This week RD is taking it easy on us, and sharing his own personal top 10. I think it's safe to say that his top 10 is a bit different than most enthusiasts, but I think we all have at least one or two coasters in our top 10 that wouldn't make sense to people.
Enjoy this weeks article and feel free to post your personal Top 10 below. - Gregg
One of the most common questions I see get asked is "What is your top 10 (insert coaster class here)? And I will admit, I've shyed away from really having more than a top three, as in all reality, I like just about every coaster I go on, in one form or another. For me, to really make an impression on me is a rarity; seldom do rides have a WOW factor these days that is really worth anything. A great view is nice, but a boring & mundane ride that is forceless really does not deserve a top 10 position. In the same area, a ride can be 40 ft. tall, and deliver quite a punch, but sitting in an ugly area, or badly treated it will not qualify.
As a whole, this is my top 10. Each ride in the list has criteria for me which make it noteworthy - and not necessarily because of the ride's performance, but something memorable or important has occurred on the ride. There are defunct coasters on the list; before you start to complain, I feel that even if the ride is gone, it is worthy of maintaining a position, as a tribute to the ride's history & impact.
10. Outer Limits: Flight of Fear (2001 modified), Kings Dominion/Kings Island
As the very first full-circuit LIM coasters, the Premier Bowl design was possibly the most complicated coaster built at the time of its opening. For me, the warped & twisted layout, strange force changes, and smooth performance make it a hard to touch ride. Add in an impressive launch & oddball finale, it is an amazing ride to me to this day.
9. Tennessee Tornado, Dollywood
As one of Arrow's last projects (and one of the first designs by Alan Shilke) TT stands out as being a non-Arrow Arrow. Glass smooth, incredible scenery, blinding speed, weird trick-track inversions - all of it adds up to a stunning ride with spectacular performance. Had Arrow continued and built more of this class of ride, the skyline would be VERY different today. Alan Shilke, if you're reading this, PLEASE GO AND BUILD MORE RIDES LIKE THIS!
8. Space Mountain (Starport Seven Five), Walt Disney World/Magic Kingdom
SP75 holds a position for me as being a critical ride that I still enjoy whenever I get a chance to. This was the ride that turned me into a coaster man; to this day I can recall my first ride on it clearly: March 8,1988, Alpha side. The ride itself is a simple combination of dips & curves, but it performs admirably 40 years on, and is a must-do for enclosed steel coaster fans.
7. Georgia Scorcher, Six Flags Over Georgia
Before B&M lost their mojo, they created a number of notable coasters. Of their Standing variety, Georgia Scorcher stands out - WAY out. Incredibly forceful with a twisted and compact layout, GS fits so perfectly that it seems organic to the park. Though overshadowed by larger siblings on both coasts, GS still rises above either of them as far as thrills & a fantastic performance.
6. Big Bad Wolf, Busch Gardens: The Old Country
Big Bad Wolf holds a position though defunct due to several factors. Taking the concept of the Arrow Suspended ride to absolute definition, BBW was not the biggest, nor the tallest, nor the fastest - but consistently delivered on performance & thrills. It was also my first large steel coaster, back in 1987.
5. Fire Chaser Express, Dollywood
As a new for 2014 coaster goes, this was well beyond what I expected, and a real knockout when it comes to family coasters. Gerstlauer's thinking out of the box produced a ride that is silky smooth, has excellent changes in forces, a fantastic scenic view, and very cool special effects. The result is a family coaster like none other built in the USA, or for that matter the world. This is a concept that will be capitalized on many times over in the next decade, and Dollywood will hold the claim of starting the fire...chaser.
4.Ninja, Six Flags Magic Mountain
While not the tallest nor fastest Arrow suspended coaster, Ninja had (until late last year) one of the best scenic rides of any coaster anywhere. Built over an existing hydroflume, and having an unusual split-lift hill, Ninja's course does not disappoint, nor does it let up anywhere along the 2700 foot track. For me, night rides are stellar, with the swaying/whipping action of the train highlighted by the sparkling lights from underneath, as well as the shadows of the trees on the ride itself. A real winner all around.
