Coaster Kingdom

Revolution, Pleasure Beach Blackpool
Friday, February 23, 2007

In an age where Britain is home to rides like Thorpe Park's 10-inversion Colossus, and where fairs are full of rides that perform endless loops and flips, it seems odd that once upon a time, the idea of an amusement park ride that turned riders upside down was something that warranted massive attention.

Back then, it is fair to say that Britain didn't have many decent coasters. Alton Towers was still trading more as a stately home than an amusement park, and the only major coasters were to be found at seaside parks. As ever, Pleasure Beach Blackpool was at the forefront of the industry, and was undergoing serious investment since 1976, the year which marked the death of its former MD, Leonard Thompson, and the ascension of his son Geoffrey to the role.

Geoffrey Thompson was, understandably, keen to make his own mark on the industry, and chose 1979 as the year to make his biggest impact yet. That year, PBB opened two new rides, showing a canny understanding of the fact that the park could progress without sacrificing its traditional feel. First was the Water Chute, based on the boat ride of the same name which operated at the park until 1932. Second was the Revolution, Britain's first modern looping coaster (as opposed to the lethal wooden loopers of the early 20th Century), and the first ride in the park's history to break the £1 million barrier. The park claimed it to be the first looping coaster in Europe, but Schwarzkopf actually pipped it by putting the Looping Star onto the German Fair circuit the year before.

The Revolution was the first steel coaster to be built at the park, and is still the only looping coaster there. Despite being an off-the-shelf coaster, the ride was an ideal choice for several reasons. Firstly, it occupies very little ground space, always an advantage at a park which, even then, was overcrowded. Secondly, it came from Arrow, a long standing partner of PBB, the Ohio firm having already created several smaller rides for the park, such as the Log Flume and Gold Mine. Finally, it was obvious that a loop would be a fabulous gimmick for attracting the crowds.

The design of the ride really couldn't be simpler. The 16 seat train starts on a raised platform, drops into a loop, then stops on a similar platform ready for the return journey. Unlike the more common Schwarzkopf shuttle loops (such as Alton Towers' much missed Thunder Looper), the Revolution gives riders a few seconds at the half way point to prepare for the return, and features a much tighter shaped loop than Schwarzkopf's huge near-circular design.

One thing which may strike onlookers is that it is tremendously overbuilt. The platforms are supported by huge latticework arches, under which the park has housed various attractions through the years, and which strongly resemble the structure later used by Arrow for the main turnaround of the Big One. The loop is covered with another huge latticework arch which goes over-the-top in every sense of the phrase. When the ride opened, you can imagine that the patriotic red-white-and-blue structure looked incredibly intimidating. At the time, the ride would have been clearly visible from the Promenade, and would have done the same job of attracting the crowds that the Big One does today.

Unfortunately, in the late 1990s, the park developed an obsession with advertising, which meant that the ride was repainted to a colour scheme decided by the ride's new sponsor, Irn-Bru. The track went from red to orange, the structure from white to blue, and the station was adorned with huge Irn Bru logos and banners. This actually makes the ride less prominent than before, which surely wasn't the intention.

If you want to ride the Revolution, you have to be prepared to work for it. The platform a long way up in the air, and the only way to reach it is via a long staircase which winds its way up from the non-descript entrance. Intended as a neat vertical queueline, PBB's general lack of long queues make the trek somewhat daunting. In its favour, the staircase does give lots of good chances to take photos of the surrounding rides.

55 feet above the ground, you find yourself with a short walk over to the station itself. This is taken across a narrow, highly exposed walkway which gives the distinct feeling of walking a tightrope. Just to make things more intimidating, the whole structure rocks and sways as the train enters and leaves the station. At this point I'd advise anyone scared of heights not to even attempt to ride the Revolution, as they will absolutely hate it up there.

Into the station itself, which continues the ride's skeletal look. All around is a framework archway which was presumably intended to form the basis of a roof, but which has been left uncovered. On quiet days, the staff will often insist on filling the train from the front, which is intensely frustrating, as the the back is by far the best place to ride. As you wait in one of the queue bays, look out for the novel method of propulsion, featuring a rather odd looking contraption, not dissimilar to tea tray on wheels, which sits behind the train and is attached to a pulley system. Watching this little device scuttle back and forth along the station track is great entertainment in itself!

Compared with more recent loopers like Colossus, the Revolution's Arrow trains give the distinct impression that you are sitting in a large crate. The seats are very deep, and have none of the wonderful exposed feeling we've started to take for granted. The overhead restraints are surprisingly pleasant. They are identical to those retro-fitted onto the Space Invader, but are much more comfortable in their natural habitat, although you can't help imagining how great it would be if the train were fitted with lap bars, as the Schwarzkopf shuttle loops are. It's worth adding that boarding is often chaotic, as the number of loading bays doesn't seem to match the number of seats!

