ALLENTOWN, Pa.—When it comes to roller coasters, most of us content ourselves with the traditional: Get in a car, strap in and ride a rail as close to straight up and straight down as fast as possible.
Then there are the folks at Bolliger and Mabillard, designers of the new Talon roller coaster at Dorney Park.
For the last 10 years, the Switzerland-based company has specialized in engineering coasters that turn traditional coaster ideas upside down.
That nice, sturdy rail under your feet? Forget about it. Imagine instead being in a car suspended from above with your feet hanging free. Imagine that car coiling 360 degrees, completely around the ride's running rail.
Imagine plummeting so far so fast that your feet seem ready to scrape the ground. Imagine being taken upside down on the top of a giant loop, head under heels.
That's right. Head under heels.
In the industry, roller coasters such as Talon are called inverted coasters, and Bolliger & Mabillard invented them.
"The inverted coasters are very popular, as they create a ride experience which is completely different from standard steel or wooden coasters," says company co-founder Walter Bolliger.
B&M structural engineer Vincent Haesler compares the experience of riding an inverted coaster to being on a ski lift in the mountains.
"You have no floor under your feet. And when you have outside looping, you just face the sky, with nothing in front of you, nothing under your feet," he says. "It's like flying, yes?"
Indeed, "an unparalleled feeling of flying," as Bolliger puts it, drives everything about inverted coasters, 15 of which have been designed by B&M and built in the United States.
Most of the approximately 40 coasters in amusement and theme parks in North America have been erected only in the last half-dozen years.
For example, the B&M ride, Raptor, at Dorney's sister park, Cedar Point, in Sandusky, Ohio, opened in 1994.
Mark Sosnowsky, Dorney Park spokesman, says the South Whitehall Township park's new ride is largely based on Raptor, which is on Amusement Today's list of the world's Top Five steel coasters and has climbed as high as No. 2 on a similar list issued by the National Amusement Park Historical Association.
Dorney can't claim that Talon is the newest type of coaster design, or the nation's highest, longest or fastest of its type, Sosnowsky says. But the park does boast that the 135-foot-high Talon, with its 3,110 feet of suspended rail, is the tallest and longest inverted coaster in the Northeast.
Rather than a coaster for the record books, what the park really wanted was a coaster that delivered a first-class experience for riders, Sosnowsky says.
For designers, he says, that means walking a fine line between a ride that's different but not dangerous, and speed- and element-packed but not so fast that it goes by in a blur, or so "busy" that riders end up feeling more ill than thrilled.
Coaster enthusiasts typically rave about coasters that have two characteristics: "G-forces," times when your body feels tremendous pressure beyond that of normal gravity, and "air time," a fleeting feeling of weightlessness that many riders find euphoric.
Inverted coasters deliver those features of traditional roller coasters, plus the thrill of being taken upside down in a car suspended from above.