The Old Out n' Back Classic Coasters


Wooden coasters are typically the silver foxes of roller coasters.  They are the traditional type of coaster and are often referred to as 'woodies' by the industry and enthusiasts alike.  On wooden coasters the track and support structure are extremely cumbersome and the wooden track is inflexible, which makes it difficult to construct complex twists and turns.  Due to the limitations of the material most wooden coasters don't contain inversions.  However, a select few feature a loop-the-loop but these are extremely rare.

Blackpool's Grand National

Steel coasters have a huge advantage over woodies as metal is extremely smooth, flexible and can easily be shaped, thus the smooth ride enables coaster designers to build in more exciting features, twists and turns, without causing whiplash or sudden jolts to the riders.  In the late 80's wooden coasters had just about reached their technological limit, and then came along steel coasters to push the limits even futher. 

The introduction of steel coasters opened up a completely new and exciting era in the world of roller coaster technology.  When steel coasters are being manufactured the process allows for a smoothly curving track that manoeuvres the coaster train in all directions.  The track on steel coasters is perfectly welded together, which gives an incredibly smooth ride.  A wooden roller coaster rattles as it rolls over the joints that connect the pieces of the wooden track.


As a direct result of the steel coaster revolution, woodies began to lose popularity for several reasons.  Despite the fact that they are cheaper to construct than steel coasters, wooden coasters require much more maintenance than their steel counterparts to keep them operational, such as regular re-tracking, track lubrication, and support maintenance.  Wooden coasters were also becoming less marketable in the current media-driven advertising world.  Many theme parks wanted to grab headlines, such as 'the world's biggest, tallest, fastest or extreme coaster' ride, as these marketing ploys pulled in the large crowds and gave the best return on investment.  Also amusement parks were promoting their new rides with TV commercials, so they wanted more extreme rides to compete against the other rival parks.  Wooden coasters simply couldn't compete and so declined in both popularity and production.


However, it hasn't all been bad news for the wooden roller coaster.  Advances in wooden coaster production and technology have led to several new ones being built, and have bucked the downward trend.  Gwazi in Busch gardens is a relatively new duelling wooden coaster and several others have been created around the world.  Some of the newer wooden coasters are so smooth they actually feel like a steel coaster.  This is due to newer wooden coasters having a prefabricated track.  This new design process applies the principles of steel coaster manufacturing to wood. 


Traditional wooden coasters used to be built on site and were nailed piece by piece to the support structure before being smoothed into the correct shape and then the steel track mounted on the top.  New prefabricated track is manufactured entirely in a factory and not on the coaster site.  It is made of many thin layers of wood that are glued together and then laser cut into the exact shapes and angles required.  Prefabricated track allows for significant higher precision than could ever be achieved by hand.  The train wheels are made of polyurethane making for a smoother ride, whilst traditional wooden coaster trains had bare metal wheels.  Prefabricated wooden coasters are quicker to construct and don't require as much maintenance as traditional ones.



Woodies have now increased in popularity once again.  They provide a completely different ride experience than steel coasters.  While they are not as technically capable, woodies rely on a rougher and wilder experience as their unique selling point. Alton Towers had plans to build a giant 'out and back' wooden coaster after Air was installed at the park.  However, they could not secure planning permission due to noise and height issues.  The coaster would have started in UG land (now the Dark Forest) and gone across the woodland valley and gardens towards the Forbidden Valley, where it would interact with the Air coaster before turning around and going all the way back.  The heights in this part of the park top 200 foot so this wooden coaster would have been huge with loads of big drops!



I like wooden coasters but I do prefer steel ones as they are much smoother and feature more exciting elements, such as different inversions.  Old traditional wooden coasters can be extremely jolty and give you a head ache.  I remember riding the Grand National at Blackpool a few years ago and being thrown around in every possible direction in the train!  However, I have not been on the newer wooden coasters with a prefabricated track and look forward to giving them a try in the future! 



Did You Know


Have you ever wondered what causes that sinking feeling in your stomach when you ride a roller coaster?  Your stomach is not tied tightly to your body and it moves a little.  When the roller coaster starts down a hill, for an instant you are nearly weightless, including your stomach.  Because it is weightless, your stomach is not pressing down which is what makes you feel strange.


Also, have you ever wondered why you get dizzy during the ride?  That feeling is because of fluid movement in your ear, which controls your balance.  It is the dizzy feeling combined with the blurred landscape your eyes see that confuses your brain and leads to motion sickness.

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Page Last Updated: 28/11/09