Preparation and Adventure
This article was originally published in RC Driver’s June 2016 issue.
By David Harrington
I am also a reader of the magazine. I like to read articles about big scale crawling events like AxialFest, and the various G6 events. I have attended local comps, and went and checked out the G6 event at the Nationals a couple of years ago, and I can tell you, while the numbers at scale events have been growing in recent years, because this is one of the hottest segments of the market, the numbers at the events don’t match the sales of the vehicles. So I know there are a lot more people out there missing out on the fun! If you’re part of that group, then this article is for you, because if you’ve never been on a trail run, you’re missing out! To help you get started I’m going to show you exactly what you need to get going. Then we’ll go on a run with a few of my friends and see what kind of adventure we can stir up.
PREPARATION – WHICH SCALER?
If you already own a crawler then just bring what you got. Anything goes on a fun run, but you will more than likely eventually want to run what your friends are running. There are diﬀerent classes based on the level of scale looks versus performance. Axial SCX10s are really popular because of their blend of scale looks and performance. The Vaterra Ascender has also been gaining in popularity over the last couple of years. Tamiya, RC4WD and Gmade are all companies that oﬀ er kits that are more true to scale, but sacriﬁ ce performance. 2.2 class scalers such as the Wraith and the new Bomber are more like scale versions of full size competition vehicles. We always like to bring two, because as we say, once you break, you’re no longer on a trail run then you’re just hiking. I usually bring the SCX10, because they are the most common, and it is more likely somebody may be able to help you out with a part when it breaks. Then I like to bring a 2.2 crawler just in case the terrain is too extreme, but today I am bringing the Ascender as a backup, because I had really good luck with it last time I was out.
I cannot emphasize enough how critical this is. I’ve seen numerous people come out with box stock RCs and while they had fun, their day always ended in disappointment. I like to keep my setup simple so it may not seem like much is going on here, but I’ve tweaked at everything. I’m running a full droop suspension setup, which means my suspension is nearly bott omed out on ﬂ at ground, but when I’m on the rocks the wheels fall into the uneven surface. Custom made batt ery and ESC mounts move everything as close to the center, and low on the chassis as possible, to keep the center of gravity low, and so it is as balanced descending as it is ascending. What goes up must come down. I weight the wheels, ﬁ ve ounces in each front, and 2.5 ounces in each rear. I pack 2.2 memory foam in the 1.9 tires to minimize sidewall ﬂex for side hilling. I run a very high torque servo, you want torque ratings in the 300 oz.-in. range. With the weighted wheels and high torque servo this puts a strain on the ESC’s BEC which can cause brown outs, so I run an external Castle 10A BEC. The saying on the forums is, “Volt up, gear down.” So I am running a 3S 11.1V LiPo battery with a 35-turn motor, and a 16-19 tooth pinion, depending where I run. We just use small batt eries in the 2200mAh range, and get over an hour runtime. Upgrades have been made for durability. The shock towers are Vanquish aluminum. The bumper mounts are aluminum pieces from Hot Racing. I could go on and on, but you get the point. My friends and I also like to say that the more capable you build your vehicle, the more extreme terrain you look for, and then it starts defeat the purpose of being scale.
TOOLS AND SPARES
I have my set of tools I bring to the track for track side repairs, but that is a bit much to drag on a trail. So I wanted to show you what Adam has put together in his fanny pack. He has a hex wrench where the assorted bits store in the handle, a couple of multi tools which have your pliers, screwdrivers, knives, etc. There is a butane soldering iron to re-solder any wire that pops oﬀ . He has a couple of litt le containers full of rod ends, screws and small spare parts. All kinds of fasteners, CA glue, servo tape, Velcro, and zip ties. The rest of our group has just come to rely on Adam’s litt le tool kit when we’re on the trail.
If I am running in unfamiliar territory, then I like to bring a diﬀerent type of tires to suit the terrain. We’ve found tires with a close pattern and sticky compound like Pitbulls do great on the rocks, but swim in the sand and dirt. Swamper type tires do well across all types of terrain, but dig especially well in the dirt. I run in desert, rocky conditions. You may be running in mud or snow, so it all depends on what works in your area. I like to keep my tires scrubbed up with Simple Green to keep them nice and sticky.
