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China’s First “Racing” Wooden Roller-Coaster Opens
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Close up of China's new wooden roller-coaster, displaying two coaster cars with passengers
China’s first “racing” wooden coaster recently opened in the Wuhan, Hubei, China, Happy Valley amusement park. The ride features a mirrored 90-degree banked element where guests “float” sideways on either side of what one of the designers calls a “big airtime hill.” Courtesy of Martin & Vleminckx 

The Dauling Dragon—China’s first “racing” wooden coaster—has opened in Wuhan, China. This is the third wooden roller-coaster to open in the country since 2009, and a fourth is coming soon. 

July 24, 2012—China’s interest in wooden roller-coasters is growing: since 2009 three classic wooden roller-coasters have opened in local amusement parks with a fourth slated for completion in the coming year. The country’s first “racing” wooden coaster—its third wooden coaster overall—opened in the Wuhan, Hubei, China, location of a Happy Valley amusement park just a few months ago. Designed by the Gravity Group, a wooden roller-coaster design and engineering specialist firm based in Cincinnati, the coaster will soon be joined in the Overseas Chinese Town (OCT) Happy Valley chain by another wooden coaster (also designed by the firm) that is currently under construction at the chain’s Dongli, Tianjin, China, location.

The ride in Wuhan, called the Dauling Dragon, is 105 ft high, 3,915 ft long, and features a mirrored 90-degree banked element where guests “float” sideways on either side of what one of the designers calls a “big airtime hill.” “We call the element the ‘high five,’ since guests can almost give each other a high five while they pass [each other] through this feature,” says Korey Kiepert, P.E., an engineer and partner in the Gravity Group. Two 6-car trains that each carries 24 riders “race” each other as part of the ride.

The new wooden roller-coaster in Dongli, which is slated to open in 2013, will be 110 ft high and slightly longer than the Wuhan ride, measuring 3, 924 ft long. It is an “out and back” style ride, as is the Wuhan wooden roller-coaster, according to Kiepert. “An out and back is a roller-coaster that focuses more on the airtime—the weightlessness feeling.” The ride will be able to cycle 780 riders each hour with each 6-car train carrying 24 guests on each ride. 

Dauling Dragon roller-coaster shown at a distance 

The first wooden roller-coaster in mainland China was a ride that
opened in 2009 in the Shanghai location of the Happy Valley
amusement park chain. Initially, guests were wary of the ride
because it was constructed of wood, but now it is among the
most popular in the park. Courtesy of the Gravity Group, LLC 

“Wood isn’t as common a building material as it is here in the United States, and in China you see a lot of steel and concrete construction,” says Kiepert. “The first wooden roller-coaster in mainland China was a ride that we did at Happy Valley amusement park in Shanghai that opened in 2009,” he says. “When that opened, no one had ever seen a wooden roller-coaster before, and so there were people who were more terrified of the wooden roller-coaster than they were of a much taller, scarier looking steel roller-coaster.”

“It was hard to get ladies to get on the ride initially,” he notes. “They’d seen bamboo and scaffolding and things like that made out of bamboo, but a wooden roller-coaster? It was funny.” The ride in Shanghai is now one of the most popular rides at the park, he notes, but it took time for people to get used to the concept of a roller-coaster made entirely of wood. 

According to Kiepert, wood is a great material for roller-coasters, and there are historical roller-coasters in the United States that are almost 100 years old. Some maintenance is necessary, but in general the wood becomes stronger with age, he says. Southern yellow pine in particular is the wood of choice for the Gravity Group’s—and other designer’s—roller-coaster designs because it has a good strength-to-ductility ratio.

The company’s wooden roller-coaster designs are constructed of #1 grade 4 x 8 wood posts that have been bolted together in cross sections known as “bents.” Horizontal and diagonal braces are bolted to posts to form the bents, which are then erected and bolted to each other using members known as “ribbons” that join the bents together using steel plates, Kiepert explains. “That allows us to have a structure that is completely bolted together,” he notes. “Old-fashioned wooden coasters used to use smaller members and more of a nailed construction, [but] with the increasingly dynamic rides, the bolted construction provides a connection with better capacity.” 

Aerial view of the Dauling Dragon roller-coaster 

Designed by the Cincinnati-based firm the Gravity Group, the
Dauling Dragon roller-coaster, in Wuhan, China, reaches a
maximum height of 105 ft and is 3,915 ft in length. The ride is an
“out and back”-style ride that focuses on providing moments of
“weightlessness” to its riders. Courtesy of Martin & Vleminckx
 

Kiepert likens building a wooden roller-coaster to starting with a box of Legos, “because we have a series of standard pieces that exist from building our truss structure and, in general, we try to reuse those standard pieces over and over again to make different-shaped rides.” This makes it affordable for parks to purchase a unique world-class wooden roller-coaster that has been designed specifically for their park, he says, “whereas with a steel roller-coaster, every support is unique, everything that is done is custom for that one ride” so you see companies sell, and resell, the exact same steel roller-coaster 10 or 20 times to various parks.

G. Martin & A. Vleminckx Amusement Ltd., headquartered in Montreal, Canada, contracted with OCT Happy Valley in China and delivered the complete rides, in addition to supervising installation, testing, and commissioning the attractions. Martin and Vleminckx subcontracted the engineering design work to the Gravity Group.


 

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