Why were so many bad roller coasters built in the 1980s?

Sunday, July 22, 2018 3:47 PM

Hello old friends,

I used to post here back in 2001-2003. Went to a park today and got to thinking about roller coasters again, with a little bit of a different perspective now, 15 years later :)

I got to thinking, how can we explain the huge decline in roller coaster quality in the 80s?

1. In the 70s, Schwarzoph makes all these cool new steel coasters like Revolution and Whizzer. They're smooth enough, don't have terrible over the shoulder restraints, and many are still standing today.

2. In the 80s, Arrow and Vekoma somehow take over, no more Schwarzkoph rides are being built, and rides like Shockwave are built, which are rough and bash peoples' heads. Most of these, despite having been very expensive at the time, are no longer standing.

3. B&M and Intamin gain momentum in the 90s by making quality coasters and by the 2000s nobody is contracting Vekoma or Arrow anymore for their terrible rides.

4. Looks like since I've been away, the quality of new coasters is still very good, and we don't see Vekoma-tier duds being built anywhere, by anyone.

Have I got that mostly correct? If so, what can explain the rapid decline in quality in the 1980s? Surely everyone knew these Arrow and Vekoma rides were low quality, with a short shelf life, right? After a couple years, you could just take some simple surveys and see that most people were complaining about these not being enjoyable. Were they just cheaper?

And why was there this awful trend of over the shoulder restraints for 20 years or so? Those 70s Schwarzkoph coasters just had a lap restraint, and modern Intamin loopers just have lap restraints. Why were all those coasters ruined for decades with awful OTSRs? Surely there would be enough money in it to get it right, build a good ride, get more people in the park buying tickets, etc.

Curious to hear thoughts on how all of this went down.

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Sunday, July 22, 2018 6:13 PM

According to a different group I'm in the answer is "Legalized Weed." Yup... Potheads are that pathetic.

But if you ask me, my answer is "Coat Hangers."

Sorry I can't help.

(But let's be honest, the real answer is so simple, you don't really need to ask.)

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Sunday, July 22, 2018 11:30 PM

Ever watch a sitcom from the 70s or 80s? It seems super dated, looks old, and is often quite cheesy. But it is a product of its time, and at the time it was considered top notch. Same with roller coasters. These companies were working with the technology they had and doing things that had never been done before. As technology improved, so did the rides.

In the 80s and early 90s, those Arrow multi loopers were as well received as rides like Steel Vengeance and Fury are today. It’s only because of rides like these that we realize how dated a ride like an Arrow multi looper is. And like a 70s or 80s sitcom, the good ones stand the test of time. See: Loch Ness Monster, Tennesee Tornado, Vortex at Kings Island (at least to me - I know that’s not at all a popular opinion) - etc.

Also, Schwarzkopf*

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Monday, July 23, 2018 9:44 AM

I can't remember what the theory is called, but when you have vast innovation taking place in an industry, the failure/issue rate increases and stabilises over time.

That's what happened and continues to happen, when you think about it. When a manufacturer makes a big leap* you do tend to see some issues and they are slowly worked out.

* or when Intamin do something that has worked 100x previously.

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Monday, July 23, 2018 9:52 AM

formerACEr said:

Surely everyone knew these Arrow and Vekoma rides were low quality, with a short shelf life, right?

No. Arrow and Vekoma were the pioneers of multi-inversion coasters and the public was eating them up. As with any business, when competition emerges with a better product, you'd better step up or you'll go under. Arrow was too late with their innovations and suffered; Vekoma survived. Capitalism.

And why was there this awful trend of over the shoulder restraints for 20 years or so? Those 70s Schwarzkoph coasters just had a lap restraint, and modern Intamin loopers just have lap restraints. Why were all those coasters ruined for decades with awful OTSRs? Surely there would be enough money in it to get it right, build a good ride, get more people in the park buying tickets, etc.

Lawyers.

Last edited by Vater, Monday, July 23, 2018 9:53 AM
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Monday, July 23, 2018 10:45 AM

Okay, so we actually have a few different issues to work out.

First off, to Brett -- yes, roller coasters, sitcoms, clothes, and houses age, but some things age well and some don't. It strikes me as odd that those Schwarzkopf coasters from the 70s seem to have aged pretty well, but the 80s Arrow loopers really did not. Is it fair to say that the Schwarzkopf coasters were of objectively better quality, better engineered, etc.?

