Theme Park Insider's glossary of roller coaster definitions

August 16, 2019, 11:46 AM · Per reader request and to celebrate National Roller Coaster Day, we are building a roller coaster glossary to help new fans understand all the terms that we throw around here to describe our favorite thrill rides.

We will start with some of the major coaster types, but I would like to invite readers to submit or request additional definitions, in the comments. I will use those to update the main post as the week goes on. Example videos follow most definitions.

Hyper coaster: A coaster with a drop of 200 feet or more. Manufacturer Bolliger and Mabillard described its hyper coasters as "high speed, no inversion coasters specially designed to create air time."

Mega coaster: Manufacturer Intamin's name for its model of hyper coasters.

Giga coaster: A hyper coaster with a drop of 300 feet or more.

Strata coaster: A coaster with a drop of 400 feet or more.

Inverted coaster: A coaster where the train is mounted under the track. (Think of a ski lift.)

Inversion: Any track element in which riders are upside down.

Suspended coaster: An inverted coaster where the train is mounted to the track via a fulcrum or hinge. Suspended coaster trains feel like they are swinging below their track.

Flying coaster: A coaster where guests ride in a prone position, usually on trains mounted under the coaster track.

Wing coaster: A coaster where the seats are mounted on the sides of the track.

4D coaster: A wing-style coaster where the seats rotate as the train moves along the track.

Spinning coaster: A coaster where train cars spin atop their track mountings. The spinning can be a function of weight and gravity or programmed.

Floorless coaster: A coaster with traditional seating but no floor between rows, allowing riders' feet to dangle above the track. A temporary floor rises from the "pit" below the coaster in the station to allow riders to board and depart the train.

Stand-up coaster: A coaster without seats, where riders stand against back supports, upon which their over-the-shoulder restraints are mounted.

Dive coaster: A coaster with a 90-degree vertical drop where riders face straight down for a hold before the drop. This is typically associated with a specific Bolliger & Mabillard model (shown below), but other manufacturers now use the term.

Launch coaster: A coaster that achieves its speed from some form a mechanical launch rather than being dragged up a lift by a chain to use the conversion of potential to kinetic energy to move the train.

Wooden coaster: One where the track and its supports are made of wood rather than steel.

Hybrid coaster: A coaster with a mix of wood and steel, typically with a steel track atop wood supports, but it can be the opposite, too.

Family coaster: A coaster with a relatively low height restriction, smaller hills, and no inversions.

Replies (9)

August 16, 2019 at 12:22 PM

A lot to unpack here, because some of these don't necessary meet the definitions accepted by many roller coaster enthusiasts. I'm not sure if TPI needs to get into the weeds here, but we probably need to be a little more specific and nuanced with these definitions.

Inverted versus suspended coasters - By the definitions provided, all suspended coasters could also be categorized as inverts. Most enthusiasts draw a clear line between these 2 coaster styles, and while very few suspended coasters exist anymore, it's important to note that it is the swinging component that sets suspended coasters apart. Also, inverted coasters leave riders' feet dangling, with suspended coasters having floored cars.

Hyper/mega/giga - With more and more coasters going higher and higher, I think it's important to be very specific here. "Mega" is a specific model of coaster from Intamin, and should not be used as an official term as it would create an additional subset of coasters that does not need to be separated from other manufacturers (Arrow and Morgan hypers are similarly very different from B&M's but are lumped into the same category with Intamins, Giovanolas, and all the rest). The most important thing here is that the terms (along with "strata") are only used to define the drop thresholds (hyper=>200 feet, giga=>300, and strata=>400 feet). When used alone, they typically refer to coasters with ZERO inversions, but can be used with other terms like the Hyper-hybrid Steel Vengeance. Steel Curtain is technically a "hyper-coaster" but is not marketed as such because of its 9 inversions.

Wing coaster should include a note that the seats don't rotate so as to not be confused with 4-D coasters.

Dive Coaster - with so many coasters featuring vertical and beyond vertical first drops (like Maverick and Fahrenheit, which are most definitely not "dive coasters"), the definition of this coaster type needs to be more specific. A dive coaster not only includes a vertical or beyond vertical drop, but includes some type of hold or slowing at the top with the vertical drop being the most prominent feature of the ride, differentiating it from other types of coasters.

While RCDB categorizes wood track on steel supports as a "hybrid" coaster, the use of the term among enthusiasts is almost exclusively to describe what RMC is producing today (like Steel Vengeance, Twisted Timbers, Twisted, Colossus, etc...). Calling a coaster like Voyage a "hybrid" is a bit misleading, as it rides like and is most often compared to traditional wooden coasters. RMC hybrids are a class of their own, and not really comparable to any other type of coaster (wood or steel).