3. Mindbender, West Edmonton Mall
#3 & #2 are both interchangable - not only do they share the same name, they share the same designer. However, beyond that they differ completely. WEM's Mindbender takes a previous coaster concept that Schwarzkopf used, and made it taller, longer & plenty meaner. For steel coaster fans, it is the holy-grail of force monsters, pushing you to limits & G force like no other ride on earth can muster. Combined with near year-round operation, this is a MUST-DO for any real coaster rider.
2. MindBender, Six Flags Over Georgia
Built in 1978, Schwarzkopf's Heartlinelooping system used in MindBender broke the concept of what steel coasters could do. Having a layout that uses the terrain so perfectly is rare, combined with insane high speed inversions, a mid-course diving spiral, deep straightline drops, and a high-G finale, MindBender redefined the art of steel coasters in a way that has never been done since. MindBender's single-point restraints (A simple lap bar) gives a rider the freedom to enjoy the ride as it was intended.
1. Loch Ness Monster, Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Nessie has been in my #1 spot now for 24 straight years. Why? It has factors that no other ride on earth can compete with: Stunning visuals & incredible beauty, a custom layout with conterminous interlocking loops (look it up...), a smooth ride, a series of impressive force moments, and a scenic trip throughout the ravine at BGW. I chose my college based upon how far it was from LNM to my dorm; in fact, LNM is my high-cycle coaster as well. Nessie reigns at the top, and as she turns 37 this year she still can hold her own, much better than many of her larger competition can claim.
So you're wondering why there aren't a lot of foreign coasters on the list. First, I omitted ones that would be hard to get credits - such as Olympia Looping (which would place at #4) or Blue Fire (Which would place at #6). While these rides are insanely good, and well worth the trip, for most people they are as far away as the moon, and just as hard to reach. I also omitted production rides as a whole - notably the JetStar & Jumbo Jet from Schwarzkopf - as they are incredibly rare in the USA, much less the world. These too should be part of the list, and were also removed for their rarity.
You will also note that the entire list is made up of lower-height rides. While I will ride just about anything produced, I have found for the most part these giant coasters are one-trick ponies. I305 isn't on the list - nor is SkyRush (both from Intamin) as I've yet to ride either. While top-notch rides, I would rather have an objective list that has my opinions on rides, rather than to make claims that are spurious at best.
As for whether there will be a wooden coaster top 10, I can say this: There won't be one - not from me. For the most part, I'm not a big fan of wooden coasters; GCI tends to hit the mark when I DO want a wooden ride. If I were to put a few on a list, Grizzly (KD), WildCat (HP), and Thunderhead (DW) would be on there for sure. Beyond that, I tend not to ride wooden coasters often; my physical condition makes it hard to handle the shuffling well anymore.
So what do you think of RD's top 10? Unconventional to say the least, but everybody has their favorites for a variety of reasons.
Feel free to post your top 10 below, we'd love to see what everybody else loves to ride.
Ever wonder why a certain kind of ride in say, California has certain restraints but a very similar ride in say, Pennsylvania is allowed to operate with a totally other type of restraint? Even one that worked on the CA ride for 20 years?
Why does Germany get all the fun rides? Is it just because of regulations or the clientele? Well, read on and find out. - Gregg
Written by RD Sussman
What's the difference between a 2 year old screaming toddler, and the American General Public? When it comes to rides, the two year old stops crying & screaming.
Let's face it, folks. The American general public are whiny, crying babies when it comes to rides. Anything a little too rough or a little too forceful results in good rides getting neutered: Trim braked to death, restraints to ensure you're not going anywhere, and reprofiled to within an INCH of the ride's life. Excellent coasters, once run as the builder intended get slaughtered due to the complaints - and lawyers - of a few people who do stupid things, or worse.
Let's start out with the shining star of this crowd: Revolution at Six Flags Magic Mountain. A ride that when it opened in 1976 had a single lap bar - no back rests, no trim brakes, no excessive blocking, no back Over-The-Shoulder restraints (OTSR). It operated with efficiency & grace, glass smooth performance, and a thrilling ride for what is by modern standards a very basic coaster. And then - for reasons that only SFMM's management knows, a series of changes wormed their way in, most notably with OTSRs, followed by heavy-duty trim brakes along the track (due to the added weight of the trains).
