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Roller coaster moments that defy physics

Matt N

CF Legend
Hi guys. Roller coasters are dictated by physics; the Newtonian laws of motion are the main thing guiding the roller coaster’s design. So by nature, you’d expect the way in which roller coasters feel and ride to be fairly predictable, and explainable using some basic Newtonian principles. However, that explanation is sometimes a lot harder to fathom. Sometimes, a roller coaster just does something that feels like it shouldn’t be possible within that context. Sometimes, coasters produce a true blinder of a sensation that has you struggling to find the physics-based justification of why it happens. So my question to you today is; what roller coaster moments, or roller coasters more generally, seemingly defy physics, in your view?

Of course, nothing can actually defy physics, because Newton’s Laws of Motion dictate the very world we live in and why roller coasters move in the way they do, but I’m referring to those coasters that produce moments that really flummox you. Those coasters that produce moments that feel like they shouldn’t feel like they do when taking into account info about the ride and the general principles of physics. These moments just defy any scientific explanation and really confuse you when trying to work out the physics behind them.

I’ll get the ball rolling with my suggestion.

This might seem like a strange choice, but a coaster that stands out as seemingly defying physics of the ones I’ve ridden is actually one of my first ever roller coasters; Runaway Mine Train at Alton Towers. Now I can sense your funny looks at the fact that I’ve nominated a Mack powered coaster from 1992 as “defying physics”, but hear me out. The moment I’m referring to in particular is that helix into the Congo River Rapids tunnel. RCDB states that RMT’s top speed is only 22.4mph, yet to me, that helix feels faster than any moment on Thirteen across the park, which allegedly goes nearly double the speed. And even though this helix is not especially big at all, it feels as though you accelerate at a stupidly fast rate given its size, and pull a surprising amount of g-force; how those sensations are even possible given RMT’s alleged top speed and the height of that particular helix, I have absolutely no idea!

But what roller coaster moments, or roller coasters in general, defy physics in your view?


Mega Poster
Seems to build up more speed than possible going down that small dip before the first corkscrew.

Boardwalk Bullet
Never been on it, but the videos I have seen give off a good impression of pacing and I am always surprised how it keeps it's momentum going.

B&M Dive Coasters
For the opposite reasoning of the prior two, Dive Coasters seem to lose speed very quickly, now this is probably due to the larger trains, but still it always a bit odd they can do a few elements and burn out all of their energy.


Mega Poster
The crest of the first launch of Ride to Happiness. Not the world’s most powerful launch (it’s a Mack) but holy bejesus at the top of the hill without upstop wheels I’m convinced you would enter orbit. Now maybe it’s because it’s a pretty sharp transition from near vertical to flat, but the alternative is that it does defy physics and is actually like -9G.


Mega Poster
I'm always amazed by how Outlaw Run goes from hauling *** through the wave turn and the following airtime hill, but then crawls into the brakes. I realize it is going uphill, but it still feels like the friction coefficient spontaneously shoots through the roof as soon as you enter the double heartline roll.


Giga Poster
I'm sure @Howie will vouch for me here, and it may not necessarily be a 'defying physics' moment, but Psyke Underground.

It's a proper head masher.

Exiting the vertical loop on the back row feels seriously trippy.

Pretty much every time we exited the vertical loop and levelled out, I'd be fully convinced I was somehow facing downwards (up the vertical spike) and about to drop down.

It's weird. But brilliantly weird.


Donkey in a hat
Ha ha, that's weird Josh - I had this half written comment from earlier, which I never got round to posting cos I got distracted by something, but yeah, exactly that.
This is what I'd written:
"Psyké Underground does this weird thing, I don't know if anyone else has had this experience, but on the return journey when you're going backwards, as you exit the loop and return to the level section of track, it totally feels as though you're going up, as if you've already hit the spike at the back end. It's not until you fly through the station that your senses 'recalibrate' and you realise you are, in fact, horizontal... and then you actually climb the spike. This wasn't just a one-off, it happened every time. @Sandman said the same thing. Tis most bizarre."

How spooky is that? 😮 Great minds and all that.

The Voyage is also a good shout. As said earlier, the MCBR is... like, at ground level, so where on earth does it get all that momentum from in the 2nd half? I still don't quite understand it.

