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Wheels: A Short Discussion.

Posted 04-09-2009 at 12:01 AM by color0
Updated 03-08-2011 at 09:36 AM by color0
So with the Mini-Z market having become as mature as it is, there are quite a few ways to deck out your Mini-Z, one of the most popular being wheels -- or rims, as I usually call them. There is a LOT of selection out there, not just in styles, but also materials, widths, and offsets (the additional track width that they will give your chassis). So this week I thought I'd go over the choices you have and their pros and cons, and the applications for the different kinds of rims on the market.

1. Stock Kyosho plastic rims

These are the rims you typically get with Mini-Z readysets, Autoscales, or in Kyosho wheel sets (the MA010 Multi-offset kit comes to mind). They're stylish, realistic, reasonably durable, cheap, and VERY easily found -- if you need some you can ask pretty much any fellow racer to see if they have any.

The downside, however, is that Kyosho went for style before performance, so 1) sometimes the bearing fit is not great and 2) the rims are not the most concentric items I've ever seen. And one style of rim will not be guaranteed to have the offsets you want for your particular body, so hunting around for the right offsets may leave your Mini-Z with a rim style you don't like, or mismatched rims front and rear or sometimes even left and right.

One more consideration is that Kyosho plastic rims are all spoked, and often these spokes are quite thin. While this creates a beautiful realistic look, on more than one occasion have I cracked a rim from a collision with another car or from tapping the wall just a bit too hard. Thus, these rims are normally suited for beginner (read: Box Stock Kyosho motor) racers or really casual racing where the collisions won't be hard enough to break rims, and where the cars will normally serve double duty as display models. For any truly competitive racing you'll want to consider one of the three other options.

2. PN Racing/Atomic plastic rims

These are not as stylish as Kyosho rims, but they bring two very important benefits: concentricity (or trueness) and durability. As far as I know, both PN and Atomic make two styles of molded plastic rims, one dish and one spoked, and with varying availability for RWD and AWD Mini-Z's. (PN spoked plastic rims are for RWD, and dish rims for AWD; Atomic has dish and spoked ("T.S." pattern) rims for both types of cars.)

The molded dish rims offered by both manufacturers are pretty much the staple of Mini-Z racers today. They're cheap, and made in almost every offset/width from +0N (narrowest width and offset) to +3W (widest width and offset), a selection that will satisfy any body shell's requirements. These rims are also nearly indestructible, thanks to the beefy construction and dish pattern. The dish design also (theoretically, at least) cuts down on wind drag, which might be worth up to an extra 1mph on the back straight on a large track. Also because they're cheap, you can stock up on these, mount many different sets of tires the night before you go to the track, and have them ready to go when fine-tuning your car setup.

Atomic's T.S. rim series is available for AWD and RWD cars; they're basically the same as dish rims except a bit more fragile (and some people may not appreciate the muscle-car styling underneath their favorite supercar body). What's worthy of mention about these rims is the "inch-up" diameter of the RWD T.S. rims. They're made in 21.5mm diameter instead of the standard 20mm, which means the tires are stretched a bit thinner, and you get an effectively taller gear ratio. The stretching of the tires leads to slightly more responsive handling, and keeps the tires on the rim more securely, but you do lose a bit of traction with them. These extra-large rims can be used as an additional tuning tool if you've got lots of time to mount tires and play with your setup.

The PN spoked plastic rims, only for RWD cars, are a standard 20mm, and their styling is reminiscent of the rims off a 1/8 scale nitro car (indeed, PN originally introduced these rims to accompany their Pan Car replica body). But aside from that: the PN spoked rims are actually some of my favorite rims to use for racing. Although they don't have the slight aero advantage of dish rims, I find that they are more durable than Kyosho plastic rims, yet the spokes are thin enough such that the rim itself actually flexes a little bit and gives the car just a little more grip. They're also exceedingly lightweight, and acceleration is just a tick faster than if you were to use dish rims. Like the dish rims these are made in almost every offset from +0N to +3W, and will match any body style. And just like dish rims, they're cheap and you can afford to stock up and mount many sets of tires in advance. The one drawback is that the hubs are a little bit fragile; I have heard some reports that if you're not careful when installing bearings, you can damage/crack the wheel hub. You should be careful of this fact no matter what rims you use, though.

3. Aluminum alloy rims

First of all, I should mention that these are expensive. Anywhere from $25 to $60 for a full set of rims means that you probably don't want to risk damaging these CNC-machined jewels. That said, some of the aluminum alloy rims made for the Mini-Z (for example, Square R/C, Kyosho, and Team Atlas) are just the most beautiful things I've ever seen this small. And because they're CNC-machined, they're nearly perfectly concentric -- this puts the rubber in contact with the ground in a really consistent manner, creating a precise, buttoned-down feel to the car. It really makes a difference. The downsides are many, however. Most alloy rims are noticeably heavier than plastic ones, meaning more unsprung weight, and slightly more sluggish handling. The ones that ARE as light, however, have even thinner spokes than Kyosho plastic rims, meaning they're really easily bent. And once bent, an alloy rim is useless for racing. I myself have a set of Square alloy rims for my MRCG; apart from one or two races to test out the difference, I don't use them anymore except for display. They're way, way too beautiful to get bent and battered.

4. PN Racing Delrin dish rims

Finally, the piece de la resistance: PN's machined Delrin dish rims. Unfortunately, so far these are only available for RWD cars, but they combine CNC machined concentricity of alloy rims with the light weight and flexibility of plastic units, and quite frankly I think this is the best idea ever for racing. Granted, they're not as cheap as molded plastic rims (around $7 a pair), but they're durable, you get the aero advantage and perfect concentricity, AND they're reusable, since the glue used to mount tires doesn't melt Delrin like it melts the normal molded plastic (ABS or nylon, depending on manufacturer). You can separate a glued tire from its rim by dunking the wheels in a bath of brake cleaner overnight, and the next day you'll have a fresh rim, ready for another set of tires! Remarkably useful, and actually saves money in the long run.

The Delrin rims are actually offered in 20mm and 21mm diameters, so like Atomic's T.S. rims you can use the larger diameter rims as a tuning tool for both traction and gear ratio. However, the 21mm wheels (at least the last batch) had thinner wheel hubs than the 20mm versions, which makes them slightly less durable in that area.

On another note, the these wheels work absolutely amazing when combined with Fast Pace Racing's front wheel bearing spacers, which remove all slop whatsoever from the knuckle/wheel bearing interface. This reason alone should be enough to make you try out the PN Delrin dish rims -- the improvement in handling and precision is really something.

That's all I can think of for now, so next week I'll be covering transmitters and transmitter adjustments, and what they can do for your car (and your game). Hope you guys enjoy!
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