While wooden coasters defined their place as the classic coaster experience, the only constant to this experience has been change. They have gotten bigger, faster, with more forceful elements. Just like other industries once they got rolling the pace of change accelerated. The wooden coaster is constantly changing to push new boundaries, but the latest development seems to be steel. This has led to simpler maintenance, launches, and even inversions. Does this shift just make wooden coasters, steel coasters?
There are currently three active firms who design and build wooden coasters; Gravity Group, RMC & GCI, and they have all been expanding their reliance on steel. Gravity Group, the makers of the first inverting wooden coaster, have been using steel to build support structures for years. This adaptation provided a more stable structure, less maintenance concerns, and a frame that could be fabricated off site and easily assembled. This was typically referred to as a hybrid wood coaster, but that term made a lot less sense once RMC showed up.
RMC is best known for their hybrid designs where they take an existing wooden coaster and re-imagine the layout with a steel track called Iron Horse, we will come back to that later. They also have made four wooden coasters using their Topper Track, a product that combines a substantial steel top that provides a surface for the road, guide, and up-stop wheels and a stack of laminate wood underneath. This Topper Track was first used as a maintenance product to smooth out sections of older wooden coasters that had become rough. This manufacturing technique allowed RMC to jump into the ground up wooden coaster model, and even though they have only built four each has been a record breaker or fist for its type. However they are about to drop down to three and a half?
One of the RMC wooden coasters, Lightning Rod at Dollywood, is having about 60% of it’s wooden Topper Track replaced with the all steel Iron Horse Track after only a few seasons of operation. This leads us to believe that the wooden track that they have developed could not do the same job as the steel track. This makes sense because wood is a natural material and cannot match the uniform nature of steel. This suggests that RMC has found a limitation, and their cost effective solution is steel. Cost of all materials has been going up, however the cost of lumber has been increasing at a faster rate than steel according to the National Home Builders Association. The cost of steel framing is still more expensive than wood however in the past it would typically cost about 9 times more for materials in a steel framed building than a wooden frame. Now the costs are getting closer where steel framed buildings have about twice the material cost compared to wood.
The durability of steel could justify the added cost, but it can also be assembled easier and faster lowering installation costs. This is another factor closing the cost gap. When applied to a structure dealing with the dynamic load of a roller coaster it's not surprising that wooden coasters have been increasing their reliance on steel for the support structure. However the wooden track is also becoming a lot more magnetic too. RMC’s topper track uses substantially more steel than a traditional wooden track that would only use flat strips of steel for the wheels to roll on was the first step. Then we have the confusion of what to call Lightning Rod, but we also have a third design firm GCI.
GCI has already been using more and more steel for their support structures just like Gravity Group and others from the past. They both have examples that have all steel structures, but with wooden tracks. We have discussed GCI’s upcoming product now called Titan Track in the past. It is similar in look to RMC’s steel track, but is initially being used like the Topper Track as a maintenance product. They installed a few sections onto White Lightning down at Fun Spot Orlando as a proof of concept. The result is a wooden coaster that has a small section of steel track replacing the wood track that would be beat up in high stress areas. Unlike the topper tack from RMC the Titan Track contains no wood at all. White Lightning has a steel support structure, so if the entire track was replaced the only wooden parts would become the catwalk that maintenance workers use to inspect the ride. Would this still be a wooden coaster? Is it the material or the style that defines a wooden coaster?
When we first became aware of the steel track being produced by GCI we speculated how it could be used. We now know they plan on marketing it as an alternative to wooden tracks for new construction, and a replacement product for rough wooden tracks, they even said they would use it to add elements to pre-existing layouts. This sounds a lot like the space RMC has been occupying. We know they already have a customer, as the Predator at Darien Lake will be receiving Titian Track on an unknown amount of its layout according to GCI owner Clair Hain Jr.. This could just be a method for lowering maintenance costs going forward, or it could be a way for Six Flags to test the track out. They did use the Topper Track on The Texas Giant before they extensively renovated it with the Iron Horse Track, changing the layout, and becoming the New Texas Giant. Could we see Six Flags giving GCI the go ahead in a few years to totally renovate and re-imagine older coasters? The Predator would be a great place to start.
So the question becomes, has the time come where wooden coasters will become extinct? Is there a reason for parks to keep this knowledge base of how to run, maintain and repair wooden coaster tracks? GCI could build all steel frames with their Titan Track that would essentially be a steel coaster with a wooden aesthetic, and that may become a very desirable thing for parks. There is an undeniable fact that there is a fun factor to wooden coasters. They provide a tactile experience, a nostalgic connection to the past, and in some cases provide a character that is more difficult to produce with steel. Modern wooden coasters have provided a cost effective and exciting addition for parks, but the lower initial cost vs the increased maintenance cost could be changing this dynamic in the years to come. Once the people who do this type of work stop, and they don’t pass this knowledge along, the skills are lost forever.