Finally, Steel Vengeance' first inversion. On video it looks fast, forceful, whippy, possibly even violent, but onride it's just beautifully weightless, fluid and floaty to the point of being surreal. It really startled me on my first go, I distinctly remember bracing myself for murderous brute force which just didn't come, we floated through it with no drama whatsoever. Amazing element.


Giga Poster
Nemesis is a good contender. I know it gradually goes down and uses terrain to its advantage but it sure does not feel like the total height difference is 105 feet. And where does that sudden intensity and speed come from? Witchcraft!

Rob Coasters

Mega Poster
I would say in a strange way Dragon at Legoland Windsor. It should not be possible for a train to lose speed THAT quickly.

Also, Millennium at Fantasy Island. The engineering required to pull off a coaster of that scale with such little intensity, and for the coaster to be that smooth after 20 years is mind-boggling.


Hyper Poster
There’s this bit of sloped straight track going into the tunnel between the loop and the immelmann on OzIris that feels like the train is suddenly hitting a booster pad and doubling its speed. Catches me off-guard every time.

Matt N

CF Legend
I thought of another one that completely defies explanation to me. This is more of a general ride type than a particular coaster, but; how is it that B&M Hyper Coasters manage to provide such consistently strong airtime throughout the train?

I know this seems like a slightly stupid thing to ask, but to me, it completely defies explanation. On many coasters with airtime that I’ve done, the airtime tends to be distinctly stronger on one extreme end of the train, or possibly both if you’re lucky, and the middle tends to be somewhat weaker.

However, B&M Hyper Coasters defy this rule, from my experience. Regardless of what seat you’re sat in, these coasters deliver phenomenal airtime!

As it’s my most ridden B&M Hyper Coaster by some margin (10 rides on SS compared to 3 on Mako, and I did SS in a variety of different rows, including front, back and middle), I’ll use Silver Star as an example to explain what I mean.

My first ride on Silver Star was in row 5, so slap bang in the middle. As such, I was thinking “oh, this might be a bit weak”, but my oh my; it still delivered phenomenal airtime over every hill! Those parabolic hills in the first section still provided phenomenal sustained airtime, and the post-MCBR section really delivered as well!

There are quite a few airtime moments on Silver Star that look as though they’d be very orientated towards the back row, such as the first drop and the ejector in the post-MCBR section. These were absolutely phenomenal in the back as expected, but I did ride the front row with a degree of trepidation due to SS (seemingly) having many back row focused moments. “Many of Silver Star’s airtime moments look more back row focused, so I’m not sure the front will be as good”, I thought as I sat down on the front. However, it was still every bit as good as the back! Somehow, the first drop still managed to get me flying out of my seat, the big hills in the first half were sublime, and even the post-MCBR section still provided wonderful kicks of airtime like in the other rows! As such, Silver Star is one of few coasters where I would really struggle to pick a favourite row; I initially thought it was the front, but then I rode again in the back and that was just as good, so I really couldn’t decide!

The sensations undeniably differ somewhat between the front and the back (on the big camelbacks, for instance, the front pushes you over them whereas the back pulls you over them), but the sensations in each row are equally phenomenal as they are on any other!

To me, that completely defies explanation; how on Earth did B&M manage to make it so that even moments that look as though they’d be very back row orientated still deliver on the front, and vice versa? I remember Mako producing very similar feelings when I first rode that; that’s still my number 1 coaster, and one overriding memory of mine from that ride came from the initial seconds after the lift hill, when I plummeted down the first drop. I was sat in row 2 for my first ever ride on Mako, so pretty close to the front, yet I was still yanked out of my seat with stronger airtime than most coasters provide on the very back row; I was asking myself “I’m in row 2… how on Earth am I flying out of my seat so much down this first drop? This normally only happens on the back!”.


Strata Poster
Intamin mega lites (and the Mack version) just seem keep up an impressive speed throughout the course.

also pinfari Rc40s (space coaster at m n ds and the coaster at wicksteed) - there's no way such a small, gentle looking ride should be so painfull to ride!


Hyper Poster
In my limited experience, the two most wtf-moments are the stall on Zadra and the wave-turn/twist-and-shout on Iron Gwazi.

Neither make sense.