The result is a ride that is nothing of her former self; a mere shadow of what the ride once was. Anton Schwarzkopf is turning in his grave over the changes that have taken what is one of His crown jewels into a steaming pile of doggy doo. And mind you, I love Revolution - it is one of my favorite rides in the world, and one that I cherish. SFMM's line is this: "The ride is too forceful for the comfort of our guests."
Wait a second. This is a ride that for 20 years operated perfectly without restraints, trim brakes & such without injuries or accidents - but NOW all the sudden it needs excess restraints & trim brakes because it suddenly became forceful? Sorry, folks - that is one of the worst excuses in the world. Let's be honest here: Somebody threatened a lawsuit, and we now suffer with the consequences. All due to somebody not reading a warning sign saying "THIS IS A HIGH-IMPACT RIDE. DO NOT RIDE IF YOU HAVE HEART, BACK or NECK AILMENTS." Thank you, American Idiot(s) for ruining something.
Now let's look at Big Foot Rapids, a ride that has a BIG SIGN that says "YOU WILL GET WET! YOU MAY GET DRENCHED!." And gee, it's a river-rapids ride, designed to DO that. It isn't like they're hiding the fact you're going to get dripping wet on it. Isn't that why they build said rides? And yet, the American Idiot(s), who willing went ON Big Foot Rapids would - gasp - panic as the ride headed into waterfalls, and STAND UP... so they don't get wet. But no, the waterfalls are too much for a get-wet rapids ride, and we need to turn them off so people don't stand up and injure themselves.
When Thriller - a Schwarzkopf large portable coaster came to the USA, it was opened as Taz' Texas Tornado - an insane, forceful & GLASS SMOOTH ride that featured a unique & thrilling layout with crazy inversions. This ride operated perfectly well on the European fairground circuit for nearly a decade before coming to the USA, without a single injury or fatality due to Thriller's operations or design. Schwarzkopf knew how to design & build superior rides, the best of the best on earth.
But for some reason, when it came to the USA, it was TOO MUCH for the American General Public - too intense! Too forceful! Too Scary! And what happened? When Six Flags rotated the ride to Six Flags Marine World, it was deemed 'too intense' - and prior to the ride re-opening in 2003 was neutered. The first & second inversions were altered to reduce the forces on this ride, and braking was kept to an absolute maximum. What was once a fantastic & out of control attraction operating safely was now at best a bland experience, tamed down so much that it was a shadow of its former self.
That isn't to say that rides don't NEED re-profiling & modifications - they do, often to the point of excess work being done to the ride itself. Texas Cyclone, a Bill Cobb masterpiece is a perfect example of this. In 1976, when it opened to the public, people came from hundreds of miles away to ride what was an insane near replica of the original Coney Island Cyclone. "Ten Feet Taller - and PLENTY meaner!" was the call sign of this wooden coaster, cloned many times over by the Six Flags corporation in the 80s & 90s.
However, the original trains were quite large (PTC's 4 bench trains) and rode very hard & heavy on the track, resulting in a much-needed change in profile & structure. In this case, TClone wasn't riding right, and was tearing the track up, requiring heavy repair & maintenance to prevent damage to the ride itself- and injuries to the rider. This was necessary - and no question a must-do. However, the changes did not stop at basic levels, going MUCH further to adding over-sized 'coffin cars' from Morgan Manufacturing to the track - which reduced any real visibility to the ride itself down to nearly nothing. And even then, the ride was re-profiled again & again, each time reducing down the thrill factor, until in her final years the ride was a very basic & bland variation on what it once was.
Mercifully, TClone was pulled down in 2006, after Astroworld closed their doors forever.
So why is this a big deal?
Well, let's look at Germany for a second. In Germany, rides are operated as they are designed to do. Oktoberfest, Germany's annual drink & ride festival outside Munich is a perfect example. Rides are operated with maximum capacity, maximum speed & maximum force.
OlympiaLooping, the world's largest portable coaster, operates with six trains at once, no trim brakes, no excessive restraints beyond what Schwarzkopf designed it to have, and at balls-out speed. The same goes for the flat rides there, which are operated at full fairground configuration - usually 20-40% faster than what you would find in the USA. And these rides operate with a near 100% capacity for the duration of their stay - without injuries caused by the rides.
