FAQ for R/C electric off-road racing


  1.13) What does it cost?

How much you spend on R/C car racing depends entirely upon your attitude. If you approach racing as an enjoyable diversion from your normal responsibilities, and focus on setting up your car, driving it, and having fun, your cost will be quite moderate. If you insist on having every on-track advantage that money can buy, your cost will be much greater.

If you are a beginner and want to advance to the point where you are competitive within your class, the most effective way to get there is to spend a lot of time driving. This will have a much bigger payoff than installing super batteries or titanium chassis parts. And it is more fun, too.

If you take this approach, you'll spend about $10 per race on entry fees and perhaps another $15 on replacement parts (tires are the single most expensive item.) It will cost you about $150 to get started if you can find suitable used equipment, otherwise it will cost $275 or so. This is for a bare-bones setup that you'll want to upgrade as you get more experience. Expect to pay about $525 for a setup that won't require upgrades. If you want to start with top-of-the-line equipment figure more like $825.

For some people, half the fun of racing is in selecting and installing upgrades. You can certainly express your ingenuity, mechanical skill, and good taste in this way, and if the modification doesn't work out, you can always undo it. The costs associated with this activity are up to you; they aren't closely related to the number of races you run or to race results.

It is cheaper to race at one track than at several. No two tracks are alike, so you'll find that the motor/battery combination that rules one track can be middling at another. It can be lots of fun to race at different tracks, but come prepared either to compromise on performance or to spend more money. At a minimum you should be prepared to buy a new set of tires when you go to a new track; there is nothing more miserable than being way off the pace because your tires aren't hooking up with the dirt.

At the highest levels of racing there are a lot of talented, experienced, and dedicated drivers, so differences in equipment can matter. At this level, racing is very expensive. Don't worry; you probably don't have the time or the talent to become the next Brian Kinwald, and you can have a lot of fun racing at your own level at a modest cost.

Chapter 2) Choosing your equipment

  2.1) Should I start with a buggy or a truck?

You can start with either a buggy or a truck; you aren't likely to go wrong with either choice. Here are the major factors to take into consideration:

Trucks are generally very popular in the USA, and more and more newcomers are starting with trucks.

  2.2) What about four-wheel-drive buggies?

Four-wheel-drive buggies are fast and fun, but they aren't raced much in the USA. They were fairly popular here until trucks came along and displaced them. Trucks have several advantages that caused them to take over:

Some will say that no four-wheel-drive buggy is as well engineered as the two-wheel-drive buggies, but the current four-wheel-drives by Yokomo and Schumacher are quite good. Engineering quality is not the real problem.

Four-wheel-drive is something to get into when you are more experienced. When you are expert in two-wheel-drive and looking for a new challenge, get a group of hard-core racers together to race four-wheel-drive. It's a new experience.

  2.3) How should I buy my equipment?

You can save a lot of money on major pieces of equipment by buying them used, either from someone getting out of the hobby or from someone upgrading his equipment. You can generally get good used equipment for half the price you would pay for new equipment.

Buying used is risky if you are inexperienced. If you've got an experienced friend, that's a big help. Generally you should insist on trying before buying, especially when it comes to electronic equipment. In buying a used car or truck, pay special attention to the condition of the ball bearings, especially the big expensive ones on the output shafts of the transmission ("outdrives").

The best place to look for used racing equipment is at the track, since that's where the racers are. Some tracks have bulletin boards of for-sale notices; if there is a hobby shop at the track, the shop may sell used equipment on consignment. You can also just walk around the pits and ask people if they have equipment for sale. Be warned that some tracks don't allow used equipment sales on the premises, because they feel that sales of used equipment will reduce their business. If the track is associated with a shop, ask to be sure.

After exhausting whatever used equipment opportunities you decide to explore, make a list of everything else you need. (The answer to the next question will help you in drafting your list.)

If your local shop

then you have a vital interest in seeing that shop succeed. Take your list to the shop and negotiate the best package deal you can. By all means use mail order prices for comparison, but don't expect your hobby dealer to match them to the dollar.

If you don't have a local shop, or your local shop doesn't deserve your business, then go mail order. I think you should bias your purchases toward the mail order shops that support racing in their vicinity and have knowledgeable staff to help you.

  2.4) What do I need to get started?

First, the list; then the details.

                                                        low    mid   high

    kit (low: Losi XX w/bushings; others: Losi XX) ...  117    177
    tire upgrade .....................................    -      -     19?
    transmitter, receiver, servo
     (low: JR Python, mid: Air XL2P, high: Air CS2P) .   63     82    159
    transmitter ni-cd, trickle charger
     (low: alkaline batteries) .......................    8     25
    spare set of crystals ............................    -     20
    servo upgrade ....................................    -      -     75
    servo saver ......................................    -      -      5?
    electronic speed control (low: mechanical,
      mid Tekin F10, high: Tekin 411G2) ..............    -     53     90
    batteries (low: 1, others: 3) ....................   29     87
    connectors .......................................    -     15
    battery charger
     (high: Tekin BC 5A, others: AstroFlight 114) ....   33     33     93
    stock motor (low: included in kit) ...............          20
    pinion gears (low: included in kit, others: 3) ...          12
    thin CA glue .....................................    4
    paint ............................................   10
    RTV adhesive .....................................    5
    motor oiler ......................................    3
    motor spray ......................................    5
    comm drops .......................................    -      -      4
    hardened wrench (pinion set screw) ...............    -      -      7
    ball driver (motor screws) .......................    -      -     12
    shock wrench set .................................    -      -      5
    tooth brush ......................................    0
    box ..............................................    0

    totals                                              277    524    813
These prices are recent mail order prices for the big items, and my best guesses for the smaller items. Prices for the kit and the tire upgrade are for a buggy; truck tires are about $5 per pair higher so truck kits are about $10 higher.

