Roller coasters – love ’em or hate ’em, they’ve undoubtedly been a part of your summer at some point since your childhood. They can get a bad rap for being unsafe, but the truth is, the people who design and build them are educated and knowledgeable and use all of their skills to make sure you and yours are safe and have a good time.
Sadly, for people who get motion sickness like me, they haven’t designed a way to keep me from barfing, but I guess there are drugs for that.
Below are 8 of their most interesting, well-kept secrets.
#8. The outline against the sky matters.
According to Brian Morrow of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, a lot of thought goes into what you see as you drive into the park. “It’s like a movie trailer in that we want you to see some iconic coaster elements, but not the whole thing. You approach it with anticipation.”
#7. Being locked into your seat is actually the peak moment of excitement.
UK based “thrill engineer” Brenden Walker confirms that “the moment the lap bar is being locked down and you have that feeling of things being inescapable, that you have to suffer the effects of the ride, is the highest moment of arousal. The actual ride might only achieve 80% of that excitement.”
#6. Wooden coasters can change with the weather.
Though they remain perfectly safe, wooden rides can be affected by weather elements like humidity. The factors can shrink the wood or affect how bolts fit, meaning your ride could be shakier at some times than others. That said, a well-cared for wooden coaster will outlive a steel model.
#5. The rides are tested with water-filled dummies.
It can take anywhere from 2-5 years for a coaster to go from idea to execution, and while part of that process is the logistics of securing patents and permits, the majority is devoted to safety testing.
“We’re subject to American Society for Testing Materials standards,” explains designer Bill Kitchen. “It covers every aspect of coasters. The rides are tested with what we call water dummies, or sometimes sandbags.”
The “riders” help designers see how the ride will react to constant use and rider weight, and they can fill or empty them to adjust weight.
#4. Your experience could also vary depending on the time of day.
In the morning, when the wheels are cooler and the bearings are still warming up, your ride will be slower than it will be in the middle of the afternoon. The newer a coaster, the slower your ride is also likely to be since everything is still tight.
#3. The coaster costs per foot of track.
The designers have to consider money, like the rest of us, so they do their best to terrorize people in the smallest amount of space possible. Brenden Walker explained the practicalities with specifics, stating that “for every extra foot of steelwork, it would cost roughly $40,000.”
#2. Rides will continue to get taller in the future.
We’ve about reached the limits of dips, rolls, and g-forces, so companies are looking upward in their designs for new rollercoasters. Kitchen is currently overseeing the design of the Polercoaster, a design that uses electromagnetic propulsion to carry riders upward.
“We want to put it in places where land is very expensive, like the Vegas strip,” he says. “You can only do that it if takes up a lot less space.”
If they’re successful, it will be the tallest coaster in the world, a title currently held by the Kinga Ka at Six Flags in New Jersey.
#1. Paint makes a difference.
No, not the color, but any buildup of paint can slow down a steel coaster. Tracks often speed up as they age and the paint wears again under repeated use.