CoasterSpeak: Roller Coaster Terms A to D

A Glossary of Roller Coaster Definitions

What's your favorite type of coaster? Inverted? Suspended? Multi-element linear induction shuttle? Say what? In the old days, wood coasters were fairly standard, and you didn't need to know a heck of a lot of buzzwords to be conversant. With today's technology and design expertise, new varieties of coasters complicate matters considerably. Following is a handy glossary to help you decode the thrills.

A through D

A

Airtime

Anti-Rollback Device
You know that "click-clack-click" sound you hear when traditional roller coasters climb the first hill? It is caused by "dogs" under the cars that ratchet into place and prevent the trains from falling back down the hill in the event of a lift chain failure.

B

Bank (or Banked Curve)
When the track causes the cars to lean in one direction. In a curve, it can be used to reduce the sensation of riders being thrown to the side of the car.

Barrel Roll
Taken (as many coaster elements are) from airplane acrobatic maneuvers. Indicates a complete sideways twist.

Block
A necessity on coasters that run more than one train of cars. Refers to a section of track that can be blocked from others using brakes. Built-in safety systems prevent collisions by allowing only one car to enter a block at any one time.

Bobsled
As the name suggests, bobsled coaster cars don't sit on a track but navigate through a course much like a rider would on a waterpark slide.

Boomerang
A type of shuttle coaster found at many parks that sends its cars first forward, then backwards through the same circuit.

Brake Run
A section of track with brakes built in to it used to slow a train before it returns to the loading platform at the end of a run.

Bunny Hops (Also called Camelbacks)
A series of short hills, usually towards the end of a run, designed to induce brief bursts of airtime.

C

Camelback (See Bunny Hops)

Catapult (or Launched)
The use of linear induction motors, powered pneumatic tires, compressed air or anything else ride designers can come up with to launch coaster trains from a standing start. An alternative to a traditional chain lift system.

Chain Lift
The device that lifts the train of cars to the top of the first hill. From there, gravity takes over.

Corkscrew
A coaster element, so named because the track looks like the thing you use to remove wine corks. Causes the train to twist completely around, often two times in a row.

Cyclone
A coaster that turns and twists into itself. Named after Coney Island's famous woodie. As opposed to an out-and-back coaster. Also known as a twister coaster.

D

Dark Ride
Generic term used to describe any park attraction that moves riders through an indoor environment. Enclosed coasters, such as Space Mountain, are dark rides.

Dead Spot
A portion of a coaster ride, typically near the end, where the forces seem to peter out.

Diving Coaster
As the name implies, diving coasters climb a lift hill, momentarily hang precariously at the top, and then dive 90 degrees (that's straight down folks).

Double Out and Back
An "out and back" coaster whose track follows a similar route for a second time.

Double Down Drop
A drop that is immediately followed by a second drop. Passengers generally Aren't able to anticipate the second drop.

Dueling Coaster (or Racing)
A coaster with two tracks and two sets of trains that are launched together and "duel" or "race" one another to the finish.

E through I

E

Element
The generic word for the turnarounds, corkscrews and other effects designed into coasters.

Elevator Cable Lift
Instead of a traditional chain lift, coasters with elevator cable lifts (which use a technology similar to the mechanisms found in building elevators) move considerably faster up their lift hills--and do not exhibit the click-clack-click of a chain lift's anti-rollback device.

ERT (Exclusive Ride Time)
The special "members-only" time parks establish for coaster clubs or other groups to ride coasters.

Euro-Fighter
A model name of a coaster manufactured by the German ride company Gerstlauer. They feature single-car trains, 90-degree (straight up) lift hills, and "beyond vertical" (greater than 90 degrees) first drops. An example of a Euro-Fighter coater is Dare Devil Dive at Six Flags Over Georgia.

F

Family Coaster (or Junior)
A generally more tame ride than the thrill-seekers' behemoths.

First Drop
The initial and (generally) the biggest and fastest descent on a coaster.

Floorless
A coaster whose train has no floor. Essentially "flying seats," the train sits above the track and riders have nothing above or below them other than the seat itself.

Flying Coaster
On first-generation flying coasters, the seats recline into a prone position and face backwards so that when the train inverts, riders are in a superhero-like flying position.

The cars include harness-type safety restraints that can be a bit unnerving at first. The seats on later models simply pivot 45 degrees down in the loading station to get passengers into flying mode and leave facing forward.

Fourth Dimension
A type of coaster in which the seats are placed on the outside of the tracks and are able to spin, independent of the trains.

Six Flags Magic Mountain has two examples of fourth dimension coasters: the pioneering X2 and the more compact Green Lantern, which its manufacturer dubs a "ZacSpin" model.

Freefall
Rides that are powered up and then freefall straight down. Are they coasters? That's a matter of some disagreement as some say the 400-plus foot Superman attraction at Six Flags Magic Mountain is either one of the world's tallest roller coasters or a very tall freefall attraction.

G

G-Forces
The forces, either negative or positive, that force riders out or pin them down into their seats. Brief bursts of moderate G-forces are coaster nirvana. Too little or too much is coaster purgatory.

Giga-Coaster
If a hypercoaster refers to coasters that surpass 200 feet, what do you call ones that break the 300-foot threshold? Cedar Point and ride manufacturer, Intamin AG, coined the term, Giga-Coaster, for mold-breaker Millennium Force. Like most hypercoasters, these behemoths are built for height, speed, acceleration, and intense G-forces. While they may have highly banked turns, they generally do not have any inversions.