If a column is blank, use the figure to the left. If a column contains a minus sign (-) omit that item from that setup. If the price is followed by question-mark the item may not be required, and its price is not included in the total.

The "low" column is the lowest-price setup that actually gets you started. You get a bushing-equipped kit with motor, pinion, and mechanical speed control, a simple radio system with two servos, throwaway alkaline batteries for your transmitter, a timed charger, and one battery pack. You live with the junky connectors supplied with your battery and speed control. If you stay with the hobby for any length of time these choices will cause you frustration and cost you money. They are perfectly valid choices if you aren't sure of your interest or if you are on a very tight initial budget.

The "mid" column is a much better setup. You get a ball-bearing equipped kit, a transmitter with all the adjustments, crystals for an alternate channel, a high-frequency speed control, a timed charger, three pinions, three battery packs, and good connectors. The only significant compromises here are the AM radio and timed charger.

The "high" column is a no-compromise setup. You get better tires, an FM radio, a faster servo, a better high-frequency speed control, a peak charger, and some fine tools. Not many people start with a setup like this one, but quite a few get there after a few years of racing.

    2.4.1) Kit

As a beginner you should pick a car that allows you to get the maximum support from local racers. Select something that other people are running -- people you think will help you. Hang around your track, observing and asking questions, and you'll quickly draw conclusions about who will be helpful.

At many tracks in the US you will find strong Associated and Losi camps. Associated and Losi are the US manufacturers of R/C electric off-road racing cars and trucks. They both make fine products and many shops stock parts for their cars and trucks.

I find Losi's competition-level kits (the XX and XX-T) somewhat more beginner-friendly than Associated's kits. Here is why:

Based on all these factors I recommend that you get a Losi XX buggy or XX-T truck. The XX buggy was introduced in October 1993, after top qualifying and finishing second at the 1993 2WD off-road world championship, and has become extremely popular for its speed and easy maintenance. The Losi XX-T truck became available in October 1994 and is by far the most popular truck everywhere I've raced this year.

In spite of all the positive things I've said about Losi, you should go with Associated if your track has a lot of helpful Associated racers and not very many helpful Losi racers. The RC-10T2 truck is competitive in performance with the XX-T and contains many design and manufacturing improvements over Associated's earlier kits. The Associated RC-10 World's buggy is an older design and many feel that it has trouble competing with the XX on rough outdoor tracks, but it may work fine where you race.

Team Associated has been extremely successful in the off-road world championships. They won the first off-road world's in 1985 with the original RC-10. They took the 1989 and 1991 races with their "Stealth" cars, which used some RC-10 components. Brian Kinwald won the 1993 race using a buggy that closely resembles the RC-10 World's you can buy today. Matt Francis won the 1995 race using the RC-10B2 prototype, a buggy that is very XX-like (plastic chassis, long suspension arms, modular rear end, etc.)

For those on a very tight initial budget I recommend the bushing-equipped Losi XX and XX-T kits. These entry-level kits have a great deal in common with Losi's full-race kits. They differ in using metal bushings in place of most ball bearings, in not being Hydra Drive equipped, in using plastic rear drive shafts, and in using shocks that aren't hard-coated. You can upgrade these kits to full-race specs piece by piece as the original parts wear out.

The entry level kits include a 540 (Mabuchi-style) stock motor and mechanical (resistor) speed control. The motor is underpowered compared with modern stock motors, and the speed control won't work as well as an electronic unit. But the whole idea of an entry-level package is to get started with the minimum initial outlay. If you have the money and are convinced that you'll keep racing then you are better off starting with a better kit. All the money you've saved by buying an entry level package you will spend when you upgrade to ball bearings and hard-coated shocks. Entry level kits are a short term savings strategy that costs more if you keep racing.

I used to recommend a cheap frame-rate electronic speed control as part of the entry level package, avoiding the mechanical speed control. But even a cheap frame rate control is pretty expensive, and is vastly harder to drive than a high-frequency speed control. ("Frame-rate" and "high-frequency" are explained in the speed control item below.) The mechanical speed controls sold in Associated and Losi kits work reasonably well. When you are ready to step up from these speed controls, get a high-frequency electronic control.

Associated used to have a very strong entry-level story, but not at the moment. Associated does not offer an entry-level version of the RC-10T2, and appears on track to replace the RC-10 World's buggy with the XX-like RC-10B2 in November 1995. Associated's entry-level kits can't easily be upgraded to either of the 2-series kits.

What about the other manufacturers? The other major off-road manufacturers (in alphabetical order) are Kyosho, Schumacher, Tamiya, and Traxxas. All of them produce good buggy and truck kits:

If one of these manufacturers is popular with racers where you live, and your local shop stocks parts, then by all means consider them for your first car.

Of all the manufacturers I've mentioned, only Losi has focused exclusively on electric off-road; the others have put some of their energy into producing and selling gas and on-road cars. Perhaps this is a factor in Losi's rise.

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