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Are Inversions Overrated?

Inversions (or loops) on rides have been around almost as long as the roller coaster itself. But, have they lost their appeal and marketability recently?
First, a brief history lesson – inversions have been around for over a century. Sadly, not enough was known about physics and engineering back then to safely (and comfortably) take passengers through them.
The "Flip Flap Railway" punished riders with high, uneven g-forces.

The “Flip Flap Railway” punished riders with high, uneven g-forces.

Fast forward to 1975, and technology had evolved to the point that inversions were once again on the table, only this time – they were much more than just vertical loops; corkscrews (which are basically stretched out loops) made their debut at Knott’s Berry Farm with the aptly named “Corkscrew.” The ride still runs today at Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho.
Photo from the Orange County Archives.

Photo from the Orange County Archives.

Soon, many other elements, such as pretzel loops, barrel rolls and Immelmans were being performed on a regular basis. The stakes kept getting raised at parks, with more and more inversions going into rides.  Currently, the record stands at 14 inversions on one ride.
With so many coasters with inversions – why are so few of them represented in national top ten lists? There are several possibilities:
1.) People are genuinely freaked out by loops – 
There’s something about being tossed head over heels that hits at the psyche of the human brain. I would know – I refused to do anything that looped until 1993…
2.) Pre-1995 inversions had some rough transitions – 
Turns out, it was quite difficult to engineer track to specifications that were ideal for inversions AND for regular track. While most companies managed, you can still tell when the computer didn’t quite “get it right” when the roughness gets a bit out of control.
3.) The restraint system used on many looping rides can feel restrictive – 
Coaster enthusiasts and regular park guests love the freedom to move around. Who doesn’t want more legroom on a flight, right? Because most multi-loopers have what’s called an over the shoulder restraint (OTSR) or “horse collar” restraint, our bodies are restricted from any movement in the upper body.
Unfortunately, this leads to the ubiquitous “head banging” on many older looping rides with this style of restraint. Even older B&M coasters, lauded for their incredible levels of precision, can have headbanging moments with these types of restraints.
There is some credence to this theory – the Steel Phantom at Kennywood, which used to feature inversions when it debuted, was altered to remove them in favor of airtime hills and a simple, lap bar restraint system. The ride subsequently saw a resurgence in popularity.
What do you think? Are inversions over-rated or just misunderstood?
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3 responses

  1. The Coaster Guy

    I think multiple inversions just for the sake of having lots of inversions is unnecessary. However, I think that there is a place for strategic inversions that add a lot of thrill. I think that the Full Throttle roller coaster that opened this year at Six Flags Magic Mountain is a prime example. The primary inversion is at the apex of a 160′ vertical loop. You’re only upside down for a second or two, but it’s so high and slow that it feels like a lifetime, and it really adds to the thrill of that coaster. It would not be the same without it. Other coasters with multiple inversions would probably be a lot more enjoyable with less inversions and more airtime hills. Just my two cents worth.

    October 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    • Good points! Though, I’m still scratching my head as to why they removed a log ride for a coaster…but what do I know, right? 😉

      October 8, 2013 at 5:59 pm

  2. Dave

    I feel that inversions are overrated to a degree, yet some that are strategically placed can enhance the ride experience. Both Busch Gardens parks, for example, expound on their placement of inversions. Of course, when you have parks trying to “one-up” each other by adding more inversions, then, yes, it would then be considered as overrated. At the same token, though, I feel that inversions show technological advances in roller coasters than we ever thought that could ever possibly exist.

    October 16, 2013 at 2:11 am