Why? That's pretty simple:
The first is an important thing - German law states that their own inspection authority has taken a VERY cautious look at each ride operated, and certified it as safe, operated properly & operated within the designated & designed limits of the ride's construction. At this point, the ride operators are no longer liabel for injuries due to rider behavior. They are still liable if the ride fails due to operator negligence - but the strict level of German inspection eliminates this. It puts the liability for injury where it belongs: ON THE RIDER.
The second part is related to the first: In Germany, if you get injured on a ride, IT IS YOUR FAULT. If you are riding properly, as the ride is intended to do, you won't get injured. If you do something stupid, such as get on a ride with back/heart/neck problems, and you get injured - your fault. Signs are posted saying that - in multiple languages.
And now you're thinking this: "But there are signs on rides here in the USA that say that!" - and you would be right. Here's the difference: In the USA, due to our fantastic legal system and thousands of lawyers, the operator (and in some cases the manufacturer of the ride) are held responsible for the bad behavior of the riders. In other words: The ride is safe, it is built properly, but the American Idiot(s) who do something stupid on a ride will then sue the park and/or the builder of the ride for millions of dollars due to the fact they were injured on the ride - though these idiots are themselves responsible for their injuries. And the parks end up paying out the wazoo for insurance against these mental defectives, and pay out again when they are sued due to these irresponsible actions.
I look at the recent New Texas Giant accident a few years back to what really happened on that day. Gerstlauer, the company who built the trains for NTG, clearly stated that larger guests who were unable to fit the restraint safely should not be allowed to ride. And Six Flags Over Texas, the ride's operator had that posted on a sign clearly out front of the ride, and again in the station. Yet, on that fateful day, a larger guest WAS allowed to ride, and the restraint system failed due to that guests girth & size. And a fatality occured. Why? The legal system failed again: The guest was TOO LARGE FOR THE RESTRAINT, and fearful of a guest complaint, the operators that day let her ride despite this. She should have been told "YOU ARE TOO BIG TO RIDE." I'm a fat man myself - 6 foot tall & 275 pounds, and I know that if I don't fit a restraint properly, I don't ride. That's common sense. However, that is something lacking among the American Idiot(s) who are a part of general public in parks.
Realistically, the only fix that would work to this problem is a massive change in liability laws in the United States. Remove the parks & the ride builders from being the sole point of blame in incidents. Ensure rides are operated properly & within the design limits of the builders. Put the blame on the people who cause the incidents themselves. And make sure that people know what rides do, and that if they choose to ride something, if they get injured, it is their fault. Our legal system is so badly overburdened by excessive lawsuits already; removing the ones caused by American Idiot(s) is a good start. Start holding people accountable for their actions, instead of figuring out ways to work the system over for money.
So here it is: We are paying for the stupidity of others now. Insurance rates go up every time there is even a minor incident on a ride that is caused by American Idiot(s). And that turns into higher ticket prices at the gate, more restraints on a ride, rides getting neutered to within an inch of their existence, and coasters which are operated so badly that the ride themselves is nothing of what it should be. All because of American Idiot(s), and the lawyers who make a living off of their client's stupidity. We're the ones paying the price.
RD is back this week with another thought provoking but likely highly controversial opinion piece all about B&M coasters.
While nobody can deny that B&M makes quality coasters that the General Public and most enthusiasts love, sometimes it's hard to tell which B&M coaster you're actually riding. Is this a case of them building what parks want, or just being safe? Read on to find out. And be sure to take the poll at the bottom. - Gregg
Written by RD Sussman
25 years ago this year, Bolliger Mabillard made their debut on the theme park scene with a standup coaster system that was quite groundbreaking in concept & in design. It took what had previously been attempted by two other builders (Arrow, with their refitting of trains onto a mine train as well as a corkscrew, then TOGO with their standup coaster design) and revolutionized the concept - wider trains, smoother flow & better pacing all around. It was truly awe-inspiring for an era where technology had reached a zenith; we were still floored by Arrow's 200 foot tall coaster, and seeing this new generation system really opened up the floodgates of creativity.