I’ve come to ﬁnd out the crawler community likes to see some dirt on their RCs and I’ve been accused on forums of being “too clean”. I like my RCs to ﬁnish the day, and I don’t like replacing wear and tear parts, so I have to have a cleaning ritual. I don’t love cleaning my cars; therefore I am willing to compromise. All I do with my rock crawlers is knock the dirt oﬀ with some paint brushes and a tooth brush for tight areas. Then I blow it oﬀ with my air compressor. I focus on areas with moving parts such as the outdrives, the base of the shocks, rod ends, etc. I’ve been going more than three years and over a hundred miles on this chassis following that formula, and everything is still running smoothly.
ODDS AND ENDS
When going on a scale run, you are basically hiking. So remember that hiking can be dangerous. I see reports every summer of people lost in the same mountains we’re heading to. Proper shoes and clothing are a must. It is also a good idea to have a ﬁrst aid kit, lip balm, hand sanitizer, snacks, and most importantly, water. Remember, caﬀeinated drinks will actually dehydrate you, that is why it is important to always bring water on hikes. Standard hiking rules apply, so know your area and the dangers.
WHO AND WHERE?
I realize ﬁnding friends that are into RC can sometimes be tricky, but in this day and age, it is easier than ever. You will ﬁnd plenty of crawl groups in most areas from sources such as Facebook, Craigslist, and forums such as the RCCrawler, or Scale4x4 forums. I actually met my friends the old fashioned way, by hanging out in the local hobby shop. You can also try to convert someone into RC. If you’re into camping, hunting, hiking, or even oﬀ -roading, your current friends may take an interest in your hobby. To ﬁnd the best trails you will probably want to talk with one of the aforementioned groups, as they have probably already discovered some epic spots, but if that is not an option, you just need to know your area. You can get maps of hiking trails, or we like to scan potential areas using Google maps. Know the laws in your area, and respect them and the park rangers so you don’t ruin it for everybody. It is actually illegal to run an RC vehicle in a state park around here, so if confronted we’ve found it best to plead ignorance, beg forgiveness, and then politely ask where we can run. If you have their interest it also helps if you explain what rock crawling is about so they understand they are not the fast type of RCs that can be dangerous to bystanders. Using this tactic we’ve been granted permission run in a few spots. Just remember a park ranger can arrest you so don’t get smart with them. We have had problems with some people in larger groups getting mouthy, which is one of the reasons we tend to prefer smaller groups. Also if the other hikers don’t complain then you’ll never have a problem, so be super respectful and courteous to everyone around you, or ideally avoid high traﬃc areas.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
The hardcore dedicated crawler guys tend to refer to our group as the “go fast” guys because we also drive fast cars on the track, but with that said, Adam and I both built our ﬁrst crawlers before there were any crawlers on the market. In fact, I ﬁrst met Adam when he was trying to convince the manager of the HobbyTown to carry parts for rock crawlers. I jumped in and double teamed the manager when Adam had to explain what a rock crawler is. Rob was hesitant to try crawlers at ﬁrst, but jumped in with both feet a couple of years later and has been doing it for some time now. Adam is like the team leader. He gets us organized and is technically the best driver. Rob has a more throttle heavy take on crawling, his favorite sayings are, “When in doubt, throttle out”, and “Pin it to win it!” My style is somewhere in between the two, I’m just having fun. Adam’s eight year old son, Anthony, has been tagging along in the last few years and can outdrive many adults. Unfortunately his driving doesn’t keep up with his mouth. In particular he likes to mess with me and has been doing so since he was toddling. Together we have been to comps and gone on trail runs with large groups, which has been great, but we’ve been going out every month or so with our little group for years before, so that has become our preference. Sometimes others will join us, but today was a last minute spur of the moment plan, so it will just be our small group.
We had been planning a run for weeks but everyone has been busy, so conﬁrmations were made last minute the night before. Since I already had my crawlers ready, all I needed to do was top oﬀ my batteries, and pack up my stuﬀ before bed. We all live right oﬀ the freeway, so it is convenient for us to car pool. I’m the last stop, so at 7:00am I conﬁ rm they are on the way. By 8:00am we arrive at South Mountain Park, which is a state park on the edge of the city, and the rocky mountain terrain is a rock crawling paradise. We have our choice of everything from trails to extreme comp crawler lines. We have a few trails picked out, but there is much more to explore. The guys were pushing for the Kiwanas trail and I was pushing for the one we nicknamed the Waterfall trail. When we arrived we didn’t see any people, but the parking lot was full, which meant there were a lot of people on the trail. While most think our rock crawlers are pretty cool, it is best to not attract too much attention, so we opted to go up the road and just do a little freestyling. After getting out of the car, unpacking, and plugging everything in, we grabbed some water bottles and started heading out. Adam was driving his tuber he built from his old AX10 comp crawler and a TCS Gopher chassis, Rob was driving his “Wroncho” as they are called on the forums, which is basically a SCX10 with Wraith axles and 2.2 tires under it. Anthony and I were both driving our SCX10s. In between the mountains and hills, where the water runs oﬀ , it makes little canyons that look like scale dry creek beds. These always look super cool for scalers to drive down.
