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Roller Coaster Elements – What are they?

Roller coaster elements are the individual parts and design of the rides themselves and are discussed quite frequently by enthusiasts and the general public alike. As roller coasters become more inventive and elaborate, elements are becoming more novel and thrilling to us all. In fact, many people refer to these as thrill elements.

A Brief History

The original roller coasters were wooden structures with tracks that had cars riding on them. The

cars were pulled up the initial lift hill via a chain mechanism, brought to the top and released so


cars could freely ride the track down the initial drop – so lift hills, chain lifts, and drops are all roller coaster elements. These first coasters didn’t have many other elements other than these and a turn which brought the cars back towards the station and a brake to stop the car.


As roller coaster building brought us more thrilling rides the elements started become more elaborate

trying to give the rider a heightened thrill. As wooden coasters became more thrilling, steel coasters were created which were able to have even more thrilling elements created for them. Ultimately newer types of roller coasters would be developed which combined the two types of structures called hybrids and they would have even more thrilling elements. All of these elements would be sought out by enthusiasts all over the world.

Wooden Roller Coaster Elements

What may have started as ride with simple elements has become more and more elaborate giving riders amazing thrills. Here are some of the most notable wooden coaster elements:

  • Banked Turn – the original purpose of a turn was to bring the cars back in the direction of the station to end the ride and were made more thrilling by the tightness of the arc forcing people to shift in the cars in the opposite direction. Banked turns are turns where the track will tilt making the car “lean into” the direction of the turn. This was created to lessen the force of the turn and minimize the pushing of the riders to the opposite side of the car. As time went on, however, the angle of the bank become steeper which made the turn a bit more thrilling
  • Helix – a helix is a spiral turn that goes at least 360 degrees (on full revolution) allowing the car to pick up speed creating more forces. Helices can either ascend or descend and can have more than one revolution.
  • Double Down – this is a type of drop that instead of going straight down, it flattens down midway through the drop and then drops again. This allows you to feel the forces twice in one drop.
  • Headchopper – this element is found mostly on track layouts that wind around themselves and go in between and under the supports of the roller coaster. It is made to have you ride under the structure giving the illusion that you are close enough to it, hence the name.

Steel Roller Coaster Elements

With the invention of steel coasters as an alternative to wooden ones, the possibility of new elements that wouldn’t be possible on wooden coasters was borne.

  • Vertical Loop – the most common type of element which is a single inversion where the car travels upward and completes a 360 loop and travels back down. Originally they were made circular, but they are more common in the inverted teardrop shape as it allows for more successful loop.
  • Non-Inverting Loop – this is similar to a vertical
    loops but when the car reaches the peak of the loop the track twists around itself
  • Corkscrew – similar to a vertical loop this inversion will bring riders around 360 degrees, at least once, but unlike the vertical loop you remain going forward (the same direction) for the entire circuit. Think of it as a stretched out vertical loop.
  • Cobra Roll – named because it looks similar to a cobra’s head. This element begins with the first half of a vertical loop, which enters a tight corkscrew perpendicular to the direction the train was originally traveling when it entered. As the corkscrew completes, it immediately enters another tight corkscrew that twists back in the opposite direction, which merges into the second half of a vertical loop that was cut off before. The train exits parallel to the entrance but traveling in the opposite direction. The element takes riders upside-down twice.
  • Dive Loop – another fun inversion element starts with a heartline twist where the track goes immediately upside down, hanging the riders in the car, and then completes what would be the second half of a vertical loop. Very sudden and exciting.

Other Roller Coaster Elements

  • Dive Drop – these are usually found on winged coasters (the cars sit on either side of the track) and are like dive loops, but happen right after the train comes off the lift hill where it immediately flips over and does the second half of a vertical loop. It brings you an exciting element ride from the start.
  • Pretzel Loop – these are found on flying coasters (the cars are suspended from tracks and you are “lying down” facing the ground to simulate flying). It consists of a downward half loop and upward half loop. The entrance and exit points of the loop overlap at its peak forming a shape resembling a pretzel. The forces that you experience on the downward part of the loop are very exciting.
  • Splashdown – this element causes water to splash up when the car hits a straight length of track that is over water. This can be either a real splashdown where the car is partially submerged and pushes the water up or the car doesn’t enter the water, but as two fins or scoops that go below the base of it which catch the water and make it spray. While it doesn’t change the ride experience, it is visually interesting.

What Will They Do Next?

These are only some of the roller coaster elements you will find on your favorite rides – there are many more. As roller coaster manufacturers create more intense and exciting experiences you’ll soon find even more of these, many that will make your heart skip a beat.

Have you been on any rides with these elements? Share your experiences or tell us about the ones you


really like in our comments section below.

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