Six Flags' 'coasters are still a thrill

Date: 7/19/2010

July 19, 2010

By Craig Harris

Special to Reminder Publications

AGAWAM -- Roller coasters are a metaphor for life. That's the thought that came to me as I waited to take my first ride since childhood. I had spent days thinking about whether I should do it? Was it safe? Did I want to spend the money? What if I didn't like it? But, as I sat in my strapped down seat waiting to begin, I gave up all the questioning, all the doubts, all the stress. Committed to taking the ride, there was nothing to do but sit back and let whatever happened happen.

That solitary experience became an obsession, one that I've learned that is shared with coaster enthusiasts around the globe. Over the next few months, many of them will flock to New England's premier amusement park, Six Flags.

"People come from all over the world," Chuck Davis, director of maintenance and construction of Six Flags New England since 1997, said. "A lot of coaster clubs come here to ride."

Each of Six Flags New England's 20 coasters (among more than 60 rides) has its distinct flavor. Celebrating its 69th anniversary, the seven-story-high Thunderbolt is one of two wooden coasters in the park.

Batman-Dark Knight, on the other hand, is an ultra-modern, 12-story-high, floorless ride that features a pair of corkscrews, a vertical loop, a dive loop, and a zero-G roll.

Typhoon is a water coaster that takes riders on a wet and wild journey through turns, tunnels, and uphill climbs.

The majority of the excitement, though, is reserved for the recently re-christened Bizarro, a mile-long mega-coaster that's guaranteed to leave the most veteran rider speechless. A five-time recipient of Amusement Today's "Steel Coaster of the Year" award, the coaster is arguably the number-one coaster in the world.

Traveling between 50 and 77 miles per hour, a ride on Bizarro is over in less than two-and-a-half minutes. It's an experience, though, that's not easy to forget. "It's got a 220 foot lift," Davis said, "but, then, it goes down another 20 feet into one of two fog-filled tunnels. There's a spot where you crash through a billboard. There're two large flame cannons that shoot off, after you go through the second tunnel, and you can feel the heat from the propane."

Many of the ride's innovations, including the two subterranean tunnels, were the result of space restraints. "We built on the site of what used to be the Riverside Park Speedway," Davis said, "and we had to do what we did to make everything work."

Since its inception in 2000, as Superman-Man Ride of Steel, the ride has undergone continuous improvements. After its name was changed, in 2009, the track was painted purple and shield tunnels, capable of emitting lights in 26 million colors, were added. This year, two new trains of nine cars were installed.

"[The trains] have state-of-the-art audio systems," Davis said, "and they play a variety of musical themes. There are five different zones of audio (on the ride) and each adds to the riders' enjoyment."

Built on the former site of a mid-19th century picnic grove -- Gallop's Grove -- Six Flags New England has continued to expand on the legacy of the now-legendary Riverside Park. Though it includes a variety of rides, the foundation for the park remains its roller coasters. "They're what makes it all exciting," Davis said.