For years I thought I knew what made a good roller coaster. It should be fast and smooth with non-stop action, filled with surprises, and never a slow moment or pause to regain one’s composure until the final brake run. In other words, it should have great pacing. But recently I rode a new coaster that met all these requirements and was thought to be a top ten ride, but it wasn’t. That’s because it hurt. By the end of the ride I couldn’t wait to get off, and because of the pain inflicted that was difficult. To the list of criteria of what makes a good coaster I never thought to add one important item,. It must also have a comfortable restraint system.
Without naming names, and the coaster pictured here is definitely not the one in question, this new coaster’s restraints were not comfortable. They were hurtful. If you’ve ridden this coaster you know what I mean. By the first time I experienced the first strong moment of negative gravity I knew what the problem was. The restraint system was a lap bar, a lap bar that rested across my thighs. At every moment of airtime, and these were notable moments of airtime, the lap bar delivered a blow to my thighs, causing double Charley Horses. It hurt to step out of the train at the end of the ride, and I felt the pain for the remainder of the day. There were grab bars to hold onto, and they helped minimally although there were so positioned as to bruise one’s arms. Besides, who wants to hold on when you can reach for the sky?
Some coaster manufacturers spend a great deal of research perfecting their restraint systems. Others, apparently not so much. In the early days one could easily escape from the simple lap bars that were provided. Today’s are much more secure. When early looping coasters were introduced they were fitted with over-the-shoulder restraints close to the head. Because of rough track and side-thrusts they frequently hit one’s ears. It was such a problem that those wearing earrings were warned to remove them before riding. New restraints have proven much more comfortable, and lap bar restraints on the thighs are acceptable if the ride’s negative g’s never go strongly negative but just offer a floating sensation. But if you’re going to design a ride with thrilling moments of bucking the rider you need restraints that match the experience.
One way to fix the problem on the offending coaster above would be to weaken the negative g’s, but that would loose much of the thrill. A better fix would be to modify the lap bar so it contacts one’s lap, not one’s thighs. This would keep the thrills intact. I hope the ride manufacturer goes to school on this ride and learns how to improve their restraints for future coasters, and can then retrofit these trains. Until that happens I probably won’t ride this coaster again, which is a shame because the ride experience, excluding the hurt, is world class.