STEEL VENGEANCE REVIEW: The World’s Greatest Roller Coaster?

I feel like pipe dreams of all sorts are pretty common with coaster fans. What if this park built this coaster from this manufacturer? What if this coaster was renovated/retracked etc. I definitely have my wishlist of things I’d like to see done in the theme park world. Occasionally though, a wish comes along that becomes ubiquitous; something nearly every coaster lover dreams of one day becoming reality. Enter Rocky Mountain Construction.

Geeking really hard for a second. As not just a roller coaster nerd, but a bit of an engineering nerd in general, what RMC is able to do with these wooden coasters is just fascinating. To be able to walk up to an existing wood structure, essentially “scan” it, design a new track profile, then re-engineer the structure to fit the new profile is so freaking cool, and I LOVE watching the whole process.

I remember when New Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas first opened. I could not stop looking up photos and videos of that ride in action, just amazed at how RMC was able to basically build a completely new coaster on top of an old one, and that went for all the conversions that followed. RMC had captivated me in a way no other roller coaster company had before, and I wasn’t the only one.

(Video by Six Flags Over Texas)

Ever since RMC, led by builder Fred Grubb and designer Alan Schilke, came out swinging with their world renowned conversions of aging wood coasters into sleek hybrid thrill machines, it seemed like all I ever saw on theme park forums, discussions, and comment sections was the wish for numerous wooden coasters to go under RMC’s knife. At the top of many lists was the infamous Mean Streak at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio.

This is really logical, because Texas Giant and Mean Streak had incredibly similar layouts, and while Six Flags had no issues converting several of their wooden coasters (Let’s face it. Six Flags isn’t exactly known for good wood coaster maintenance.), Cedar Fair seemed content with letting their woodie collection live on, and rightfully so. They own some very well regarded ones like The Beast and The Racer at Kings Island, Ghostrider at Knotts Berry Farm, Renegade at Valleyfair, and Prowler at Worlds of Fun just to name a few.

Then there was Mean Streak. A notoriously rough and boring monster of a coaster that (not so) quietly sat at the back of Cedar Point, the self proclaimed Roller Coaster Capital of the World. Initially opened in 1991, it debuted to mostly positive reviews. The ride had plenty of size and speed, and a few pops of airtime, but the fun wouldn’t last. The ride quickly became uncomfortably rough. A few portions of the coaster had to be reprofiled, and trim brakes were added to the first drop, making the trains slog through the course at not very exciting speeds. It was clear Mean Streak had lost its luster.

For the record, I never found Mean Streak to be terrible as many others did. Was it crazy exciting? No, but it was pleasant enough. It was actually one of my favorite wood coasters as a kid only because I loved riding a ride that featured such a massive wood structure. My favorite part of the ride was always the last pass through the underbelly of the first two giant turns, with thousands of wood beams surrounding you like a never ending maze of lumber. It was visually mesmerizing, and even in its later years I always had a soft spot for the ride. Plus I never minded any roughness. I especially liked that it never had a line longer than the bottom of the station stairs.

That being said, I, like the thousands of other hopeful coaster enthusiasts, wanted Cedar Point to do SOMETHING with Mean Streak. Call GCI. Call Gravity Group. Something. I even mocked up a reimagined version of the ride in No Limits just to see how the ride would improve if changed up a bit, but even after experimenting with it, I realized there wasn’t really any good way to make it super fun and thrilling while keeping it a wood coaster. Converting it to an RMC hybrid was clearly the best option, since that would for sure turn the ride into something super thrilling, while also making the ride MUCH easier to maintain in the long run.

Five years would pass after Texas Giant was first converted, and I had pretty much accepted the fact that Mean Streak as it was would stick around for a while, but then on August 1st, 2016, this video showed up on Cedar Point’s social media pages.

(Video by Cedar Point)

There it was. It was actually happening. After 25 years of operation, Cedar Point would officially close Mean Streak on September 16, 2016. Funny story. I was actually riding into Dollywood in a parking lot tram on this morning when I pulled out my phone and saw the news. It took everything in me not to scream for joy on that tram. I seriously couldn’t believe it. While RMC wasn’t confirmed at that point, I basically knew. All the signs were there. If Mean Streak was simply going to be renovated, Cedar Point wouldn’t have announced the ride to straight up close for good.

September rolls around, and after a rather humorous “funeral” for Mean Streak took place, the ride as we knew it closed forever. A few weeks later, we had confirmation. RMC’s patented steel I-Box track pieces started showing up all over the site, and that’s when my excitement for the project exploded.

Photo by TyRush on Twitter.

Up until this point, every RMC conversion had cut the length of the original ride by a considerable amount. Reason being, RMC trains use polyurethane wheels that run on steel track. Polyurethane has higher friction than the steel wheels that run on wood coaster track (steel running strips nailed to a laminated wood trackbed), meaning if RMC simply replaced the original track with steel track and didn’t change the layout, the trains would most likely either crawl through, or stall and not complete the course. Therefore to preserve speed and intensity, the rides had to be shorter in length. Also those were Six Flags conversions, and Six Flags has been known to be very frugal with their capital spending for new attractions.

THIS was a CEDAR FAIR project. Cedar Fair has no problem at all dropping $20 million plus on gigantic roller coasters. I’m a huge fan of longer rides. Mean Streak was 5,427 feet long (much longer than any RMC at that point), and I knew that Cedar Point wouldn’t be afraid kick things up a notch and preserve the ride’s length. If it was finally going to happen, this was the golden opportunity.

