Sunday, 26 February 2017

The RC Car hobby.

I like radio controlled cars. I liked the idea of them as a 10 year old, and a long time later I like them in the metal and plastic. It's quite nice getting involved with a new hobby and new culture (with people like the madly cackling RCSparks providing regular inspiration), cruising them, breaking them, upgrading them, posting on forums and going from being a complete noob to someone who gets gratitude for helping other people online.

So I thought I'd write a beginner's post about it, in the context of the completely separate climbing community which is of course where my heart and life's purpose still lies.

Should you get involved in the RC Hobby?? Hell yeah. It's not that expensive if you choose right, it doesn't take up that much time to go out and cruise with an RC car, choose the right car and you can do it when the weather is shit, choose the right driving style and you shouldn't need to do much repairing or maintenance, and there's a wide choice of approach from a £40 micro you mess around with inside to an £800 1/5 scale monster that's infinitely upgradeable and can mince all over the roughest terrain. Pick what suits YOU.

(In terms of the climbing lifestyle it has no benefits as an additional hobby apart from possibly night time / wet weather driving with the right set-up. And major repair work is a good warm-up for the fingers pre-training. OTOH go to an empty crag with an off road RC shoved into your sack and it might be fun while resting between attempts on your SICK PROJ RIG, who knows ;)).

Start by considering the size you want and the style of driving that appeals because there's a lot of choice. I wanted to do some bashing and jumping and happened to choose the HPI Savage XS, it's not cheap at all but is an absolute beast, very fast, jumps well, cruises over all terrain. Then I wanted something smaller to try in the flat and maybe out at local carparks (the Savage is waaaay too powerful) so I got a Carisma GT24TR which is really nice for speed cruising and small jumps, and a WLToys P929 which is cheap, tiny but solid and fast, although things do break easy at smaller scales. It's a different choice for everyone. But there's one essential pre-purchase step: Check the model you're choosing has spares readily available. Trust me on this.

Have some information:

Types of RC car usage:

Racing: Proper RC for people who can actually control them well ;). Needs a proper track (on-road for race cars, off-road for buggies) but not necessarily hugely competitive.

Speed runs: Tinkering and testing to go as stupidly, pointlessly fast as possible in a straight line. Usually needs a GPS logger like SkyRC and a dweebish attitude towards endless upgrading (so one for road cyclists then).

Drifting: Pimped up cars, low bodies, slick wheels, smooth surfaces, and all your Fast And Furious fantasies. Quite niche but good for small areas and indoor fun.

Cruising: General generic driving, on or off-road, just getting out and having fun.

Bashing: "Drive it like you stole it", "If you didn't break it you ain't doing it right". Jumps, bumps, humps, drops, skate parks, and a lot of time ordering spares online. Great fun.

Trail driving: Taking your car out for a walk. Generally on rougher terrain with a slower car than you'd have for cruising, one for the explorers.

Crawling: Extreme trail driving with extremely slow but agile cars, basically climbing over rocks, chasms, stream beds, the more awkward the better.


Large scale: 1/8 - 1/6 - 1/5 , often nitro/petrol powered rather than electric, very expensive and big.

Normal scale: 1/10 - 1/12-ish , nitro/petrol or electric, expensive-ish but lots of choice.

Mini scale: 1/14 - 1/16 - 1/18, mostly electric, still lots of hobby-grade choice.

Micro scale: 1/24 - 1/36 and below, electric, still a good choice but not so many high end models.


Toy grade - cheap, can be fast and agile, but not upgradeable, not repairable, and might not have a good transmitter. Skip an evening in the pub and get hobby grade.

Hobby grade - "proper" RC, from budget to luxury. Cheaper ones are not necessarily much fancier than toy grade but will likely be better materials and components, and likely to be upgradeable and repairable - the former aspect is fun, the latter aspect is very useful.

Ready To Run (RTR) - most RC cars come like this these days. Just add batteries. You can often still dismantle them to the base components though!

Kit form - much rarer than it used to be, although Tamiya still do plenty. You get less choice but if you really want to build something, go for it.

UK Shops:

Steve Webb - my cousin's shop so I have to give him a shout out. The website is a bit hopeless but they have loads of other stock in store and a lot of expertise. If you live near Chester pop in to the shop in Frodsham in person.
There are many more but I've used those regularly.


RC Groups
Ultimate RC
RC Universe
R/C Tech

These are invariably American so it can be a bit frustrating when you see a really cool looking car with a big thread discussing all the options, then find out 98% of the stock goes to China and America and it's only available in the UK from one Hong Kong exporter who charges £45 postage and it will take 8 weeks to get here by which time the manufacturer has discontinued it and you can't get any spares.

Good makes:

It really depends what you're after but some good names are: Kyosho, Tamiya, HPI (& Maverick), Traxxas (& La Trax), Dromida, Associated, Losi, Carisma, WLToys and FTX.

If any of this is slightly useful, then in the words in RCSparks "get out there any enjoy the RC hobby" :)

A bit disappointing.

Warning: This post contains some criticism. If there's any issue with that, please take it as customer feedback, from a fairly dedicated customer.

New guidebooks are exciting - proper new guidebooks that is. Modern, locally researched, extensively updated, characterful definitive guides, rather than mundane honeypotting recycled select guides. New information, accurate coverage, the full spectrum of venues covered and their value overhauled and recently assessed. That always fills me with psyche.

The new Lancashire Rock guidebook is exciting - it manages to escape the archaic shackles of The Brick, going from one of the worst old guides to the best modern guides. All the classic quarries presented in exhilarating detail, along with many appealing minor and hidden gem venues that have me itching to kick off the trad season with some Lancs suntraps.

