They universally conclude, rightly so, that the best ones are wooden. Wooden and tall. Wooden and tall with stomach-evicting drops.
A New York Times article focuses on the Gravity Group, a traditional coaster design firm out of Ohio, which gets it right.
“The secret of the first drop is shaping up that parabola and getting it exactly right,” said Chad Miller, one of the Gravity Group’s owners. “It gives you just the right amount of air time, especially in the back seat.”
It’s amazing how much thought — and science — goes into a roller coaster.
“Shaping parabolas is just one of many tasks facing engineers like Mr. Miller,” the Times reports.
“Designing roller coasters is a Jekyll-and-Hyde job: The first priority is to make riders safe; the second is to make them scream. Mr. Miller and his three partners, who work in a small suite of offices on the outskirts of Cincinnati decorated with coaster posters and odd leftovers from various projects, crunch the numbers carefully, using their own programs (with names like Spinal Tap) that can turn the squiggly lines of a rough initial design into a more polished one.”
There are strict limits.
“Coaster designers are constrained by the amount of potential energy they have to work with, which is determined by the weight of the car and its riders, height and gravity,” the Times explains. “It is highest at the top of the first hill (called the lift hill, because the car is hauled to the top by a chain). As the car coasts down the hill and up the next one (and, as your high school physics teacher would be pleased that you remembered, potential energy is converted to kinetic energy and then back to potential energy), friction takes its toll. The amount of potential energy declines along the route, and no other hill can be as high as the first.”
There are reasons why wooden coasters are better.
“That ‘put-through-a-blender’ sensation is a trademark of wooden coasters, and doesn’t happen by chance,” the Times says. “Because they tend to be slower, wooden rides can have tighter twists and turns than steel ones without generating excessive G-forces on riders.”
But don’t think that the roller coaster experience is limited to mere physics. There is, indeed, a theological side.
The Times quoted a Benedictine nun who is a fan of the Voyage.
“It’s the best I’ve ever ridden,” said Sister Michelle Sinkhorn, who likes to keep her hands raised. “I’m free. I’m a free flyer.”
Sure, important things are going on in Washington right now. Closer to home, we have a primary runoff election slated for July 31 that could have long-lasting implications for the county.
But can we focus for a moment? Doesn’t riding a roller coaster sound more fun than another hour of cable news right now?
With this in mind, we strongly endorse wooden coasters. There are way better twisties and air time.