Grab Bars
The handles to the side or front of riders that allow them to hang on for their dear lives.

Guide Wheels
Ever wonder why coaster trains don't fly off of their tracks?

They have an extra set of guide wheels under the train that lock the cars to the track.

H

Head Choppers
A lovely expression used to describe the narrow openings into which Twister Coasters send their riders. Duck!

Heartline Roll (or Zero-G Roll)
An element in which the train twists but the riders' hearts stay roughly in line with the center of the curve.

Helix
A spiral section of track that turns into itself and is typically highly banked. It delivers high doses of lateral (side-to-side) G-forces. A double helix completes two 360-degree turns.

Hydraulic Launch
Most launched coasters use magnetic propulsion to shoot the trains out of the loading stations. Coasters such as Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster, however, use hydraulics to achieve the same effect.

Hybrid Wooden and Steel
Features a wooden structure and a steel coaster track.

See more in the overview, "What is a Hybrid Wooden and Steel Roller Coaster?".

Hypercoaster
Loosely defined as any coaster whose height exceeds 200 feet and is less than 300 feet. Generally does not include any inversions. Hypercoasters are all about height, speed, acceleration, G-forces and airtime. Especially airtime.

I

Immelmann Roll
A half-loop that inverts coaster cars for a half twist and sends them in the reverse direction. Named after a World War 1 German ace who popularized the flying maneuver.

Impulse Coasters
Uses magnetic induction to launch trains forwards and backwards up a U-shaped track. Typically, one side of the track is a spiral, and the other side is straight. The ride usually cycles through five launches, each one progressively faster.

Inverted Coaster
The train hangs underneath the tracks, but unlike a suspended coaster, it cannot pivot freely. Also, inverted coasters have no floors and riders' legs dangle. Think of a ski lift gone haywire.

Inversion
An element that turns riders upside down

Invertigo
Like a Boomerang Coaster, but with inverted trains.

J through Z

J

Junior Coaster (See Family)

L

LIM (Linear Induction Motor)
A launched coaster that uses repelling magnetic forces to shoot riders out of the station (and possibly, at several other points along the coaster's course).

Launched Coaster (Also known as Catapult)
The use of linear induction motors, linear synchronous motors, powered pneumatic tires, compressed air, hydraulics, or anything else ride designers can come up with to launch coaster trains from a standing start.

An alternative to a traditional chain lift system.

Lift Hill
Generally, the initial ascent up a coaster.

Loop
An element that sends riders up vertically, turns them over and deposits them right side up.

LSM (Linear Synchronous Motor)
A launched coaster that uses repelling magnetic forces to shoot riders out of the station (and possibly, at several other points along the coaster's course).

O

Out and Back
As the name implies, a coaster that travels out to a point, turns around and returns to the station. As opposed to a Twister Coaster.

R

Racing or Racer Coaster (See Dueling)

Runaway Mine Train
Coasters, generally Family-level, that are designed to look like mine cars. Patterned after Disney's famous Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

S

Scenic Railway
An early name for roller coasters. The included "scenic" dioramas along the route.

Shuttle Coasters
Any coaster that proceeds forward, stops, then heads backwards through the same course in reverse.

As opposed to a traditional full circuit coaster.

Side Friction Coaster
An old style of coaster that does not have guide wheels but uses wheels on the sides of the train. An example is the oldest operating coaster in the US, Leap the Dips at Lakemont Park in Altoona, PA.

Spinning Coaster
A variation on the Wild Mouse, spinning coasters feature single cars that can spin on an axis as they navigate the track.

Depending on the weight and distribution of the riders in each car, the spinning is different each ride. Primeval Whirl at Disney's Animal Kingdom is an example of a spinning coaster.

Standup Coaster
Riders stand, instead of sit, on adjustable, bicycle-type seats.

Staple or Stapling
A negative term used to describe the action of a ride operator ratcheting down a lap bar or other restraint or tightly cinching a seat belt, thereby making a rider uncomfortable. By restricting movement, overly "stapling" riders also reduces the sensation of airtime.

Strata Coaster
Cedar Point coined this term to describe its over-400 foot Top Thrill Dragster coaster.

Suspended Coasters
The train hangs beneath the tracks and freely pivots. (As opposed to rigid, floorless Inverted Coasters.)

T

Terrain Coaster
Instead of building a mass of lumber or steel on flat ground, this coaster uses the natural topography of a hilly site. The track typically hugs the ground and follows the site's terrain.

Trim Brake
The bane of coaster lovers. A brake that slows a train mid-course or at other points along the route.

Turnaround
Any element that reverses a train's direction. Typically found at the halfway point of an Out and Back Coaster.

Twister
A coaster that turns and twists into itself. As opposed to an out-and-back coaster. Also known as a cyclone coaster.

V

Valleying
The unfortunate event that occurs when a train stops in the middle of a ride because it loses momentum and gets caught between elements.

W

Wild Mouse
A coaster that sends riders in individual cars rather than a train. Often makes sharp turns. Was once quite popular, now making a comeback.

Wing (or Winged) Coaster
Instead of riding above the track, the seats on the extra-wide wing coaster trains are to the left and right sides of the track (sort of like the wings of a bird). Riders have nothing above or beneath them (and riders on the outside seats have nothing to one side of them) as they tackle the coaster's acrobatic maneuvers.

Woodie
Endearing term for a wood coaster.

Z

Zero-G Roll (See Heartline Roll)