The world of roller coasters is certainly a fun one. Roller coasters are incredibly fun in multiple ways: following construction and storylines of new coasters including educated speculation in enthusiast communities such as this one, researching and learning about how roller coasters work and how they are built to deliver different types of feelings and forces, designing your own roller coasters, and of course: riding them! However, being a true enthusiast requires some knowledge and overcoming of some general misconceptions about these rides. That’s what this essay is about: helping you become a true roller coaster enthusiast!
How do roller coasters work?
Roller coasters actually work on a couple very simple principles: an energy source and momentum. An energy source provides the roller coaster’s trains with either potential energy which gravity will then turn into kinetic energy (a lift), or with immediate kinetic energy (a launch). The trains are quite heavy to allow for a great amount of momentum to carry the trains throughout the circuit of the track. The tricky part is using the principles of energy and momentum to create a high-thrill layout with intense but acceptable lateral (right-to-left), vertical (up and down; lifted out of your seat or pushed down into your seat), and acceleratory (back and forward; getting pushed back into your seat or pulled forward out of your seat) G-forces (gravitational forces). Forces on a roller coaster are designed to be strong enough to fight again gravity to create the unique anti-gravity and super-gravity moments that riders experience through the ride.
Roller Coaster Anatomy:
All roller coasters have the same basic parts, though the particular shape and style of an individual ride can vary depending upon the manufacturer, design type, and theming elements. Any roller coaster enthusiast should be familiar with this basic terminology. Below are some definitions of these basic but important terms. Some include numbers which are represented in the diagram below the terminology.
Restraints (1): The mechanism which holds, secures, and locks the riders into their seats during the ride.
Cars (2): The individual sections of a train.
Train (3): A vehicle of connected cars.
Station: The area in which riders load and unload trains.
Track (4): The portion which supports the trains and on which the trains move.
Supports (5): The portion which supports the track.
Rails (6): The part of the track on which the train’s wheels contact and ride on.
Main Track/Spine (7): The center point, or backbone, of the track. The supports connect to this area.
Ties (8): The section which connects the rails to the main track/spine.
Brakes: Mechanisms to control the speed of the train at multiple places throughout the ride’s layout, including bring the train to a complete stop.
Sensors: Train-locating and recognizing mechanisms placed along the track that are built into the ride’s computer which enable safe operation of multiple trains at high capacities.
Lift: The section which brings the train upwards to create potential energy which gravity will in turn transform into kinetic energy.
Launch: The section which generates speed and momentum for the trains.
Different types of roller coasters:
Roller coasters can be classified by numerous different categories, including height, material, energy source, circuit, design type, and layout. Here’s how to classify coasters according to each of the aforementioned categories.
- 200’-299’: Hyper-Coaster. An example of this would be Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- 300’-399’: Giga-Coaster. An example of this would be Millennium Force at Cedar Point.
- 400’-499’: Strata-Coaster. An example of this would be Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Wood: Coasters which have a structure and track built from wood (the rails, lift, braking, and transport devices, however, are made from steel). An example would be El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Steel: Coasters which have a structure and track built from steel. An example would be Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Hybrid: Coasters which are built from a mix of steel and wood. For example, a coaster which has a structure built from steel and a track built from wood.
- Lift: These coasters have a lift mechanism which brings the trains to the top of the lift hill to create potential energy which is then turned into kinetic energy as the train goes down the first drop. This energy and momentum built by the first drop carries the train throughout the layout of the ride. The “lift” category can be broken down further into subcategories:
- Chain Lift: These coasters use a chain which pulls the train up the lift hill. This is the most common type of lift, and it generally the slowest. An example of this would be Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Cable Lift: These coasters use a cable and catch car which pull the train up the lift hill. These are generally fast lifts and lack the “clacking” noise which chain lifts are notable for. This is due to a different anti-rollback feature used for cable lifts. An example of this would be El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- LSM/LIM Lift: These are electro-magnetic propulsion lifts. LSM stands for Linear Synchronous Motor, while LIM stands for Linear Induction Motor. These are also generally fast lifts and lack the “clacking” noise of chain lifts. An example of this would be Maverick at Cedar Point (LSM).
- Launch: These coasters use some type of propulsion, generally along a section of flat, somewhat level track to create the energy and momentum needed for the train to complete the layout. The “launch” category can also be broken down into subcategories:
- LSM Launch: LSM stands for Linear Synchronous Motor. These are a type of electro-magnetic propulsion. An example would be the mid-course launch of Maverick at Cedar Point.
- LIM Launch: LIM stands for Linear Induction Motor. These are a type of electro-magnetic propulsion. An example would be Mr. Freeze at Six Flags Over Texas, or the former Batman and Robin: The Chiller at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Hydraulic/Accelerator Launch: These launch mechanisms tend to be extremely powerful and produce rapid acceleration. Some of the launch engines are capable of producing upwards of 20,800 peak horsepower. The launch mechanism, which includes a catch car which pulls the train along the launch-way via a steel cable leading to the engine contained in an engine room/house, is similar to the catapult launches used to assist jet planes take off on aircraft carriers. An example of this would be Kingda Ka at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Air/Thrust Air Launch: These launch mechanisms tend to be extremely powerful and produce rapid acceleration. An example of this would be Dodonpa at Fuji-Q Highland.
