Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Ride Roundup

Like most coaster enthusiasts I couldn't wait to get to Kings Island in 2000 when they debuted Son of Beast. It would shatter most records for wooden coasters- the tallest, fastest, longest drop. Most significantly, it would be the only wooden coaster on earth with a loop! It was enough to give even its predecessor The Beast, still my all-time favorite coaster, a run for its money.

It took a while but eventually I got there and rode Son of Beast. And I loved it! I thought it was the new best ride to come along in ages. The whole world unanimously disagreed with me though, from coaster fan sites to most of my friends and family. Everyone who rode it said it was far too rough and they got battered and bruised. Maybe my natural padding protected me from injury. I couldn't get enough of SOB- fast and scary, great helix action. I think I rode it three times the first day and a couple more times on my next visit.

Sadly, in July SOB had a structural failure. A support beam cracked, causing a dip in the track. When a loaded train hit the dip it was jolted to a sudden stop, injuring 27 riders.

After a state-ordered shutdown and much inspection and analysis, the park recently announced that the coaster will reopen in 2007 minus the loop, which has already been removed. According to Screamscape:
The loop on Son of Beast is widely considered the smoothest portion of track on the entire coaster, so it’s ironic that it has to go. They are removing the loop so that they can buy more standard wooden coaster trains instead of the custom ultra heavy trains built just for Son of Beast designed to handle the loop. According to Maureen Kaiser (park spokesperson) using new lighter trains, “will reduce the load on the physical structure and lead to a more comfortable ride experience.”

Coaster enthusiasts online are saying that since the ride is so rough, removing the loop makes SOB completely pointless. Message boards are rife with speculation about whether the layout can be altered so it's still an interesting ride, or whether the park should just dismantle it altogether. Since it cost an estimated $20 million to build, I wouldn't look for the wrecking ball anytime soon.

Admittedly, I thought the loop was there strictly for novelty and didn't add much to the ride. But as SOB's lone defender, I'm sad to see a unique coaster lose its one distinctive feature. Let's hope the designers get it right next time.