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Booster Bike - Vekoma's world premiere  

A feature by Nils Graef

In voller Fahrt

The world debut of Vekoma Rides Manufacturing's Motorbike coaster started with ear-battering noise of engines. Since July 2004 the Booster Bike accelerates kickstart-like into a unique racing spectacle at the Magic Forest, the new area of Toverland in Sevenum, Netherlands.

Download - Vekoma Rides Manufacturing's Booster Bike Simulation created by the well known NoLimits coaster software using the original sketches and data

Always looking for new, adrenaline pumping ride experiences the well-known Dutch roller coaster company Vekoma Rides Manufacturing developed a modern homage to the more than 100 years old tradition of the Steeplechase rides. The first such race track was opened at Coney Island in New York. Two horse chaises made a neck-and-neck race along two parallel tracks, their riders sitting tight in their saddles. Further copies followed, among them one at Knott´s Berry Farm, California in 1976. This variant was manufactured by Arrow Dynamics and featured motorbikes (!) instead of the traditional horses.

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Left: Caroline Maessen, director of Toverlande, is looking forward to her first run

Vekoma Rides Manufacturing's version is the result of more than two years of conceptional and engineering efforts. The classic Steeplechase concept wasn't just copied, but consequently enhanced to a modern, lively product: Today the top speed is a little higher than 70 kph instead of 30 kph, and the race became a collective hunt on a train consisting of 16 stylized motorbikes. Strong accelerations and extreme banking mark the potential of the Booster Bike. In addition, the seating position and the restraint system have been optimized to carry persons between 140 centimeters and two meters in a smooth and safe way.

The absolute highlight of the almost 600 meters long wyvern is the catapult launch: On a horizontal segment of just 40 meters the train is accelerated to its top speed in 2.8 seconds. This can (almost) bear comparison with the "horse power" of real motorbikes.

This first edition of the Motorbike Coaster however is far from reaching the limits of what is technically feasible: "The Booster Bike is a junior version of our new roller coaster concept - it is supposed to be fun for the whole family", Jo Nijsen from Huisman-Itrec, the parent company of Vekoma Rides Manufacturing, explains. "Our hydraulic launch is by far not exhausted." And the Booster Bike is not only the debute of the motorbike concept, but the first ride from Vekoma Rides Manufacturing with a hydraulic launch, too.

High speed banked curve

Comparable catapult launches were so far only offered by Swiss Intamin AG. The best-known representative with this drive system is Top Thrill Dragster at Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio. In contrast to the new development at Intamin, Vekoma Rides Manufacturing uses the drive system from their parent company Huisman-Itrec that has been proven and tested for offshore applications for over 15 years: "Those are the same engines we use on our vessels and offshore cranes. Only the gear transmission ratio between the engines and the propulsion winch has been changed. Instead of the ability to stabilize heavy loads, a roller coaster needs pure speed. Usually our systems run at five meters per second, for the Booster Bike it's 20 meters per second", Jo Nijsen adds.

After the magnetic LIM and LSM launches the future will definately belong to the hydraulic power units: "There are no costly power supply lines or transverters needed for this system, and the handling is quite easy", Nijsen points out. "While our LSM coaster at Six Flags Holland reaches a peak demand of more than two megawatts, the pump system of the Booster Bike only needs 140KW, which is less than a tenth." The reason is rather simple: The hydraulic pumps work continuously and pump oil into a pressure tank between the launches. So by-and-by an energy potential is built up. This energy is stored as pressure in a combined nitrogen/oil system. The gas is compressed so that it lets the oil rush through the pipes and the engines in a burst after opening the valves. With this the train can be accelerated in a catapult manner. Via a winch the engines drive a pusher car. The train hooks into this pusher car before the launch, and it automatically releases after reaching the maximum speed. For one launch sequence about 100 liters of oil are needed, which are brought back into the pressure tanks afterwards by the pumps via a closed pipe circuit.

Horseshoe

Behind huge buildings of Toverland with its stylised and "living" forest theme, the visitors encounter the steel structure of this technical "monster" that positively came into life. "The Booster Bike was a purely technical thing the forest recaptured by means of magic and natural strength", explains Arndt Grutke, the responsible designer of the German agency goldorange. So for example the station can no longer curb the large twiners.

In other respects it seems functional, but it lacks an ergonomic way to enter the train. Every rider has to climb over one of the stylized motorbikes, either when entering or leaving the train. This drawback is more than compensated by the perfectly optimized restraint system. After taking the seat - the legs are slightly spread backwards, the feet placed on a base plate and the upper part of the body is bent forwards - the stepless handle bar is pulled up, which via a mechanical linking causes an extensive clamp in the back area to lower and fixation of the thighs by two additional, separate functional areas. The development of the restraint system has been attended by TUV Munich and offers a convenient and safe seating position for all sizes.

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Toverland Preview: Three new rides including Vekoma's Motorbike Coaster premiere

Gerstlauer Bobsled Coaster at Klotten - Another 2004 highlight in the mid-segment

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A brief safety check of the operator, then the high speed adventure starts off in a sportive-classical manner: Even on leaving the station the decibel-teemed engine is howling - this is of course an artificial soundscape; the ride itself as well as the hydraulic engine are almost whisperingly quiet. Slowly the train glides through an S-curve and comes to a stop on a horizontal piece of track. In the distance the riders see what they will be heading towards, for the first camelback instantly follows the launch track. Once the train is hooked into the pusher car it takes only seconds until the kickstart sets off, while once again ear-battering noise of engines hums from the speakers.

Booster Bike facts

World premiere of Vekoma Rides Manufacturing's Motorbike Coaster system

Height

15 meter

Length

590 meter

Top speed

~ 75 kph

Max. vertical acceleration

2,5g

Max. horizontal acceleration

0,7g

Ride time

60 seconds

Train

1 with 16 motorcylce seats

Manufacturer

Vekoma Rides Manufacturing

Inauguration

Juli 27th, 2004

Link of Toverland's official website

Sketches: Vekoma Rides Manufacturing / goldorange

Camelback

A hefty hitch seizes the train, and less than three seconds later the 16 motorbikes climb towards the sky to float along a vast arc over the first hill. The last rows even offer some light airtime, albeit they never reach negative Gs. A curve close to the ground follows, directly merging into a horseshoe. With 15 meters this element marks the highest spot of the track. But for a sporty motorbike trip the speed at this point seems too low. The following horizontal loop close to the ground and an S-curve with a speedy turnabout are far more convincing. Two further camelbacks parallel to the launch track mark the end of the trip. 40 seconds after the launch the Booster Bikes are smoothly decelerated by magnetic brakes. This interesting and in this kind unique coaster trip makes you long for more!

Jo Nijsen of Huisman-Itrec looks optimistically into the future with regards to the Motorbike Coaster: Further installations will most likely open up for the next season, for the international interest is quite high. Further studies presented on the trade shows reach from dueling tracks to motorbikes with sidecars to accomodate even the youngest riders.

There is quite a leeway for higher speeds and more intense ride experiences. Unfortunately the potential of the motorbike design is a little underachieved at Toverland. But this is not too astonishing, looking at the target audience of this upcoming park close to the border between Germany and the Netherlands which mainly consists of families with smaller children. Their demands are surely satisfied by the present layout. After all, the Motorbike coaster is a quantum jump regarding the ride experience. The seating position in the saddle directly catapults the rider into the coaster trip: Boarding, buckling up, hands onto the handlebar and taking off - Only a helmet isn't necessary...

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