these new trucks.
When I brought home the Traxxas trucks, my boys not only loved the thought of getting new trucks, they loved the look of Craniac and Skully. I hear lots of, “Whoa Cool! That’s Awesome! These look mean!” And there was, “Dad why do they look so angry?” They’re five, they are full of questions. So then we headed outside for some fun in our backyard. In just a few seconds, I had the trucks powered on and set them into training mode. It’s easier for them to drive in training mode and easier on my composite fence and lawn furniture. When they pulled the throttle on the trucks there were more one-liners of excitement from the two little guys. They stood on our deck and drove the trucks back and forth in the yard. The trucks are quick and steer well in training mode and the boys were yet again happy with their Traxxas products. With these new trucks I decided to show them a new trick besides just driving around and that was wheelies. Yes, in training mode you can still do wheelies, just put the trigger in reverse and after it picks up a little momentum in reverse, hit full throttle and the wheels will pop right up. I showed Jake and Logan how to do this and well, minds blown! They were trying wheelies non-stop and the 272 tranny took the abuse. The boys played with the trucks for over a half an hour on the charge in training mode and that made Dad happy. Not so much that they were driving RC cars like their Dad, but because they were completely entertained for the entire time and having fun on their own.
But it was Dad’s turn to play the day after and I took the trucks to the BMX track for some fun in the dirt and on the big jumps. The XL-5 ESC was easy to program back to Standard Mode so I could get some full throttle fun in. Like I expected, the speed of the trucks is on the fun and manageable level, perfect for the entry level driver. The front of the truck gets a little light so turns can be a bit wide at high speeds. The thing to look out for in high- speed turns, though is the roll factor. That high center of gravity truck tends to tip over if you corner too fast. Off the jumps the truck is fairly smooth on the landings and can take some pretty hard tumbles if you’re just launching off the jumps without a care in the world. For fun, we did a little bench work and popped the included pinion gear in and ripped off a 31.2 MPH speed run on the freshly charged stock pack. Pretty impressive for a truck around the magical two hundred dollar price point.
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SPECS AND TUNING OPTIONS
LENGTH: 16.25 in. (413mm)
WIDTH: 11.8 in. (300mm)
WHEELBASE: 10.63 in. (270mm)
WEIGHT: 4.08lbs (1.85kg)
HEIGHT: 9.5 in. (241mm)
GROUND CLEARANCE: 4 in. (102mm)
Well Traxxas certainly created something interesting with the release of the Skully and Craniac 2WD Stampede based trucks. In a time of RC filled with scale looking machines, the bodies formed to an imaginative skull/cranium shape with menacing faces and offered in a few different colors really catches the eye. It captured the interest of my kids and they couldn’t wait to drive the trucks. They had so much fun looking at them, pulling wheelies and even chasing them around that I just have to thank Traxxas for reworking their 2WD monster truck platform to continue to dish out pure fun.