August 16, 2019 at 1:45 PM

I agree with much of what Russell says. On the subject of mega coasters, this definition extends beyond Intamin. Lagoon describes Cannibal, designed and built in-house, as a mega coaster. Also, I don't think that the definition of a family coaster is accurate in terms of having no inversions. The two outstanding Mack coasters to open during the last year and a half, Time Traveler and Copperhead Strike, feature inversions but are nevertheless family friendly. They certainly fit much better into the category of family coasters than the category of aggressive thrill rides or even high thrill rides. Russell's point about hybrids is well taken. A good example from my recent coaster history is Mine Blower at Fun Spot America in Kissimmee. Like The Voyage, this coaster features a wooden track with steel supports but rides the way only a woodie can ride so is for all intents and purposes a wooden coaster.

August 16, 2019 at 1:46 PM

Steeplechase - a single rail single car train floorless coaster. Rare in modern times, but typically themed as a horse race (or similar) in a racing layout. (Eg - Steeplechase at Blackpool Pleasure Beach)

Skycoaster - not a roller coaster. Typically an up charge attraction or stand alone ride. A good way to seperate tunes from their money.

Racing coaster - any coaster where trains leave at the same time from multiple stations to “race” through the course. When the Coaster is a singe contiguous track (ie trains loading at station A unload at B, whilst trains loading at B unload at A) this is a Mobius Strip racing type (And is also rare in modern times - example, the Grand National at Blackpool)

August 16, 2019 at 1:46 PM

Happy National Roller Coaster Day! Since August 16 is celebrated in theme parks and amusement parks in multiple countries, perhaps it's time to rename this "International Roller Coaster Day":)

August 16, 2019 at 2:34 PM

To throw an additional wrench in the works, I would separate "family coaster" from "family friendly coaster." To me, a "family coaster" is one without the major elements that scare kids (or some adults) with inversions topping that list. But there are other coasters, such as the ones Bobbie listed, that exist in a "family friendly" space between actual family coasters and extreme ones. (YMMV in your own family, of course.)

But Russell is correct in that many of these terms are imprecise, and family coaster (which I almost did not include in this list) might be the most imprecise of them all.

August 19, 2019 at 9:49 AM

Robert- Even with the possible necessity of fine-tuning these definitions, this still goes a long way in helping readers understand what's out there. As this list becomes more refined it will become even more useful. Thanks, and Happy Roller Coaster Day!

August 16, 2019 at 4:19 PM

I just wish we could all come to agreement on what is and what is not a Roller Coaster. By "we" I'm really talking about ride manufactures a bit, but mostly park publicist and marketing teams.
A roller coaster can be a lot of things, but paramount is the fact that vehicles travel purely via gravity along a course. How that vehicle reached velocity can be achieved a number of ways including lifts and launches, but at some point, the vehicle is traveling along the course because of gravity.
This means Rides like Six Flags over Georgia's THE JOKER Chaos Coaster and SeaWorld San Diego's Tidal Twister should not be called roller coasters. They are still valuable attractions in a park and make up a valuable component to draw in fans, but calling them roller coaster damages guest expectations.

August 16, 2019 at 4:41 PM

This is a good start. While some of the definitions are a bit simple, I think it's better to keep it that way so that the coaster illiterate can easily understand the terminology. Here are a few I'd add:

-Enclosed: A roller coaster built within a structure designed specifically to house the ride. Such coasters often have dark ride elements and other special effects, but may simply occur in darkness. Coasters at an indoor park are not considered enclosed as they are not separated from the rest of the park's attractions by a ride-specific structure.

-Racing: A coaster featuring two tracks that run parallel to each other for a majority of the course, allowing to trains to race. A racing coaster where the track forms one single loop is a mobius racer. Coasters with two tracks that do not primarily run parallel (such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds) are not racing coasters.

-Shuttle: A roller coaster without a complete circuit track. Shuttle coasters run forward and backward along the same stretch of track.

-Powered: A coaster that is driven throughout the course by motors attached to the train rather than by gravity.

-Bobsled: A coaster utilizing a trough through which trains freely travel. Bobsled coasters resemble a water slide but use wheeled carts instead of water and rafts.

-Kiddie Coaster: A small coaster designed primarily for children that may or may not accommodate adult riders.

As for the family coaster debate, I usually think of family coasters as relatively low intensity rides that most small children would not be afraid to ride, such as most Disney coasters or something on the scale of a wild mouse. Thrill coasters are major coasters that even adults may think twice about. However, there exists a category between them: family thrill coasters, which are rides containing the elements of a thrill coaster yet an intensity level similar to a family coaster. Incredicoaster is a good example of what I'd define as a family thrill has high speeds, large drops, and an inversion, but it is not an aggressive or highly forceful ride.

August 17, 2019 at 8:36 AM

I would add that an inversion is when the track is banked more than 135°, as I've witnessed a lot of arguing whether a specific element counts as an inversion or not. For example the 121° Stengel Dive on Goliath at Walibi Holland, which isn't an inversion, as opposed to Untamed's 140° stall, which does count as an inversion.

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