The Five Best RC Questions for New Enthusiasts to Ask Themselves
Getting started in the RC hobby on the right track.
You’ve probably seen them.
They’re standing outside the door of the best hobby shop in your town, shuffling their feet and peering longingly at the items displayed just inside the window. Perhaps even being brave enough to step inside. Of course, they avoid the gaze of the owner who might ask them questions they’re not entirely prepared to answer. Difficult questions like, “Can I help you?” Or, “Is there anything I can help you find?”
RC hobby experts know them. It’s not even fair to call them “amateurs” just yet. They’re eager and full of questions, but they’re greener than summer grass. It’s not that they don’t ask the right questions. They quite literally don’t know what they don’t know.
They are, for lack of a better term, the looky-loos. They are the ones who manage to wedge themselves just between the two things they came to see in person, forcing an awkward “excuse me” exchange that nearly, but not quite, scares them back out onto the sidewalk.
They may come from a variety of backgrounds. They may possess a varying amount of technical expertise. They might be looking to engage with the RC community with friends, family, spouse, child, or all by themselves. Regardless of the competing factors driving them to the world of radio control, it usually boils down to one simple, initial thought: “Man, that sure looks like fun.”
And that’s just about the best possible place to begin.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not that far removed from a looky-loo myself. I can assure anyone new that I also know what your second thought was, and if you’re like me, it was probably some variation on one of these:
“This sure seems like a lot to learn.”
“I don’t even know where to begin.”
“This store is full of people that know what they’re doing, and I don’t. Like... AT ALL.”
“...maybe this was a bad idea.”
To the people who have thought these thoughts, I would reply in the following way: It can be a lot to learn, and it’s okay not to know where to begin.
Everybody you see in a retail space, or at a hobbyist event, or online, remembers what it was to be new. Your brain is just overwhelmed with choices right now and choices, despite what your brain tells you right now, are a GOOD thing.
New RC hobbyists all say the same thing—RC is a pastime that’s filled to the brim with options. Those options will inevitably lead you to the product that’s right for you, based on how you plan to engage with the RC hobby.
However, when you’re new, those options don’t feel limitless and free in the same way they do when you’ve been actively enjoying yourself for a while. Instead, those options can feel downright overwhelming. Think about that person you know who walks into an ice cream parlor and stares at an array of 31 flavors, unable to decide which is most appealing. The RC hobby can feel the same way—overwhelming to your senses and giving you too much stimulus without channeling your likes and dislikes productively.
If you’re a new would-be enthusiast, then let me be the first to welcome you aboard! As a new fan myself, I’ve identified five critical questions for you to ask yourself before you make your first choice.
QUESTION 1: WHAT IS, IN YOUR OPINION, THE COOLEST AND MOST EXCITING THING ABOUT RC?
WHAT THIS CAN HELP ANSWER: Form factor, entry- point vehicle choices, engagement levels, and hobbyist sharing.
From the perspective of a neophyte enthusiast, I can tell you that what hooked me on the hobby was seeing the four-wheeled vehicles demonstrated on a track.
Sure, I appreciated the planes and boats, but I didn’t grow up around runways or waterways, so it was more of an abstract admiration of performance. Cars and trucks were the personal connection that piqued my interest. Seeing vehicles as technically advanced as today’s generation of cars, only in a smaller form factor, spoke to me. I might never be able to afford to drive a Dodge Charger through hairpins and drift around curves that could set me back thousands with each bump or scrape, but I could do it in a smaller physical space, outdoors, on approved tracks designed for all skill levels. It was exhilarating.
Seeing it for the first time awakened a sense of wonder. This was not a video game. There was no reload button to return me to that tricky curve that ate me up. It was a tangible experience in a real-world space that rewarded driving prowess and skill— skills, by the way, that you can feel enhancing with each turn of the wheel. It wasn’t an Xbox Achievement to be unlocked. It was my skill set, improving through experience, and getting better with each run.
It wasn’t just my experience that I found important. I would be sharing this hobby with my teenager, and so ideally, I wanted the experience to be a way for us to bond. With that in mind, I knew that whatever solution I ended up choosing needed to allow for jump-in fun with a minimal learning curve for all age groups.
However, you’ll notice that the question I didn’t ask was, “what car do you want?” or “what vehicle do you like?” Because to a certain degree, those things come out in the wash. Skill levels for new RC hobby enthusiasts need to remain focused on why this is exciting, why this is fun, and why you like this. Those are the factors that turn “New” fans into “Amateur” fans, “Amateur” fans into “Intermediates,” and “Intermediates” into lifelong “Experts” that will share their knowledge with the next generation of “New” fans. The RC hobby has always cultivated its own, planted into topsoil of “cool and exciting.”
QUESTION 2: WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH RC PRODUCTS?
WHAT THIS CAN HELP ANSWER: Past (possibly shared) experiences, RC engagement, likes/dislikes, and what-brought- them-back to the hobby.
Naturally, this will vary significantly from enthusiast to enthusiast, but it’s an important question to consider. What, literally, drove this person to the RC hobby? Did they engage with RC vehicles as a child? Was it a hobby enjoyed by a parent or an older sibling?
Or, as it has proven true for so many, has their experience been, “nothing, I just thought they looked cool!”
