Having ridden roller coasters for over 15 years, I can say this loud and clear: roller coasters are fun to ride! Why? Because roller coasters provide a “safe” thrill and great rush that cannot be beaten. However, there’s a lot more to riding a roller coaster than simply sitting in a seat, locking your harness, and doing your best to keep your lunch from leaving you while diving down hills and twisting around corkscrews.
Over the years, I have learned through experience and experimentation that you can actually maximize the thrill of your roller coaster ride just by changing how – and where – you sit on the roller coaster train. Your roller coaster thrills can actually vary based on when you ride the roller coaster. Even who rides with you can make a difference!
Back Seat Riding Provides “Lift” and Relatively Higher Speed
A lot of people head to the front seat of a roller coaster because they like to get an unobstructed view of the track ahead of them…or simply because they like being “first”! But many roller coaster enthusiasts know it is in the back seats that riders get to have a little more fun.
Why? Because of gravity and physics, the back of a roller coaster train is often whipped over the tops of hills as the front of the train drags the rear down.
Watch a roller coaster train go over hills a few times, and you will notice that the front cars tend to creep over hills while the rear cars are pulled over the top at a relatively faster speed. This happens because the weight of the front cars “pull” the rear cars down hills. While front cars do receive some “push” from the rear cars while going over hills many hills, the front cars don’t have the advantage of many tons of weight pulling them down hills, like rear cars (and their passengers) enjoy.
So what’s the big deal?
You will notice a striking difference in your riding experience if you take two rides on the same roller coaster – one on the front of the train and one in the back.
In the front seat, you will feel like you are being pushed downhill – and you may even get a sensation of “hanging” over the edge at the top of some hills. Though, in the back seat, you will feel as though you are being whipped over the tops of hills. Because you are being flung up and over – then down – a hill, you will also feel a relatively greater sensation of weightlessness at the top of and going down hills than you experience in the front seat of the same roller coaster train.
The More the Merrier
Some like going to amusement parks when there are fewer crowds. While smaller crowds may mean shorter times in queue waiting to get on your favorite ride – or picking up those world-famous French fries you heard about – smaller crowds also mean fewer people on the roller coaster train riding along with you, which could mean a slower ride.
Heavier things may take longer to get moving, but once they get moving, they want to keep on moving. When those heavy things get moving down a hill, they tend to move more quickly than lighter things.
What is the result for you, the roller coaster rider? A relatively faster roller coaster ride than you would get on an emptier roller coaster train. Next time you board a roller coaster, try bringing along your friends and family members – you will all enjoy a faster-paced thrill than you would get by yourselves!
Night Roller Coaster Rides Are Really Faster?
There is a belief among some that riding a roller coaster at night means getting a faster ride. Is that really true? While you may not be going any faster at night than you would in the daylight, you might still feel like your roller coaster ride is faster at night anyhow. Why?
It’s all about the lighting – or lack thereof. When you cannot see buildings, trees, the ground below you, or what is coming up ahead of you, a roller coaster ride can feel faster. Twists, turns, and drops you can brace yourself for in the daylight suddenly seem to come out of nowhere at night, imparting an element of surprise. Not seeing other objects around you for reference points and landmarks means your ability to scale your speed, height, and distance are suddenly gone. At night, an otherwise-breezy 30-mile-per-hour descent down a 25-foot-high hump on the track can feel a little more like a white-knuckle 50-mile-per-hour plunge down a 50-foot drop!
Disney’s Space Mountain roller coaster ride operates under virtually no interior lighting, save for a few well-placed lighting effects to make riders feel like they are speeding through intergalactic tunnels and whizzing past stars. This deep darkness makes a ride on Space Mountain feel much faster and more exhilarating than a trip on a similar roller coaster basking in sunlight.
It may surprise you to learn that Space Mountain is actually a large “wild-mouse” coaster, which is the same kind of roller coaster you might find at your local carnival or fair. In fact, a ride on Space Mountain takes you no faster than 28 miles-per-hour – but you would bet it is much faster!
First-hand knowledge and experience
Disney. “Space Mountain.” September 22, 2009. http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/parks/magic-kingdom/attractions/space-mountain/