What would their next step be?
Of course, 1992 brought us their next concept - by turning the track upside down, trains could be suspended from the rails... and the Inverted class coaster was born. Batman:THE RIDE took an idea and changed the way parks would be able to thrill their guests. Built in a way to enable B&M's creativity to soar, these compact coasters soon found their way into almost every Six Flags in the country, all with nearly identical layouts & configurations, theming & plots. B&M expanded up the Inverted coaster to epic levels; their crowning glory seen in the format of Alpengeist at Busch Gardens Williamsburg in 1997.
Diversifying their offerings gave us the sit-down coaster in 1993, and the Drop machine in 1998, and the floorless coaster in 1999. Their own take on the Hypercoaster debuted in 1999 as well, in both twister format (Raging Bull, SFGam) and classic out and back style (Apollo's Chariot, BGW.) Standup coasters were enlarged and became their own giant designs; Chang & Riddler's Revenge were nearly the same size as the largest Arrow looping coasters built - but with a refined style & smoother design that made them instant hits - with both the public & the coaster people around the world.
There was NO stopping B&M. They reached for the skies, they reached for the stars, and they found them. Your park was not complete if you didn't have at least one B&M in it. 2002 brought us their Flying coaster, which allowed riders to take flight as Superman, swim with the fishes as Manta, and through the skies as Air.
It was also at this point where B&M started earning a reputation with their newer designs: Bland & Mild. Boring & Mundane. Names they EARNED. Their designs began to lack force; they lacked creativity, they lacked that special 'feel' that their earlier coasters had in them. The rides all began to look similar to each other - sharing the same elements, the same order in which they flowed on one ride were so similar to others that they lacked that creative spark that brought B&M to the top in the 90s. Rides began to feel more like an lounge chair than a coaster.
This isn't to say B&M built bad products - at all. People pay a small mint for these rides - as they should. Reliable? You bet. Durable? No question. Mass capacity? Yuuup - that too. A B&M coaster creates a skyline that says "COASTER HERE!" and moves people through the lines at light speed.
But they've lost their way. Their mojo is gone. People can count the number of trim brakes on the track like a counting game. They all feel exactly the same, no matter which type of B&M you're on. And with this came their first rides considered 'duds' in the market - namely Led Zepplin/Time Machine at Freestyle Music Park, OzIris at Asterix Park, and Swarm at Thorpe Park. All three different B&Ms, and all three suffering at the hands of a boring & indifferent ride. No forces. No thrills. No real feeling of being on a coaster - other than the visuals. B&M has perfected the art of being TOO perfect. Of being too consistent, of being able to remove the coaster out of a ride.
I now look at B&M with great skepticism when I see one announced. I give them credit: Very few coaster builders to date have rides that simply look stunning on a skyline. They show an elegance that very few are able to do. At the same time, I look with dread towards them as well. Is this new B&M going to be a repeat of their lost mojo on many other coasters? Is it going to be forceless & bland? Will I slip into a coma from boredom?
So where does B&M go from here? Back to the drawing boards I hope. I recall riding Alpengeist at BGW on opening day, and being blown away by the sheer feeling of force on the ride. Precise & tight turns produced spikes of positive Gs second to none. The spiral dive into the Immelman was astounding, as was the hang time at the top of the first two inversions. The Cobra Roll was insane & thrilling - and the finale of diving into a shed followed by a heartline roll was genius. And it is a crown jewel of B&M's portfolio.
Georgia Scorcher stands there too - as being a fast, thrilling & force filled ride, complete with some amazing lateral turns & pops of airtime that very few other rides deliver to this day. It is this mojo that B&M used to have that they need to find again.
Bring back that element of surprise. Make people feel like there is something to be feared - a spike of negative Gs on a drop, a feeling like you're going to be hammered into the seat during an inversion, the rapid & insane feeling of a high-speed heartline roll. Those are ingredients of legend, and those are what made B&M's earlier projects legendary - and for many of us, classics.
The market for coasters is changing rapidly, and with MACK coming up with insane designs that rival in both durability, reliability & capacity of any B&M, they need to get back to their roots - and back to building stellar rides like they used to ... before B&M lost their mojo