- Full Circuit: These coasters go in one direction along a contiguous track. An example would be El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Shuttle: These coasters go forwards and backwards along a non-contiguous track. In some cases, the trains go forwards out of the station, and come backwards into the station. In other cases, trains can go either direction out of the station as the layout of the track includes sections on both sides of the station. An example of the former would be Mr. Freeze at Six Flags Over Texas, while an example of the latter would be Wicked Twister at Cedar Point.
- Multi-Circuit: These coasters have multiple points at which switch-tracks exist which transfer the trains to different sections of a track layout. This creates unpredictability and disorientation in reference to location. An example of this would be Expedition Everest at Walt Disney World Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
- Sit Down: These coasters generally have semi-enclosed and/or floored cars in which the riders sit. The trains sit on top of the track. A non-looping example would be Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure, while a looping example would be Kumba at Busch Gardens Africa.
- Stand-Up: These coasters have cars in which riders stand throughout the ride. Mechanisms are used to keep the riders locked in and standing up straight throughout the ride’s elements and forces. The trains sit on top of the track. An example would be Chang at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom.
- Inverted: These coasters have trains which sit inverted, or underneath, the track. They are generally looping coasters, but not always. A looping example would be Batman: The Ride at Six Flags Great Adventure, while a non-looping example would be Roller Soaker at Hershey Park.
- Suspended/Swinging: These non-looping coasters have trains which are inverted (underneath) the track which have the capability of swinging to the left and right throughout the ride. Pistons help guide and control the swinging. An example of this would be Big Bad Wolf at Busch Gardens Europe.
- 4-D (4th-Dimensional): These looping coasters have trains with seat that extend to either side of the track which have the capability of spinning 360 degrees throughout the ride (which is controlled by a second set of rails) which gives the ride its “4th Dimension”. The trains can either sit on top of the track or hang inverted from the track; however they generally start in the station on top of the track. An example of this would be X2 at Six Flags Magic Mountain.
- Flying: These inverted coasters have trains which hold the riders under the track in a “flying” or “superman” position throughout the ride. An example of this would Superman: Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Floorless: These looping coasters have “floorless” trains which sit on top of the track. There is nothing between the rider’s feet and the track throughout the ride. Stations are specially fitted with moving/separating floors which are controlled by hydraulic pistons which allow riders to load and unload the trains. The floors in the station then fold away to allow the trains to dispatch from the station and allow trains to re-enter the station. An example of this would be Bizarro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Dive: These looping coasters have unique trains which generally have 3 rows and up to 10 seats wide. The trains can either be floored or floorless trains. These coasters are distinct for having a vertical or near-vertical first drop including “hang-time” right before the first drop. An example of this would be Griffon at Busch Gardens Europe.
- Pipeline: These coasters are unique in the fact that the cars are centered directly between the rails of the track, creating the same heartline (center point for rotation) for the track and the car. The feature element for this coaster is the heartline roll, in fact multiple of them throughout the ride. An example would be Ultra Twister at Nagashima Spa Land, or the former Ultra Twister at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Bobsled: These “coasters” are not actually on a track, but rather they roll on wheels on a semi-enclosed “track” which resembles a bobsled run. An example would be Alpine Bobsled at Great Escape.
- Out-and-Back: These roller coasters tend to go out and come back along generally the same path along which it went out. Some, but not all (as there are many), variances include L-shape layouts, such as Nitro at Six Flags Great Adventure and Twister-section off-shoots such as El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Figure-Eight (8): These coasters form a figure-eight (8) with their layout. An example of this would be Rolling Thunder at Six Flags Great Adventure.
- Twister/Compact: These coasters tend to be very tightly compact with rapid transitions, turns, etc. The overall footprint (area taken up by the ride) tends to be relatively small.
Common Misconceptions about Roller Coasters:
- Roller Coaster trains do not use electricity or any type of in-train motor to create movement along the track. Energy and momentum is created by either a lift or launch system in which the trains rely on completely for speed.
- Roller Coasters are NOT dangerous. There is a statistic floating around that the chances of being killed on/by a roller coaster are 1 in 300 million. That statistic would even be much less than that if it weren’t for people who abused roller coaster safety precautions or do not abide by recommended health/medical precautions. That being said, ALWAYS abide by the rules and regulations posted by the park and/or verbally communicated by park employees of roller coasters or any other type of ride, including, but not limited to, safety and health/medical issues. Roller coasters are designed to be fun, thrilling, exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping, and even scary….but they are also designed to be completely safe.
Want to really learn a lot more specifics about roller coasters? Feel free to use these Great Adventure Online forums (www.gadv.com/forums) as a resource to ask questions about roller coasters in the appropriate section, and use the main site (www.gadv.com) to research more information and photos for roller coasters and other rides at Six Flags Great Adventure. In addition, visit the Roller Coaster Database website (www.rcdb.com) which holds specific information and photos of practically every roller coaster (and more) in the world. Also included is a glossary of roller coaster/theme park enthusiast terminology.
Hope this helps...welcome to the roller coaster enthusiast!