Hurtling to the Limits of Human Endurance Just for the Fun of It

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After more
than a century of striving to propel screaming riders ever faster,
higher, steeper and longer, many roller coasters now hurtle to the
limits of human endurance. So where is there left for the tracks
to go?

The new attraction
at Thorpe Park in Surrey, Saw – The Ride, claims to offer the world’s
steepest freefall drop – a beyond-vertical 100-degree descent back
under the ride’s 100ft (30m) peak.

It takes about
three seconds.

An even steeper
112-degree descent is due to be unveiled in July on a new ride – Mumbo Jumbo – at Flamingo Land in North Yorkshire.

Roller coaster
one-upmanship is something of a tradition in the amusement park
industry, with rides sometimes designed seemingly with headlines
as much in mind as effective frights and thrills.

Coasters now
stand hundreds of feet tall, race at speeds nearing 130mph, and
turn the rider upside down with multiple inversions. Predictably,
the US boasts most of the world’s roller coaster records.

"In America
there are so many parks, there are always these coaster wars going
on," says Andy Hine, founder and chairman of the Roller Coaster
Club of Great Britain (RCCGB).

But he adds:
"When you get into these coaster wars, you don’t always end
up with a good ride."

"A roller
coaster represents a really well choreographed sequence of unusual
stimuli," says Brendan Walker, director of Thrill Laboratory
and a visiting senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham.

The farther
a roller coaster can push its dual extremes of fear and pleasure,
the more thrilling the ride will be, he argues.

"Thrill
as an experience is actually defined as a large, rapid increase
in pleasure and arousal together," he says.

"If you
can manage to pull somebody towards displeasure through fear, through
danger, and then provide a pleasurable release, the margin of change
is larger."

Shake, rattle

Most roller
coaster fanatics prefer wooden rides, despite them tending to be
smaller and slower than steel ones, partly because of the more anxious
experience often involved.

The swaying
and creaking frame, the deafening rattle of the wheels on the track,
and the archaic appearance can suggest that the ride – and consequently
the riders too – may not be around that long.

"A wooden
roller coaster has a lot more shake, rattle and roll about it,"
Mr Hine says.

With an estimated
35,000 rides on more than 2,000 of the world’s roller coasters behind
him, Mr Hine’s favourite attraction is the wooden Phoenix, in Pennsylvania,
US, standing at an unimposing 78ft (24m) and with a top speed of
about 45mph.

Read
the rest of the article

June
8, 2009

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