Saturday, April 25, 2009

Riding Astride: Motorbike roller coasters.

By Paul Ruben Via: Parkworld Online

"After more than a century of starts and stops, rollercoasters in which riders sit astride mounted seating, usually a horse or a motorbike, have finally caught on with the thrill-seeking public.

Pict via: Themepark Review
Guests have ridden astride similar coasters in the past, rides like the Cycle Chase (1976-1979) at Knott’s Berry Farm (above), the Steeplechase at Blackpool Pleasure Beach (1977-present), and of course the classic Steeplechase that operated for years at New York’s Coney Island (1897-1964) before being moved to Pirates World in Florida (1966 to 1975). What is new and innovative about the latest collection of Motorbike coasters is both the absence of a chain lift, as they are launched rides, and the much-improved restraint systems. You can’t fall off.

As we celebrate the resurgence of the sit-astride rollercoaster, it may be surprising to learn that the concept began in England. JW Cawdry invented a mechanical racecourse consisting of metal track, over which large wooden horses ran on wheels, coasting by gravity and climbing by momentum, imitating a horse race.

“They [the horses] careened around old creaky tracks at breakneck speed,” remembers Danny Sweet, who grew up in Brooklyn. “As insane as it may sound now there were no seat belts, so you had to hold on for dear life!”

When Steeplechase Park finally closed in the fall of 1964, the Steeplechase Horses were purchased for $100,000 by Pirates World, Dania, Florida, and reopened there as the Grand National Steeplechase in 1966. The ride operated as four parallel tracks between 1,600 and 1,700ft long. Pirates World closed for good in 1975.

But the sit-astride coaster concept was not dead. The very next year (1976), Knott's Berry Farm, California, introduced Cycle Chase. Supplied by Arrow Development, it consisted of four 1,778ft-long lanes of track, one rail above the other. Atop the rails rode motorcycle-themed vehicles. Riders sat precariously on the cycles, and once free of the lift hill, the cycles reached speeds of up to 40 mph.

“One of the most terrifying experiences I ever lived through was riding the Motorcycle Chase,” recalls guest Cheryl Monteiro. “I was 26 or 27 years old when I was talked into riding it. From the outside it looked like just a cute little ride on a faux motorcycle with only a sash around your waist to hold you on--how dangerous could it be? Very dangerous, to say the least! After the ride ended I endured whiplash, sore arms from hanging on for dear life, and had the shakes for several hours.”

The Vekoma Motorbike Coaster was the first of the modern era to emerge when it debuted at Toverland, Sevenum, Holland, in 2004. The ride consists of a train with nine cars, each with two motorcycle seats designed to replicate the seating on a motorcycle. Riders are clamped in from behind, but allowed free upper body movement. It is like taking a rollercoaster ride on top of a bike, but being high in the sky with almost nothing underneath to spoil your view. After dispatching from the station, the train is hydraulically launched from zero to 47 mph in three seconds, into a twisting layout.

In 2007 Intamin introduced its Family Launch Coaster (FLC), a version of the sit-astride coaster, at Dreamworld, Coomera, Australia. Called Mick Doohan's Motocoaster after the Australian-born five-time MotoGP champion, the rotating tires that power the train through the launch are driven by hydraulic motors. Guests sit two abreast in eight rows for a total of 16 riders and reach a top speed of 44 mph within three seconds as they race over 1,984ft of track. Keeping the track low to the ground also increases the feeling of speed and allows the onlookers to be more a part of the excitement.

The Zamperla MotoCoaster, initially built as a demountable ride on a base frame, consists of a 12-seater train of six cars, two seats side by side per car. Similar to the system pioneered by Anton Schwarzkopf in shuttle coasters more than 30 years ago, Zamperla's coaster uses a flywheel and clutch system to launch instead of an electromagnetic or hyrdraulic launch system. The standard track layout is a three-layered figure-eight. The prototype was installed in 2008 at Darien Lake outside Buffalo, New York, and another will open this summer at Petapa Park, Xetulul, Guatemala. A specially designed version, with ride vehicles styled as horses, was also installed in 2008 at Knott's Berry Farm, where it is named Pony Express.

As ride manufacturers continue to devise new rollercoaster variations, expect to see more sit-astride coasters. They may take the form of motorcycles, horses, jetskis, or perhaps even galloping camels, but because of their moderate price more are sure to surface in the coming years. The ride that once thrilled only visitors to Coney Island has found new appeal worldwide – only now it’s a lot smoother."

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