To Rich, you make a good point, but then why were the first looping coasters by Schwarzkopf in the 70s such good rides? According to the theory, they should have faced the same problems

To Vater -- is it true that those multi loopers had a good shelf-life? I thought that they were mostly hype, maybe they ran well for 1-2 years, and then became very rough headbashers which nobody liked after a few years. Perhaps this is not actually correct. I know that back when I used to post in the early 2000s, those 80s loopers were definitely not popular around here.

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Monday, July 23, 2018 11:06 AM

formerACEr said:

To Vater -- is it true that those multi loopers had a good shelf-life? I thought that they were mostly hype, maybe they ran well for 1-2 years, and then became very rough headbashers which nobody liked after a few years.

I think it mostly depends on maintenance and to some degree, design. Coasters that are more intense tend to be more expensive to maintain. Some have not aged well, others have (Loch Ness still rides as good today as it ever did). As far as running well for 1-2 years, I'd say that's probably perception. Back then, I think it was just common that Arrow multi-loopers were headbangers due to the nature of the track design in combination with the OTSRs. Schwarzkopfs rode better, arguably, but most of the permanent installations were far less intense than their Arrow counterparts. When the newer companies started building steel coasters with more advanced design technology (making elements much more comfortable for riders to navigate), it would stand to reason that headbanging would then become less acceptable.

Perhaps this is not actually correct. I know that back when I used to post in the early 2000s, those 80s loopers were definitely not popular around here.

Right. I said they were all the rage when they were new. But by the early 2000s, B&M and Intamin were dominant in the industry and Arrow and Vekoma were old and outdated by comparison. Of course they'd be less popular.

Last edited by Vater, Monday, July 23, 2018 11:10 AM
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Monday, July 23, 2018 11:58 AM

formerACEr said:

Okay, so we actually have a few different issues to work out.

First off, to Brett -- yes, roller coasters, sitcoms, clothes, and houses age, but some things age well and some don't. It strikes me as odd that those Schwarzkopf coasters from the 70s seem to have aged pretty well, but the 80s Arrow loopers really did not. Is it fair to say that the Schwarzkopf coasters were of objectively better quality, better engineered, etc.?

We have issues to work out? Or you have issues to work out? I think we sort of explained everything fairly well.

The Schwarzkopf coasters still around that have aged well are no different than other coasters from "the past" that have aged well. There are installations that are now gone as well as rides like Revolution that could be argued did not age well during the years of over the shoulder harnesses. Just like some CCI wooden coasters are as good as they were the day they were built and others didn't even live to see their 10th birthday: so many factors come into play like maintenance, climate, etc.

And as for the comment about over the shoulder harnesses on Arrow/Vekoma loopers vs Schwarzkopf rides. Those latter had high-G vertical loops taken at a good pace at the start of the ride. The former had multiple inversions that caused significant hang time and unusual change in direction. While an OTSR may not be comfortable on an Arrow multi looper, I do think it is necessary for comfort and security in a way it isn't flying through a Schwarzkopf vertical loop.

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Monday, July 23, 2018 12:01 PM

All of Arrow's design were very smooth, until you hit a transition point. I had always figured it was a combination of design along with the arrow wheel design that rode inside the track rails. If you look at an arrow train wheels assembly when it is sitting on the brake run you frequently see a bunch of the upstops and guide wheels spinning since they are not in contact with the track. The transitions were never great, but the slop between the track and the wheels appears to amplify the problem because the entire train shifts back and forth inside the rails, even if just by a small amount.

I have never seen this issue on other manufacturers designs, except for Vekoma, and we all know how those are as well.

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Monday, July 23, 2018 4:57 PM

A lot of it could be the OTSR's themselves. A great example is Revolution at SFMM. A consistent favorite among coaster enthusiasts until it got OTSR's. Then all of a sudden everyone is complaining. I for one took a ride 2 years ago, with OTSR's and it was one of the worst coaster rides I've ever been on. And yes, I'd ridden in the past without them and it was fine. So yes, the OTSR's made the ride extra headbangey, which is one of the chief complaints about Arrows, which all have OTSR's. Would Arrows be better without them, possibly.

On the flipside, remember when Demon at SFGrAm got stuck upside down for 2.5 hours and everyone had to be rescued by a fire truck? Freak one in a million bad luck? Preventable with better maintenance? Maybe both, but how would that have played out using Schwarzkopf lapbars? Yeah...

Last edited by Tommytheduck, Monday, July 23, 2018 4:59 PM
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Monday, July 23, 2018 5:50 PM

Demon Teeter Hang-ups:

https://teeter.com/hang-ups/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_c...gIRIvD_BwE

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Monday, July 23, 2018 5:50 PM

It would have played out something like this...

