Hobby RC: Testing the Tamiya Dancing Rider

By Terry Dunn

Terry tests an unual RC car from Tamiya: a three-wheeled delivery vehicle!

I consider myself to be pretty well-rounded when it comes to RC stuff. I've dabbled in a little bit of everything during my years in the hobby. Until recently, however, I had one glaring omission from my RC bona fides: I had never built an RC car from Tamiya. That's a little like being a chef who has never made a grilled cheese sandwich!

Most of my RC buddies got their start in the hobby with iconic Tamiya vehicles like the Grasshopper, Frog, and Blackfoot. These simple and tough machines were ideal for beginning builders and drivers. Tamiya also has a reputation for producing some very unusual RC cars. And that is how I finally filled the Tamiya-shaped void in my life! Enter the Tamiya Dancing Rider.

About the Dancing Rider

The Dancing Rider ($146) is modeled after 3-wheel delivery vehicles that are popular in Japan. It is definitely a unique platform in both appearance and function. I'm a sucker for unusual models. So this kit was right up my alley!

I quickly discovered that I had to abandon all of my standard concepts of scale for RC cars. Tamiya calls the Dancing Rider a 1/8-scale vehicle, but it is much smaller than your average 1/8-scale 4-wheeled rig. Sure, when you scale down a smaller-than-average vehicle, you get a smaller-than-average model. I get it.

From size and power standpoints, the Dancing Rider has much more in common with 1/18-scale cars than anything you would typically find on the 1/8-scale shelf. One exception is the radio gear used in the Dancing Rider, which is pulled from the 1/10-scale class. None of this scaling is a problem. I just found it interesting.

The Dancing Rider is a kit that must be assembled. While this is definitely a hobby-grade product, it is not a racing machine. You won't find carbon fiber chassis plates, ball bearings, or oil-filled shocks. Most of the parts are made of injection molded plastic, and that's fine for this vehicle. You'll want a nice pair of side cutters to cleanly remove parts from the plastic trees. I used Tamiya side cutters meant for plastic and they worked well.

The Dancing Rider is a hobby-grade vehicle, but it is made almost entirely of plastic components.

A 370-sized brushed motor is included in the kit. You must provide a battery and a 2-channel radio system that includes a receiver, brushed-motor ESC, and steering servo. I'll cover those items in more depth later. You will also need paint for the clear Lexan body.

Tamiya provides a really great assembly manual for the Dancing Rider. Each step lists the specific hardware and parts you will need. A line drawing illustrates the specific actions for that step. It is all arranged in a very clear and methodical manner. I did not have any trouble understanding the instructions. Nor did I uncover any missing or erroneous steps.

The trike is motivated by a 370-size brushed motor attached to a solid rear axle.

The plastic parts are very cleanly-molded. There were no traces of flash to be found. Not only were the parts tidy, they integrated perfectly as well. All of the pieces that are supposed to mate together did so exactly as shown in the manual. I did not have any hiccups with the build--not one.

There is no direct control of the front wheel. This trike steers by leaning side to side.

Like most RC motorcycles, the front forks of the Dancing Rider swivel freely. The machine turns by tilting the the frame in relation to the rear axle. This tilt mechanism is actuated by a full-size standard servo. Tamiya includes two different adapters to mate with the output shaft of various brands of servos. Unfortunately, neither adapter fit the Spektrum servo that I originally intended to use. I swapped to a Futaba S3004 servo and it fit perfectly.

The tilt mechanism is actuated by a full-size standard servo. This Futaba S3004 works well, but not all servo brands will mate with the kit-provided parts.

I used a combination receiver and speed control from ECX (part ECX13006, $36). This compact unit is stock equipment in several 1/10-scale cars and trucks, so I was sure it could handle the power demands of the little Dancing Rider. It fit nicely in the intended location above the rear axle.

Despite its unusual functionality, this machine does not require any special radio equipment. I used a simple hybrid receiver/ESC.

The receiver is paired to an ECX 2.4GHz pistol-grip transmitter (part ECX13005, now superseded by ECX10003, $26). It may be small, but this transmitter works well and has all of the functionality necessary for the Dancing Rider. It's a simple, low-buck control option.

You have several different battery choices that will work with the Dancing Rider. The manual shows two setups. One is a 4-cell pack of standard AA-sized alkaline cells. It is unusual for a hobby-grade RC vehicle to use alkaline cells because the discharge demands are often much higher than these batteries can deliver. Even if they would work in this case, there's no sense in blowing through disposable batteries when there are multiple rechargeable options to choose from.

Lithium-based batteries (LiFe or Li-Ion) using two 18650-sized cells fit well and provide good performance.