Given the general quality of the tome, it was surprising to go to the Egerton section and find two new (well, a decade new) routes missing, including one that's had several photos and an entry on the country's largest climbing website for 10 years , and one that fills a pretty obvious gap (yes a bit eliminate but not nearly as eliminate as a starred E1 we did at Lower Montcliffe, nor as odd a line as the spaghetti junction of link-ups at Summit Quarry).

Did no-one look at the gap to the right of the climber (larger than the gap that separates the two HVSes right again), and think "I wonder if something's been done up there?"

Corrected topo for Egerton's Wood Buttress. Feel free to print it off and stick it over the current page.

Obviously I'm only writing about this because I really care about the fame and the glory and want to see my climbing artworks immortalised in print. No, really. *Rolls eyes*. Actually it's more to do with this being an example of accurate research and information, or the lack thereof. The rest of the guide seems great but it gets me worried how much I can trust it when something fairly obvious (if minor) is missing....

I asked about this - very neutrally, just asking for information - on the Lancashire Rock Revival Facebook page, and the consensus answer I got was that many of the team didn't use UKC for information and had personal issues with the website. Hmmm. I'll try to avoid raising too many of my own personal issues with people who choose to ignore the UK's biggest online climbing resource while researching a national guidebook, but that is just bloody idiotic. I'm no fan of UKC per se, I've been banned twice, fallen out with a lot of people due to my chronic intolerance of morons, and have no love for the Rockfax parent company, but like it or not, it IS a resource, it DOES contain information, and it should NOT be ignored. Sure, due to the aforementioned morons the information and opinions should not be taken as gospel, but at the very least the information available should always be considered, factored in, or used to raise questions for further research.

Take this for example: - terrible photo, useless caption, distracting banter - 30 seconds to click on my profile - email user "I've seen this photo of you, is this actually a new route and can you supply full details of it?". Or this:"Can you confirm that Hot Rubber should be E3 and supply any more details?"

The latter comes from another recent release that was thrilling to me initially but has had plenty of frustrating moments: Bosigran And The North Coast. Again, by CC's standards, a refreshingly semi-modern update after the previous unprogressive reprint, lots of topos, clear design, well presented information....but not all of it is accurate enough due to some pretty simple lapses:

Thick Wall Special line is wrong on not one but both Bosigran topos, despite the clash between this line and Visions Of Johanna being fairly apparent. Not the most classic Bosi route but very worthwhile as a rare steep slab in it's own right.

Pedn Kei West is a great wee cliff despite the precarious belay slope above, and really could have done with a topo especially as Pete Saunders managed to get one on UKC.

This photo seems to show part of the cliff with a 3 star hidden gem on it....why not show it properly??

Carn Vellan is a great cliff that is far more than chopped bolts and controversy. The main slab warrants having it's low Extremes well described and shown.

Freedom Zawn, another great and grand killas arena. The main wall is pretty adventurous and not the sort of place you want to be totally off route. The topo is as wrong as wrong gets.

Pretty sure Aire Point wasn't thoroughly checked if the grades and stars of the adjacent E3s haven't been sorted out.

Photo captions are a minor deal but perhaps symptomatic.

Again at least two or three of these, if not more, could have been avoided by more online research. And like Lancashire, Cornwall is a classic and varied area that really deserves to have it's qualities fully highlighted in an reliable guide. Hopefully this issue will be rectified for the forthcoming Chair Ladder & Lizard, and especially the next North Devon & Cornwall guide, which will likely be the last definitive print guide to such a wild, complex, and adventurous area, and as such it would be really nice to see a supreme quality guide to match the climbing and last the years to come.

Obviously if I know of information that's not being used, I should try to help out. Equally obviously I didn't know it would be ignored for those guides, particularly since I'm currently very non-local to the areas. I will be more diligent in the future - for ND&C I've joined the Facebook group and emailed in feedback, as well as spending a good couple of hours sorting out the Carn Gowla UKC page after it was left in an unusable mess by the previous moderator who is apparently a local expert but doesn't think UKC has any useful information, and was quite blase about a dangerous sandbag like Demerara (VS going on E2) being left unchanged because "You don't really get people climbing those grades at Carn Gowla" - when a quick look at UKC shows Gowla VSes with 70 recorded ascents......

Last but not least at the opposite end of the country, the new Highland Outcrops. SMC guides are being dragged screaming and kicking into the year 2000, and will get to modern standards eventually especially when they show all the lines on topos, but they're certainly an improvement over previous ancient books. However the latest HO, while inspiring in many ways not least the astonishing breadth of coverage, does fall down in some very similar areas.

The Glen Shian slab was an obsession of mine for many years - an immaculate slab of lovely sheer schist with acclaimed video footage of E10 first ascents but no useful information available. Eventually I got there, had a great time and set about rectifying it's obscurity. Again my excitement for the new guidebook was slightly diminished to see a woefully inadequate entry for this crag. Now I know that Andy Nisbet as one of the dozen active trad climbers in the Highlands had a lot on his plate writing the guide, I know he probably didn't have a big team to check online resources.....except in this case he had seen my UKC entry (and for Dome Buttress which he rightly asked me to take down the topo of) and had even used my photo as the basis for the Glen Shian topo. So why not use, or at least question, the accompanying information??

Missing descriptions, unedited grades....
....sparse descriptions, mis-applied stars...

The end result is that one of the best accessible mid-high grade single pitch slabs in Scotland (not a common feature) might not be well described enough to tempt the mid-Extreme leader over to have as good a time as we did. Again, yes I wish I'd been involved, I didn't know it would end up like this - and receiving a "Fiend, you seem to like this crag, do you want to write it up properly for the guide" would have spurred me into action, 6 hour round trip and all.

TL,DR: Guidebook writers, regardless of your personal issues with online resources, they are still resources to be used, even only to raise questions for further research - please do so!!