Coaster Kingdom

Booster Bike, Toverland
Friday, February 23, 2007

At one point, I was quite a fan of Meat Loaf. I used to listen to his music and imagine myself barrelling down Route 66 on a mega-powerful motorbike, with the wind in my hair and not a care in the world.

I desperately wanted to emulate my idol, which helps to explain how the owners of our local chip shop could afford a four-storey retirement home in Monte Carlo.

Anyway, I never achieved my dream of being like the musical heavyweight, either in terms of singing (I had Van Gough's ear for music), or in terms of biking. For a start, I never got on with the leathers regardless of how much talcum powder I poured into them, and besides, I was always haunted by the memory of the time I fell off my BMX on my way home from the chippy.

Oh the shame of it, lying on the ground, my knees grazed, crying for my mummy as my blood mixed with the ketchup all over the pavement. Even now, I look back at that incident and can't help feeling that it was no way for a twenty-five year old to behave.

Even now, I carry that resentment of motorbikes with me. The way they speed past me every time I'm in a traffic jam, and yet still can't seem to deliver my order promptly when I call Dial-a-Pizza.

The last thing I want is for theme parks to start irresponsibly promoting the wretched machines to the world's youth, but that's exactly what Vekoma and Toverland have teamed up to do. I think the only rational explanation is that they're all out to get me.

Toverland has never registered on the theme park radar before, being more of an indoor play-place for the Netherlands' nippers. That's not to say it doesn't have its share of good rides, as it features probably the nuttiest Vekoma Roller Skater ever built, a fabulous Log Flume, and a superb bobsleigh ride. It was Booster Bike that really put the "park" on the map, being Vekoma's prototype attempt at a family-orientated launched coaster.

Booster Bike is literally set aside from Toverland's other rides, being the only all-outdoor ride, accessible only through a specific exit from the building. From here, the queue zigzags slightly before looping around the back of the station. The train is obviously themed as a convoy of motorbikes, which does little to explain why the station has a jungle theme, complete with "Day of the Triffids" style flora and fauna.

There's a perfectly a good reason for this, of course, although if I can work out what it is, then I'm a Dutchman. Maybe we should just be glad to have any theming at all, as the ride itself, unlike the rest of Toverland's other attractions, is devoid of theming, being simply plonked onto a completely flat piece of grass.

As you reach the platform, you finally come face to face with the ride's one and only train, which seats sixteen riders in rows of two, with each rider having an entire bike to themselves.

The appeal of motor biking, as I understand it, is the thrill of straddling a big powerful brute of a machine, which makes it all the more unusual that these bikes seem better suited for conveying Snow White's friends to work and back.

More importantly, there seems to be very little floor to the train, meaning that the only way of reaching the far bike is to clamber over the first one, which seems a trifle unnecessary. The restraint is activated by pulling the handlebars toward you, which in turn lowers a "back restraint", which pushes you into proper bike-riding position.

To a cacophony of engine noise, the train rumbles out of the station and onto the launch track. It's difficult to know what to expect, as the launch is hardly going to match the power of Intamin's rocket coasters, especially given the precarious riding position.

As it turns out, the launch is a pleasant surprise, more powerful than you would realistically expect, and before you know it, you're up and over the first straight hill, then banking to the right before a steep twisted climb to the left.

Unfortunately, this is where the ride's main problem manifests itself. This hill is so tall as to take all the speed out of the train, which destroys the sense of rocket-powered speed that a should distinguish a launched coaster from a normal one.

Whatever your thoughts on Alton Towers' Rita, it really does feel turbo-charged from beginning to end, whereas Booster Bike having come almost to a halt, reverts back to feeling like "just" any ordinary coaster. This is particularly true given that this is a ride that is meant to simulate a powerful motorbike, whereas if I had a bike that struggled to climb a hill like this, I'd be straight on the phone to the RAC.

Regaining speed, a swift helix sees the train head back toward the mutated undergrowth of the station. We know what the ride is meant to deliver, but does it pull it off? Well, yes, but as with Chessington's Dragon's Fury, it only works because it's at a park where it is clear that children are the priority. It will be interesting to see how future versions fare in more "grown-up" parks, as Booster Bike really is more of an afternoon trek than an all-out blast along the highway.

The main criticism of Booster Bike is that the whole bike theme adds very little to the ride, and it is hard to imagine that it really gains anything from the whole motorbike idea compared to a normal train.

Although not particularly uncomfortable, the fact that you are forced into a head-down position negates the expected novelty of balancing precariously on the car, a la Blackpool's Steeplechase. This never really takes effect, and it takes only a couple of rides before you begin to wish that you were sitting normally.

Ultimately, however, Booster Bike should appeal to the typical Toverland visitor, which is of course the most important thing. Whether the motorbike coaster is going to be the start of a new craze among theme park owners will probably depend more on how future incarnations develop the idea, as Booster Bike really does give the sense of a "safe" first attempt.

If you're wondering whether Toverland should feature on your trip itinerary, the answer is probably yes, although if I'm completely honest, that's mainly because of the tremendous log flume and bobsleigh rides, not for Booster Bike.

Good points:

  • Surprisingly good launch
  • Nice swoops and helices

Bad points:

  • Riding position adds little
  • Runs out of steam at mid point
  • Little/unfathomable theming

Labels: , ,