So we started heading down a cool little canyon area when Adam realized there was a problem with his wheel hexes from when he switched from 2.2 wheels to 1.9 wheels. Rather than make the problem worse, he decided to wait until he could get home to his rotary tool to ﬁ x it, and headed back to the car to get his SCX10. Luckily we hadn’t wandered too far. Aft er roaming down the canyon for a while, we started looking for something more exciting and pulled out of the canyon to head toward the mountain. On the side of the mountain there is a section of rippled rock that looks like an interesting challenge. These kinds of sections look easy, but if you hit it straight on the ripples will ﬂ ip you. The trick is to hit it at angles, and try to keep your tires in the ruts. The guys got hung up about halfway up. We were just starting out, so I was anxious to drive my truck and started to search for another route up. I found an interesting spot that presented a nice challenge. When I got over it to the other side, it dead ended, so I went back to catch the others. That was a big mistake, as I should have watched how they got up, because I then got hung up in that area. There was a bump that would ﬂ ip the truck, but if I tried to drive around, it would slide down. I struggled with this area for a while, determined that it could be done.
After a while the rest of the guys got way ahead of me and not wanting to be left behind, I gave it a little nudge with my foot. When scale crawling, the number one rule you observe is no Hand of God, or in other words, you never touch your truck. Winches, tow straps, nudges from other trucks are all fair game, as long as you don’t touch it. This makes it fun. No one was looking so I ﬁgured a little nudge wouldn’t hurt anyone, wink wink. When I caught up and got to the top I was informed I went the wrong way. Now we were making our downward descent, and I guess since I got behind before, Anthony decided I needed coaching. “OK, what you need to do Dave is cut to the right… “ I then did the opposite of whatever he said, kind of beating up my crawler in the process. As I like to say, “There’s always a way down.” It may not be smooth or scale, and the passengers would probably be seriously injured, but I made it down. When I got down I found out Rob had broken the outdrive on his center diﬀ spool. His heavy handed driving style ﬁnally turned around and bit him. So Adam hiked up the road and brought the car around.
We took advantage and used the opportunity to break for snacks, drinks, and to change out our batteries. Then we headed back out, Rob now with his SCX10. We got around the corner and we saw a bunch of guys up on top of the mountain with crawlers. It was the guys from P.A.R.C., and they were hosting a comp. We are friends with them, but they take their comps very seriously. The last thing they wanted was a bunch of scalers popping up in their lines. So we gave them a wave hello, and steered clear of what they were doing. A little farther up the way we met another guy who was out there with his SCX10. He asked to join us, which we happily agree to. We were heading into familiar territory, where we have tricky spots picked out that we’ve already ﬁgured out. It became quickly apparent that our new friend couldn’t follow. After a couple of questions about his setup it became painfully obvious that he has done no set up. We all looked at each other. Someone needed to help him, but we were running short on time. Usually Adam is the ﬁrst to oﬀ er advice, but surprisingly Rob stepped up to the plate and sat down with him and explained everything he needed to do. Meanwhile Adam was complimenting me on my driving that day. I told him he didn’t see me back there, but he pointed out that we were just trailblazing, and I did the stuﬀ I know perfectly. Well, I appreciated the compliment, but I was a little embarrassed by my previous performance and that little nudge. Shortly aft er our new friend’s truck broke, Anthony broke, and it was getting be noon and warm out, so it was time to wrap it up. So we drove back to the car, while Anthony had to hike carrying his truck.
While it was a great day, we saw old friends, met a new one, and blazed new terrain while enjoying the weather, it was overall very average. We always have a great time whenever we go out! Best of all these are the adventures where stories come from. This was just one story. I could tell you so many more, like the time we accidentally crawled over a rattlesnake den. If you could have seen us panic as we tried to recover our trucks…
Great article – should be “required reading” for newbies and . . . people like me (ha)