After nearly 20 years of riding roller coasters, there’s one thing I’ve come to learn from the experiences I’ve had on these incredible machines: it matters where you sit on a roller coaster!
While the occasional roller coaster rider may simply want to get on the first available seat, roller coaster enthusiasts who tackle these wood and metal beasts on a monthly, weekly, and even daily basis know better.
Where you sit, when you ride, and even the number of people onboard all affect your roller coaster riding experience.
#1 – Riding in the front row gives you a better view.
Alright, let’s cover this right away. It’s true, the front row of a roller coaster always provides the best view of the action. Whether you’re hurtling toward earth at 70 miles per hour down the first drops of the tallest roller coasters or careening through 140-foot-tall Immelmann loops, you’re going to see what’s happening much more easily when you’re in the front row of a roller coaster. Another plus? You’ll get more wind in your face, which only enhances the thrill of riding a roller coaster. A downside? Longer waits, and many amusement park front of the line pass programs don’t apply to jumping the line for the front seat on a roller coaster.
#2 – A ride in the back row of a roller coaster offers more airtime.
OK, quick physics lesson… When a roller coaster train is heading over a hill (especially a parabolic hill, which — when viewed from the side — looks like a portion of a bell curve) gravity will slow the train down as it reaches the apex, and therefore the front car of a roller coaster train will crest the hill the slowest. But, once the front car reaches the top and begins heading down again, gravity will cause the whole train to accelerate as it goes further down the hill. This action in turn pulls the second car a little faster over the precipice of the hill than the first, and the third faster than the second, and so, resulting in the last car being dragged over over the hill the fastest. Riders in those last seats will consequently experience airtime (weightlessness or nearly so) as they move over the apex of the hill and barrel down the drop.
#3 – The middle rows have the weakest ride.
Are you a roller coaster riding newbie? If you’re just itching to hop on a roller coaster but don’t think you’re quite ready for the wild ride in the front row or the incredibly enhanced gravity forces felt in the rear, consider a seat in a middle car. A ride in the middle seat often comes without the wind-in-the-face thrills of the front row, augmented sensations of weightlessness experienced in the back, and you will also feel less isolated on the roller coaster train since you will have people both in front of and behind you.
#4 – Trains loaded to capacity offer the fastest ride.
You know how long it takes a heavy railroad train to stop? Up to a mile or more! The laws of momentum are always at play on a roller coaster too, and the heavier the roller coaster train, the faster and longer it will generally move. Just for experimentation, ride a roller coaster on a light-attendance day versus on a major summer holiday — such as July Fourth (if you don’t mind waiting in a ride queue forever) — and you’ll see what I’m talking about. A fully loaded roller coaster will move faster than when only a few people are aboard. You will particularly feel the difference diving down hills, going into vertical loops, and heading through carousels.
#5 – Riding at night makes the roller coaster feel like it is moving faster.
Okay, I’ve peppered science throughout this post so far, but now I will leave the laws of gravity out of the equation and just talk about something anecdotal I’ve noticed during my nocturnal roller coaster riding experiences. The rides feel faster at night. You may think I’m silly if you haven’t ridden a roller coaster at night for yourself. But, when the sun is down, your distance perception decreases and your ability to see what’s coming up on the roller coaster track dwindles. Suddenly, the drops seem longer, the twists feel tighter, and the roller coaster you love during the day is an entirely different ride when the moon comes up and the amusement park lights are buzzing. If you get a chance to ride a roller coaster at night, it’s an experience I highly recommend.