Before the ride starts, we have a marvellous piece of comedy. Prior the sponsorship deal, the ride-op would play a dreary taped announcement beginning "You are about to experience the most thrilling and exciting ride of you life". Since the Irn-Bru deal, the announcement has been re-recorded to include the sponsor's name. Although the new recording begins with exactly the same phrase, it is now said in a voice which sets new records for sarcasm. It's obvious that whoever recorded the new announcement is trying to sound sincere, and the fact that he utterly fails just makes it even funnier.

So, with sixteen riders still sniggering at the underwhelming build-up, the turbo tea-tray jumps into action and rockets the train out of the station. Although the publicity machine says that the ride is all about the loop, I completely disagree. The highlight of the Revolution is, without doubt, the first drop. Regardless of where on the train you are, you will get airtime. No, you will get TONS of airtime. In fact, sit in a back seat, you will get what must rank as the most intense airtime you've ever known. Forget the Grand National, forget even Megafobia, no other coaster can offer the same feeling of being catapulted into orbit that these seats give.

From the drop, you are immediately bundled into the loop. Given the speed of the train, the loop is small. Unlike other shuttle loops, the shape of the Revolution's loop is what mathematicians call a "clothoid", which in English mean that the curvature of the track tightens considerably the higher up it gets. What it means for the riders is that lacks the high G forces of the Schwarkkopf's circular loops, but makes up for that by providing a strange weightless feeling in the stomach which would soon make any rider queasy after a few rides. Incidentally, if you are in the left hand side of the train, its always fun to keep looking left during the loop, and watch your view of the park spin around - just a tip!

As you rise back up and enter the second station, our caustic commentator welcomes us once more. "You are about to experience the Irn Bru Revolution 360 degree looping coaster... backwards", he informs us, his doomed attempt to make the word "backwards" sound intimidating invariably drawing a sarcastic "ooooh" from at least one merciless revolutionary.

Using exactly the same mechanics, the turbo tea-tray's twin brother engages the front of the train and pushes it back. Unfortunately, it's hard to escape the fact that the backward journey feels quite a bit slower than the forward one. The drop, for example, does not give anywhere near as much airtime as before. The backward loop, however, is a marvel, creating a sensation I've not known on any other coaster. It gives the same weightless feel as the forward trip, but is now much more intense, probably due the train being slower, and therefore spending longer in the loop. After climbing back to station level, the train trundles back to the platform.

Annoyingly, there is a turnstile in place to allow re-rides, yet this is never used. An excuse given in previous years was the difficulty of quick and secure cash handling, which was understandable, but no longer relevant now that the park operates its rides solely through the use of tickets and wristbands. This is extremely frustrating, given that the only other way to re-ride is to trek all the way down the exit staircase (wrapped around the entrance staircase), walk around to the entrance and climb all the way back up again. One very real possibility, however, is that repeat riding would make riders so queasy, that preventing them saves the staff the regular job of clearing up the mess!

Ironically, for a ride which was intended to be seen as the future of thrill rides, the Revolution has become almost as much a museum piece as the park's woodies. This isn't meant to sound unkind, but it is a relic from the very early days of looping coasters. Other than cosmetic changes brought on by the sponsorship deal, the ride remains unchanged, and can stand proud, with its antiquated arch over the loop and its original Arrow train, (still with the pedal operated restraint locking system), making the ride as much a part of coaster history as the Big Dipper or the Grand National. Compare this with its most obvious counterpart, Alton Towers' Corkscrew, an embarrassment of a ride, made worse by half-hearted attempts to disguise its age. In any other park, the Revolution might seem outdated, but as PBB is a working museum of the amusement park industry, it plays the important role of representing the dawn of the looping coaster in Europe.

For all the talk of its historical significance, the Revolution is still a great ride. Although a day at PBB inevitably revolves around the woodies, the Revolution is a ride that shouldn't be missed. Like the Wild Mouse, it is too intense to ride all day, but PBB has so many other rides that you wouldn't want to. As an occasional blast, you can't beat it.

Please, do not use our ratings to compare rides head-to-head. They rate only how well this ride meets its own objectives using criteria that may not necessarily be relevant with similar reviews.

Good points:

  • Very intense bouts of airtime at both ends of the ride
  • An intense inversion and the backwards section offers an interesting sensation
  • One of only a few similar coasters in the world

Bad points:

  • Trains are hardly refined
  • Not much of a launch
  • The stairs to the station make Revolution neigh-on impossible to re-ride

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