The other battery option shown in the manual is a 2-cell 1100mAh pack of LiFe A123 batteries. I didn't have the specific Tamiya-branded battery shown in the manual, but I had an equivalent pack I made from individual A123 cells. It works quite well.

Each of the 1100mAh A123 cells are 18650-sized pieces. There are tons of 18650 Lithium-Ion cells on the market. If you're comfortable soldering your own batteries, a 2-cell pack using any of the newer high-discharge (capable of at least 5-10 amps) Li-Ion cells will work great in this application. In fact, I made some Lithium-Ion packs for the Dancing Rider as well.

The Dancing Rider is enjoyable to build thanks to well-engineered parts and a superb instruction manual.

In addition to the 18650-sized options, I've also used a variety of rectangular 2-cell Lithium-Polymer batteries. The primary constraint is the physical size of the Dancing Rider's battery compartment. It is somewhat small and oddly shaped. It is worth noting that the speed control I chose does not have a voltage cutoff for lithium cells. So it's up to me to make sure I do not over-discharge the batteries.

Painting the Dancing Rider

Tamiya provides masking tape, stickers, and a driver figure for the body. This was my first experience using Tamiya's polycarbonate spray paint. To be honest, I'm not really happy with how the Dancing Rider's body turned out. I found it difficult to get an even layer of color, even with numerous light coats. I do not, however, blame the paint. Deadlines being what they are, I had to do all of my painting on a humid 30-degree (F) day, which is generally a bad idea for spray paints. It even says so on the can!

The Dancing Rider emulates 3-wheel delivery vehicles used in Japan. It is definitely a unique machine.

Some of you may recognize the included driver figure from Tamiya's legacy, wheelie-popping Wild Willy kit. Its comical stature jibes with the aura of the Dancing Rider as well. I discovered that the polycarbonate paint does not stick very well to the plastic used for the driver figure (polystyrene perhaps?). So, I used standard plastic model paints for that task.

Driving the Dancing Rider.

Oh my. This thing is a total blast to drive! It is difficult to explain just how nimble this little machine is. It is unlike any other wheeled RC vehicle I've ever driven. Even if you're not the one driving, it's fun to watch it sway back and forth as it weaves through ridiculously tight turns.

Despite the trike's humble brushed power system, it actually has a decent top speed. It's not fast, but it isn't slow either. Just be aware that it begins to understeer as you pick up the pace. So the Dancing Rider's turning radius is proportional to its forward speed.

With its exaggerated swaying motion and extremely small turning radius, the Dancing Rider is a kick to drive…or just watch.

You have to get moving a little before the forks stabilize to steer the machine straight ahead. So the initial holeshot can be a little unpredictable. There is also a bit of a wobble as you enter and exit a turn. With some practice, I figured out the machine's handling nuances. I was soon threading it through impromptu slalom courses on my workshop floor.

The size and performance of the Dancing Rider make it ideal for indoor fun.

The size and performance of the Dancing Rider make it ideal for indoor fun. I've driven it on carpet, tile, hardwood, linoleum, and concrete floors. It does well on all of them. You can even do donuts on the smoother surfaces. There is adequate suspension travel for outdoor running as well. When driving on my sidewalk, driveway, or street, there's more elbow room to really open up the throttle.

Driving in reverse causes the front wheel to shimmy like crazy. In fact, going backwards often results in a wildly erratic path that ends with the trike flipped onto its side. So I use reverse very slowly, and only when I've driven myself into a corner.

One of the coolest features of the Dancing Rider is that it is self-righting. Whenever you accidentally roll the trike onto its side, all you have to do is rotate the steering wheel back and forth. A bar attached to the tilt mechanism will push off the ground and put the Dancing Rider back on its feet! It is a clever and much appreciated feature.

Being a mostly plastic machine, I am somewhat surprised that I haven't broken any parts yet. I've smashed the Dancing Rider into countless stationary objects and it hasn't shown any signs of damage or fatigue. I really should be more careful. But this machine just invites silly recklessness.

Closing Thoughts

I can finally add a Tamiya vehicle to my RC resume! I think I made a great choice here. The Dancing Rider is unique and full of character. Nothing else looks quite like it. Nothing else drives quite like it. The build process was simple and enjoyable. And driving the Dancing Rider…well, it's difficult to stifle a smile while you're controlling this thing.

Terry is a freelance writer living in Buffalo, NY. Visit his website at TerryDunn.org and follow him on Twitter and Facebook. You can also hear Terry talk about RC hobbies as one of the hosts of the RC Roundtable podcast.