by Danny Miller
All too often, we hear someone say, “Maverick is the best ride,” or “Voyage is the best wooden coaster.” The ride mentioned may change, but the statement of confidence claiming that a ride is the best is common among coaster enthusiasts. Among the message boards, several websites have threads specifically for discussing the best rides, including us here at COASTER-net in our Official Coaster Ranking Thread.
The trouble with calling any ride the best, is that the word “best” implies that there is a correct answer. Over time, there seems to have been the development of correct answers, with rides like Bizarro, Millennium Force, and El Toro topping their respective categories in most polls. While these are indeed spectacular rides, and several people rank them highly, the fuss that is created over ranking coasters in not a science. It is not a math problem. There is not a correct answer, and therefore, no such thing as the “best” coaster, but rather the more proper label of a “favorite” coaster.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with trying to do both. For a long time, people have questioned how I rank rides and what I consider my favorite rides, or sometimes, they ask me what the best ride is. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a two-tiered system, separating my list of favorite coasters and a list of what I think are the best coasters. My favorite list is pretty simple. I say to myself, “If I had one ride, what ride would I choose to ride?” I do that until I subjectively “rank” every coaster in that manner.
Deciding on what coasters are “best” is more difficult, because as mentioned, there is no correct answer. To start, all rides must be put on a level playing field and graded on the same scale, which is especially difficult for steel coasters considering there are so many different types and styles. Grading wooden coasters against one another is a fairly simplified process because generally speaking, they have many similarities amongst them, such as rider position, style of restraint (lap bar and sometimes seatbelt), and feel during the ride.
To grade rides against others on a common scale, I use eight categories. The first is smoothness, usually the smoothness of the track or train traversing the course. This may include ride violence in some cases. Next is forces, usually quality or intensity and the quantity of forces throughout the ride. Next is the pace/speed category. This includes both the sense of speed and the pacing of the ride because some rides that have great speed do not pace very well (Raging Bull due to trims), but small rides with lower speeds have excellent pacing (Gold Striker and Thunderhead come to mind). Fourth is drop/launch, which grades the first or main drops for coasters with lifts, and the main launch of a launched ride. Rides like Maverick and Verbolten get good scores for having both features and/or multiple launches.
The fifth category is re-rideability. This category combines not only the comfort of the ride and sustainability, but also the desire to re-ride. Extremely intense rides like Intimidator 305 are smooth, but the intensity may make it hard to re-ride for some, while kiddie coasters are easy to re-ride, but the desire to do so is quite low. Layout is the next category, and this accounts for continuity and flow in a ride layout along with the originality. A strong layout that is cloned may lose a point or two due to lack of originality (like the Batman clones), while unique layout that may come off as somewhat boring may also suffer here (one that comes to mind may be Thunder Dolphin in Japan).
Seventh is ride atmosphere. This category favors rides that may not be as intense as others, but are heavy on a theme or surrounding scenery. This does not have to necessarily be a theme directly related to the ride; it can also just be a nice location, such as the Beast, which is totally hidden on the woods. Highly themed rides like Expedition Everest, Wonder Mountain’s Guardian, and Verbolten score well here. Lastly, ride length is a category by itself. This is self-explanatory, simply grading the length of action or track during a ride. Rides like the Banshee, Voyage, and Gatekeeper score well here, as their ride times are rather long, while other coasters like Outlaw Run, Volcano, and Iron Rattler, while incredibly thrilling, score slightly lower as the ride is over quickly.
As of this writing, my subjective top ten looks like this from #1 to #10: Manta (SWO), Bizarro (SFNE), Maverick, Intimidator 305, Millennium Force, Apollo’s Chariot, Leviathan, Banshee, Diamondback, Behemoth. My graded top ten looks pretty similar: Bizarro (SFNE), Maverick, Millennium Force, Apollo’s Chariot, Banshee, Diamondback, Manta (SWO), Leviathan, Behemoth, Nitro. What is interesting is when I combine the two lists, making each of them count as half of the total list. The result is: Bizarro (SFNE), Maverick, Manta (SWO), Millennium Force, Apollo’s Chariot, Banshee, Diamondback, Leviathan, Intimidator 305, Behemoth.
It’s an interesting process that I’ve started to use in the last year or two to try and settle the debate of the difference between “best” and “favorite.” It actually makes some sense too, because while Apollo’s Chariot may be my favorite B&M hyper, others disagree. Manta is my “favorite” steel coaster, but based on my grading system, Bizarro is the “best” steel coaster. Andy’s favorite coaster is Raptor, and it probably always will be, but he would likely make the case that Maverick is the “best” steel coaster.
So what do you think? Is this something you agree with? Would you like the spreadsheet that I use to do this? It’s actually pretty interesting to try it out. I also have columns for the park, the style of ride, the manufacturer, and the year that it was built. This is useful when try to figure out which manufacturer you like best or what style of ride is your favorite. Check it out!