The memories of our time with radio-control products can help inform what our projected engagement will be with the hobby. If we zero in on elements we enjoyed, you can be sure that those elements still exist and may have gotten more accessible or easier. Similarly, suppose there were other elements we didn’t particularly like, such as short battery life or costly repairs. In that case, we can home in on products that minimize those concerns and help us identify which products are suitable for a beginner.
Finally, if you used to engage with RC and found yourself stepping away, what were those reasons? Were there elements of the hobby itself that you found dissatisfying? Are you returning because some of those stumbling blocks have been eliminated? Or, is it because your love for radio control now outweighs them? Being honest with oneself about the things you liked or disliked can help you find a product that mitigates those concerns but still scratches that “RC itch.”
QUESTION 3: HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU IN CONDUCTING REPAIRS AND MAINTENANCE ON YOUR VEHICLE?
WHAT THIS CAN HELP ANSWER: Energy consumption, maintenance schedules, and overall upkeep of your vehicle moving forward.
First, never let maintenance concerns disillusion you from being involved in the RC hobby. You don’t need to know how to replace a drivetrain or transmission to enjoy driving your everyday car to work in the morning. The same is true among RC models. You can absolutely enjoy the freedom of driving an RC vehicle without needing to be a part-time mechanic.
Each vehicle you purchase comes equipped with a comprehensive instruction manual, which provides detailed instructions on essential maintenance and upkeep. Additionally, there’s no shortage of online resources to walk you through any kind of maintenance you might encounter. So, if you’re a new would-be enthusiast with nightmares about having to suddenly become a grease monkey to keep your new investment in tip- top shape, don’t worry. There are plenty of places to go for help online and in person.
However, do you like fixing things? How much do customization and optimization factor into an ideal ownership scenario? Advanced models in every genre of RC uniformly allow for a considerable amount of tinkering, including building your rig from the ground up. So, if you’d prefer something more customizable, that’s something to tell your local hobby shop owner or look for online.
Investing in a standard set of tools is prudent. You can do many things without them, such as swapping of batteries and essential wheel maintenance, but you will want specialized sets even for the simplest tasks. Naturally, these can be acquired online or at a local hobby shop or online store.
QUESTION 4: WILL YOU BE PREDOMINANTLY ENGAGING WITH THE HOBBY IN PHYSICAL STORES OR ONLINE?
WHAT THIS CAN HELP ANSWER: Comfort in acquiring new items, accessories, resources, engagement with other hobbyists, and where I’ll be doing most of my research in the future.
There are as many ways to engage with the radio control community.
Surprisingly, you might not see interested hobbyists at your local hobby shop. They’ve found the easiest way to engage with the hobby is to do so from the warm, friendly confines of their living rooms, bathed in the glow of their laptop or iPhone. For years, would-be enthusiasts found themselves at the mercy of free-market availability and geography. This, unfortunately, meant that fans living in rural areas might find themselves without the means or ability to join in. The internet has proven to be a boon in connecting fans across the world to a common shared interest, and its reach has revitalized the interest in a shared engagement. Videos, photos, and stories can easily be shared across cities, states, countries, languages, and dialects in ways that were impossible just a few years ago.
Remember, your local hobby shop is chock full of great products, great people, and valuable information. The person running your LHS will no doubt have first-hand knowledge, as well as customized recommendations for your specific skill level and interest of engagement. If you value the social aspect of this hobby, this may be someone you should get to know.
QUESTION 5: HOW IMPORTANT IS SOCIAL ENGAGEMENT TO ME IN THE ENJOYMENT OF MY HOBBY?
WHAT THAT CAN HELP ANSWER: Where to find resources for local events, hobbyist groups, racing clubs, or other events coordinated for RC enthusiasts.
There’s no right or wrong way to engage with others in your new RC hobby. It’s only necessary to ask yourself whether the hundreds of events are a great way to gain more insight into the landscape of the world of the radio-controlled hobby or if you’d prefer to do so virtually. There are events across the country catering to those who want to race on hot asphalt, tackle challenging terrain in the woods, watch amazing aerial acrobatics, and so much more. Some enthusiasts engage with other fans online through Facebook groups and Twitter or message board platforms like Reddit. There’s no shortage of people who let their videos and photos do the talking for them.
Having a local hobby shop is a great benefit for RC festivals, but even if you don’t have one nearby, you can always join in discussions online to see whether an event is right for you. Many live events are now being rescheduled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, so you might consider attending if the circumstances are favorable. There’s even live streaming of many events if you can’t make it in person.
Having answers in your back pocket for these five questions makes a huge difference. It helps you feel better prepared to find something right and enables you to jump into your new hobby with both feet firmly planted. It’s also important to remember that no matter which model you purchase, go with the one that gives you the greatest amount of fun.
Suppose you’re the kind of person who prefers video tutorials. If so, then factor in the availability of those resources into your purchase plan. If you’re the kind of person that likes in-person support from a local shop, racetrack, or flying field, investigate the availability of those groups in your area to help you with your queries.
Above all, remember why you got started in RC in the first place... that little voice in the back of your head that whispered, firmly:
“Man, that sure looks like fun.”
Because it is.