by Paul Ruben
I now count 46 variations in my list of rollercoaster types, and perhaps the hottest style these days is the sit-astride coaster. These include the Vekoma Motorbike Coaster, Intamin Family Launch Coaster, Schäfer Amusement Technology’s motorcycle version and Zamperla’s MotoCoaster.
This year two of Zamperla’s came to the US, one at Darien Lake as the MotorCoaster and the other at Knott’s Berry Farm as the Pony Express. I was one of the first to climb aboard Darien Lake’s, and enjoyed it very much. What a great feeling; it reminded me that real motorcycle riders understand best why dogs love to stick their heads out of car windows.
I don’t want to damn the MotoCoaster with faint praise by calling it a “family coaster,” but in reality this is not too aggressive. Almost everyone in the family will enjoy it. Mid-sized parks would enjoy it, too, because it’s compact, not too expensive, and has broad appeal. It’s fast, smooth and nicely paced, with a catapult launch and a very comfortable restraint system.
It was surprising that in this age of electromagnetic, hydraulic and compressed air launch systems Zamperla would revert to the earlier flywheel launch pioneered more than 30 years ago by Anton Schwarzkopf. These had fallen into disfavour because of their excessive maintenance, but Zamperla has engineered an improved version that appears to be nearly maintenance-free.
It was back in 1959 that I learned what it was that has two heads, four eyes, six legs and a tail. Do you know? A horse and rider. It was then I rode my first sit-astride coaster, the original Steeplechase horseback ride at Coney Island. Remember that this was the same park that featured the human roulette wheel, which you rode at your own risk. Back then the only seat belts were on race cars, and they weren’t always effective, either.
On the Steeplechase, the restraint system was a bar to hold. Since then I’ve ridden the Steeplechase at Blackpool, the old Cycle Chase at Knott’s Berry Farm, and now Darien Lake’s MotoCoaster. Most impressive on these newer rides is the progress made improving the restraint systems.
In this era of wild and crazy bragging rights, we note and congratulate Knott’s Berry Farm for the distinction of being the only park on the planet with not one, but two flywheel launched coasters, the Montezooma’s Revenge Schwarzkopf shuttle loop coaster and now Pony Express. Named after the famous Pony Express mail delivery between Missouri and California, Knott’s new coaster promises a horseback relay at speeds never imagined in the Old West. Wouldn’t it be great if guests could watch these ponies run on saddle-lite TV?