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