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Monday, July 23, 2018 7:41 PM

The Schwarzkopf rides were cool, but they did what they always did and not much more. If you ride an Arrow coaster with only a loop, they are still pretty pleasant to this day.

Arrow went bigger and better(?) without spending a lot of time refining the technology. Magnum, Desperado, Big One etc are essentially 200ft mine trains.

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Monday, July 23, 2018 9:11 PM

Some of what we’re talking about here is the difference between European engineering and US designs. Arrow coasters were all the rage but I noticed, even at the beginning, that Arrow had designed and produced their rides out of stock “pieces parts”. A banked turn was a banked turn. A loop was a loop, and a corkscrew was a corkscrew. There were tops of hills and bottoms of hills with straight track between ‘em. At the height of their popularity they designed all their coasters with the same elements, just hooked together in different order. Each park tried to outdo the last one by ordering these multi-element rides in varying lengths and heights, but they were all basically the same. And as a consequence a hallmark of those rides is the occasional (or guaranteed) abrupt and awkward transition. Even Magnum XL200, as innovative as it was at the time, suffered from a pieced-together standard production-model type of design. Other hypers from them followed suit, and those are the very things that young enthusiasts complain about today when they call for retracking because the rides are so “rough”. They think the rides haven’t stood the test of time, and maybe so, but also perhaps in a different sense.
Development of the modern steel coaster in Europe and in the US took place at the same time but took different paths. My impression of companies like Arrow is that they rushed to the bandwagon and made it their goal to sell one of those rides to everyone and do it first at a lesser coast than what foreign companies like Schwarzkopf could offer. Which is what they did. And didn’t their rides give the appearance of being safer with toilet seats over your head for protection?
And let’s talk about Vekoma for a second. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t we first introduced to them as a replacement for Arrow? Didn’t they re-track and re-train several rides stateside? And I guess we owe the Boomerang to them, one of the most prolific designs ever. They were and still are a Dutch manufacturer. I stopped short at the above reference to them being second tier or whatever. I rode several Vekoma rides in Europe and they were some of the most enjoyable. Smooth, comfortable, and free of transition troubles. And not a Boomerang in the bunch. Future projects from them look interesting and unique.
That leads me to the most current and I dare say most popular US produced steel coasters. RMC has graced us with quality rides that really deliver. They also don’t seem content to stop at what works, but continue to push limits and design new and exciting elements with each installation. They do repeat elements from ride to ride, but always introduce something new. And now they seem to have it all over B&M, who (don’t get me wrong) still build exciting rides, but teeter dangerously close to being guilty of mass-producing giant rides out of stock pieces. I find it harder and harder to find something interesting with each new dive coaster that is introduced. Wonderland is set to announce soon and we’ll see if that ride isn’t a basic bag of tricks, but maybe on a grander scale.

Thanks for listening to my ramblings. This discussion is interesting and really got me thinking.

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Monday, July 23, 2018 11:59 PM

Your post is spot on about arrow with the same elements. Viper at SFMM had the worlds tallest loop for some time but that loop was no bigger than the loop on Corkscrew at CP, it was just jacked way up in the air with track and supports. Arrow reminds me of RCT2, you have a bag of elements, and you can build a coaster which goes eleventy billion mph, but to not kill the guest in the loop you either toss in a trim brake, or you move the loop really high into the air.

B&M is guilty of the same thing, with some notable exceptions, Great Bear comes to mind here, as does Thunderbird.

I know I catch hate for it, but this is why I like Intamin/RMC/GG better than the other manufacturers. Though Chance/Zierer/Mack have done some very interesting things at times as well.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018 11:38 AM

Raven-Phile said:

It would have played out something like this...

Never seen that before, thanks. But the people in that footage looked like they were holding on for dear life with only those lapbars. I hate Arrow OTSR's as much as the next coastertool, but believe me, if I were stuck upside down, I know which one I'd rather have.

At least the Schw coaster was lodged free and allowed to valley for the rescue. I don't know the time frame though. I remember reading that the Demon riders were stuck upside down for 2.5 hours. They had to be rescued from the hanging position.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018 2:35 PM

Did Schwartzkoph ever design an inversion that wasn't a vertical loop? Weird Mindbender thing doesn't count.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018 3:11 PM

Nope.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2018 6:09 PM

"The defense rests, your honor."

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018 3:23 AM

I wonder if some of the issues with Arrow's designs resulted from their transition from hand-designed hand-calculated designs like the original Corkscrews to AutoCAD-based designs. The computer makes the design easier, but it also has limitations, and when the CAD gets turned into a specification for the fabricator, the limitations of the tools start to become more apparent...

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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