Coaster Kingdom


Roller coaster enthusiasts are always talking about their favourite type of ride and their favourite type of park. Is wood better than steel? Is a theme park superior to an amusement park? The debates would go on forever and a day if you let them.

Well, if you’re reading this in the hope of some definitive answer to these questions, you are going to be sorely disappointed, for I’d venture to say that there is something that tends to be ignored in these arguments, and it’s not exactly something that prides itself on subtlety. If it’s raw adrenalin pumping action you’re after, you really shouldn’t be bothering with parks or roller coasters at all. Nah, if you’re looking for that life-affirming buzz of manic hysteria, you should be looking for spin rides and fairgrounds.

Probably the saddest thing about the amusement park industry is that it seems so blind to the potential of a really top class spin ride. Thorpe Park, for example, is happy to subject Colossus riders to one of the most endurance-testing elements of modern coaster design, namely its four straight heartline rolls, yet just a few feet away, we have Samurai.


Even on a good day, Thorpe Park's Samurai is but a pussy cat in the face of properly-run Top Scans.

Dear God, where do I start? Samurai is a mind-blowingly awesome piece of kit, but is routinely operated in such a way that its only useful function is as a cure for insomnia. The truth is that, were Samurai to offer even a quarter of the ferocity displayed by its fairground counterpart, it would make the park’s coasters look like kiddie rides.

Samurai may be the most acute example of how parks can cold-bloodedly rip the heart and soul from a top-notch spinner, but there are countless others. Consider, if you will, the experience of a theme park Top Spin. You queue up, you watch the ride go through the same motions over and over again, then take your seat, do four or five inversions, and leave. Whoop-de-doo.

You’d never guess that, in the hands of an expert operator the Top Spin is in fact one of the most versatile and thrilling rides on the planet. You should be leaving your seat feeling that you’ve experience something unique and special, different from those who rode before you, and equally different from those who will ride after you, but all too often the scene is more reminiscent of a scene from Metropolis, with people being treated as “units” to be processed.

How did something that was meant to be so euphorically savage become so domesticated? When did park visitors become such wimps? When did they lose their spirit of adventure? When did “fun” become so regulated and quantifiable that a ride operator can be given his marching orders for trying to give people something special over and above the approved script? More to the point, where do we go to find people who are willing to run their rides for maximum merriment?

If you’re going to come with me on this little journey, we have to get one thing straight: You cannot judge a spin ride by what you’ve seen at a theme park. For example, to judge the Top Spin on the strength of having ridden Heide Park’s version would be like judging a Formula 1 car based on how it performs on a five-minute jaunt to Tesco and back. You can only truly pass judgement when you’ve seen them at their best, and the only place where you are likely to see a spin ride really getting thrashed to its limit is a busy night at a major fairground. Just as the F1 car is designed for the race track, so the vast majority of spin rides are designed specifically for the fairground.

KMG Afterburner 32

KMG are very much en-vogue when it comes to catering to the demands of the showman.

For years, the spin ride market was dominated by German firm Huss. Having built many legendary spinners, such as the Break Dance, Top Spin, Pirate Ship, and Frisbee, the firm now appears to be concentrating on larger rides for parks. Its place has now largely been taken by two Dutch firms, Mondial and KMG.

KMG should be commended for creating rides of a high enough quality for the large German fairs, while keeping the designs simple and economical enough to be practical for smaller-scale fairs and showmen.

Mondial, on the other hand, appears to specialise in rides that truly push the limits of human tolerance, with such hardcore rides as the Top Scan, Capriolo, and Shake. Continues...

Coaster Kingdom Magazine
Issue 08: Jul 2005

Issue 08
Fair Play
CK explores all the fun of the fair