RC Rock Crawler CharacteristicsAlthough you don't necessarily need a specialized vehicle -- stock RC monster trucks can handle some casual rock climbing -- more and more specialized RCs are available. There are also a few features that are common to most RCs used for rock climbing whether they come that way out of the box or the features are added when modifying monster trucks or other RCs for rock crawling fun. This list is not intended to be a comprehensive look at RC rock crawlers but it does introduce a few key characteristics.
Power. For rock crawling you want more controlled power (torque) rather than high speed and high RPMs. Rock crawlers can use stock electric motors and lower gear setups that deliver steady power at low speeds to help get up and over those rocks.
High Clearance / Low Center of Gravity.. You don't want your chassis dragging over the rocks but you also don't want an RC that's going to tip over when climbing a steep rock hill. The large tires on a rock crawler help provide the necessary ground clearance. When you raise that vehicle up high you could end up with an RC that tips over too easily so you'll want to balance clearance with a low center of gravity. And you'll want to be sure the weight is not all in the rear where it can pull the RC back and not allow it to climb as well. Putting things like the battery to the front instead of the rear can help with weight distribution.
Maneuverability/Steering. Rock climbing has uneven surfaces and involves a lot of twisting and turning so rock climbers need good soft not stiff suspension and steering. Most rock climbers will have 4-wheel drive and many have 4-wheel steering as well.
Abbreviated 4WS, 4-wheel steering has been around in the RC hobby since at least the 1980’s (that I know of). It means that all 4 wheels have the ability to control what direction the vehicle turns. If you were to look at the vehicle standing over it looking down and turn the front wheels to the left the back wheels would be facing right. With the right 4WS setup you can also do side stepping or crab walking where all four wheels turn in the same direction.
What 4WS means for RC rock crawlers is a better ability to maneuver in small areas, get over the uneven surfaces, and have better traction. One of my favorite RCs growing up was the Tamiya Clod Buster monster truck which was equipped with 4-wheel steering. Not all RC rock climbers have 4WS but it is a common feature and a common upgrade.
Unlike other types of RC driving, with RC rock crawlers you'll also want locked differentials. Not all wheels are in contact with the ground or rocks at all times. If not locked, the differentials may send power to the wheels that are off the ground rather than the ones that need the power to get over the rock.
Traction. Narrower off-road tires and rims are common on rock crawlers. A narrower rim puts more tread on the sidewall and gives rock crawlers better traction all-around because the tires aren't running on a nice, smooth surface like you find on RC tracks -- on-road or off-road. Rock crawler tires typically have deep, chunky treads and are fairly soft. Although you can glue tires and rims, some rock crawlers like to use bead-lock rims. One of the advantages is that the tire doesn't separate from the rim easily when subjected to the stress of rock crawling.
RC Rock CrawlersOften serious rock climbing enthusiasts build their rock climbing RC rigs from scratch, from kits, or by modifying an existing RC truck. Some kits require complete assembly while others are ARTR -- almost ready to run -- requiring minor assembly plus supplying your own radio system.
Until recently most rock crawlers were build-your-own models -- and sometimes that meant building it bits and pieces of other vehicles. The DuraTrax Cliff Climber is one of the new ready-to-run RC rock crawlers. (compare prices) As more manufacturers develop Ready-to-Run rock crawlers, the sport will undoubtedly increase even more in popularity.
Here is a sampling of three different RC rock crawlers.
DuraTrax Cliff ClimberThe Cliff Climber is a 1:14 scale ready-to-run 4WD/4WS Electric rock crawler (compare prices). It also comes in a prebuilt ARTR version where you add your own radio system and a few other parts. It comes in six color schemes:
Losi Mini-Rock CrawlerThe Mini-Rock Crawler (compare prices) is a 1:18 scale ready-to-run electric RC that comes with a DSM radio system, rock crawler tires, specially tuned ESC for rock crawling, multi-link suspension, and 3-gear center transmission.
This would be a great beginner RC for the aspiring RC rock crawler.
Axial AX10 ScorpionA 1:10 scale electric 4WD rock crawler, the Scorpion comes in several versions from kit to ready-to-run:
Rolling chassis to build with clear Lexan body. Add electronics. (my review)
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