Earlier this week a patent was uncovered that showed a new restraint system for B&M stand up style roller coasters by Coaster101.com, good find guys (link). This patent shows an updated version of the stand up restraints from top to bottom. We have long heard rumors that B&M was designing a new type of Stand Up roller coaster that would change the ride dynamics and offer more comfort. Some people were speculating that the surf coaster could be a wing stand up, or that the standing position could be turned to more mimic the stance of a surfer. It doesn’t reveal if either of these rumors could be true since the illustration in the patent application is of a single restraint system and it is not depicted on a chassis, however I think that both are highly unlikely as this looks to be a redesign for the existing chassis.
The newly designed restraint system has some similarities with the stand up models we know, but they do have a few distinct differences that could make them more viable. The most visible is the vest style restraints for the rider’s upper body. This replaces the hard over the shoulder restraints that would often knock you around and provided an unforgiving surface to bounce your head off of. The last time I rode Green Lantern at Great Adventure I felt like the ride was trying to knock some sense into me for giving it another ride, lesson learned. Another change is in the column itself. On a standard stand up restraint it felt like the height adjustment was controlled by a pinion gear that could lock in the height. If you were not ready for the restraints to unlock it could drop you unforgivingly on your most sensitive bits. This is a real danger at the end of a ride, but also during the loading process as guests would often not follow instructions and need to be adjusted before dispatch. The new design is an articulating linkage, somewhat similar to a scissor lift that can distort a rhombus shaped connection to raise or lower the height. The least visible change is the addition of a hydraulic accumulator. This is basically a shock absorber on the linkage, and may be the biggest quality of life improvement for your more sensitive parts. If I am reading the drawing correctly, and I’d like to believe I am, the locking function should allow for the hydraulic fluid in the accumulator to still provide some give even in the locked position during the ride cycle.
So how is this patent going to be applied? That is the biggest question remaining. Ideally these new restraints could be an upgrade product just like the floorless trains to per-existing stand up rides. This would provide a second potentially less expensive option for parks to upgrade their stand up coasters. I know that B&M is nostalgic on these ride types, as they were the first designs they sold as their own company. My issue with this new style restraint is that it still has the saddle in between the riders legs. Guests are still going to need to follow directions to correctly load and dispatch the trains and those were two big issues, one for comfort and the other for general operation. My other concern is that I don’t feel the standing aspect enhances the ride. While it may have been an interesting idea I don’t feel like it provides a great experience like their other coasters do. My biggest fear is that this is the restraint system for the yet to be revealed Surf Coaster. I was looking forward to seeing B&M make their version of a launch or multi launch coaster, but making it a stand up it removes my excitement and replaces it with fear. However not that good sort of fear that roller coasters often provide in a satisfying way. B&M’s strength has always been the innovation with seating position and chassis design, and how the interplay of these dynamics enhance the ride experience. So if this new patent is for a new roller coaster type, or an attempt to revive sales of the stand up coasters I just have one question. B&M, why you wanna break my balls?
I know it is Monday, but here you go. Space Mountain with a swirling wormhole wallpaper formatted for your mobile device.
Happy Independence Day from you friends at COASTER-net! We hope everyone has a happy and safe fourth of July.
What began as the Rocket in San Antonio, rose and lived again as the Phoenix at Knoebels Amusement Resort. This truly classic ride has been recognized as the best wooden roller coaster in the world, not bad for a ride that was designed in 1948. For the past 35 years Knoebels has been lovingly caring for this ride and preserving its classic thrills and excitement, not an easy task when competing with newer modern creations. If you have never been this is a must ride, and has the best finale of unrelenting airtime anywhere. If you miss airtime, and are waiting for your park to open, drop this wallpaper onto your desktop, as a reminder just like the Phoenix we will ride again.
In about a month it looks like we could have a new B&M Hyper and Giga. In anticipation I thought we would take a dive on Leviathan from Canada's Wonderland. Leviathan was the kick off that let everyone know, yes B&M will go bigger. They followed it up with crowd favorites Mako at SWO & Fury 325 at Carowinds. This year they will do it again with Orion at Kings Island and Candymonium at Hersheypark. While we patently or impatiently wait enjoy this Leviathan Wallpaper, it is summer so wipe the condensation off to get a better view.
Here is a look back to a couple of seasons ago when I went down to kick off the season at Kings Dominion. What do you think your first ride of the season will be? Will you ride this season? Either way enjoy this phone lockscreen of Twisted Timbers at Kings Dominion.
Demon Drop is one of my favorite roller coasters at Dorney Park, yes you read that right roller coaster. It has been a perfect pick up as one of the many relocated attractions for Dorney. It also has a special nostalgia for me as I have many childhood memories on Freefall at Great Adventure, and I expect guests visiting from points west would have that same connection since it was relocated from Cedar Point. Do not skip this demonic contraption from the past, and enjoy this lock screen for your phone.
Wicked Cyclone was my first taste of what RMC could do with their Iron Horse technology. I personally loved the Riverside Cyclone, and I rode it many times as a child visiting New England, and at the time Riverside Park. The Iron Horse technology that transformed this long loved woody into a hybrid was more than welcome. It saved my childhood memories, and brought them into a new century, oh man am I old. If you like the image please consider going to our webstore and ordering yourself a high quality print.