The 2016/17 off-season was one of the longest of my life. Cedar Point logically was VERY tight lipped about their new project, forbidding ANY unauthorized photos or videos of the park while it was closed, but of course a few pictures did leak, confirming my suspicion that Cedar Point was in fact going big, no, HUGE, with this project.

After almost a year of work, on National Roller Coaster Day, 2017, Cedar Point finally spilled the beans…

(Video by Cedar Point)

I had to pick my jaw off the floor.

  • The world’s first hyper hybrid coaster.
  • 205 feet tall.
  • 200 foot, 90 degree first drop.
  • 74 mph.
  • 4 inversions.
  • 5,740 feet long, longer than Mean Streak was.
  • 27.2 seconds of airtime, more than any other coaster in the world.

This would be RMC’s Magnum Opus. It didn’t feel real. RMC could’ve plucked this out of one of my dreams, and I would’ve believed them. I was fully on board the hype train.

After another long off-season of scavenging for every update I could find, I was on my way to The Point the first week of daily operation to ride this thing for myself, but would it live up?

Seeing this thing in person after the nearly two years of following it online was such a trip for me. Driving around Perimeter Road and seeing how massive it was up close was awesome. Unfortunately I wouldn’t get to ride it that day (the ride notably had a rough start to its life). Luckily the next morning I was up bright and early for the running of the bulls, and it was ready and waiting.

Crossing the train tracks and seeing Steel Vengeance front and center, one thing struck me right away. It didn’t even look like Mean Streak was ever there. The magnitude of work RMC did to the old ride was mind blowing, and Cedar Point did a fantastic job of beautifying the area with all the new neo-western architecture.

Cedar Point even went as far as to write a simple backstory for the ride. The idea goes that Mean Streak was once the king of Frontier Town, then Maverick came and ravaged the town and stole Mean Streak’s glory. Years later, after being banished from Frontier Town, local inventor Blackjack Chamberlain, and his cohorts, Digger and Chess, returned to the town, crafting a machine so menacing it would be sure to take back what Maverick stole from them all those years ago. It’s a story of deep vengeance, hard as steel, hence the name, Steel Vengeance.

In the queue, you can find lots of pictures of Frontier Town characters and their stories. It’s pretty fun to find and read them all, though with the fact that the storyline isn’t exactly clear to most people waiting in line plus the lack of visual theming, reading through all the character profiles feels a bit like the roller coaster equivalent of playing a text adventure game from the Commodore 64 days.

Speaking of the queue, I loved how Cedar Point put the new switchback area right next to the first drop and final bunny hills. It really builds excitement seeing the trains fly down the drop at 74 mph, RIGHT next to you. The whole ride looks extra intimidating when you’re completely surrounded by it. Also, the long stretch of queue that sat under Mean Streak’s brake run was kept with Steel Vengeance, and in some ways it’s scarier than the ride itself. I’ll just say, watch out for spiders…

The station remains largely unchanged from the Mean Streak days besides getting touched up with some paint, and here we get our first close look of the trains. Steel Vengeance’s trains are themed to look like mine cars, which work great with RMC’s trademark box car shape (though not quite as good looking as say, Twisted Cyclone’s trains). These are also RMC’s G2 trains that feature slightly larger lap bars and a completely redesigned chassis.

G1 train on Twisted Cyclone at Six Flags Over Georgia.
G2 train on Steel Vengeance. Note the extra beefy wheel chassis.

While RMC’s G1 cars are very much like wood coaster trains with one road, guide, and up-stop wheel mounted directly to the car body in a fixed position on each side per car, G2 trains are much more like traditional steel coaster trains. Each car features a swivel axle chassis that pivots along the centerline of the track, and each wheel assembly contains a pair of road, guide, and up-stop wheels, totaling 6 per side, per car (so 12 wheels per car, with an additional lead axle up front, totaling 84 wheels per train. G1 trains just have 42). Each assembly is also able to pitch up or down. This all ensures that the wheels will always be in line with the track, providing incredibly smooth and fluid tracking with as little friction as possible.

Ok, now finally on to the ride itself.

(Video by Cedar Point)

Rolling out of the station, we quietly cruise around a right turn that lines us up with the lift hill, but not before hitting a couple of teaser bunny hops, which actually float you out of your seat just a tad! It’s a fun way to kick off the ride before engaging the lift hill, which happens to randomly be CRAZY loud. It reminds me a lot of Son of Beast’s lift hill with its original trains; a deep, guttural sounding clacking of the anti rollback dogs right below your feet. The lift is steep and fairly quick, getting you to the top in roughly 30 seconds. The view of the park and the lake from the top is beautiful, but you’re only able to appreciate it for a few seconds before the track basically gets yanked out from underneath you.

This 200 foot, 90 degree drop starts the ride off with a bang. The train drops down so fast it almost feels like it’s catapulted down, especially in the back row, and the airtime here is as strong and sustained as you would think with a long train going down a 90 degree drop would be. What’s really crazy though is that despite probably being the most visually intimidating element for onlookers on the ground, it’s honestly one of the least interesting moments of the ride.

Steel Vengeance milks its top speed a bit by throwing you over a speed hill maybe 5 feet tall, before rocketing up and over a gigantic, uniquely shaped camelback hill. On Mean Streak, this was a simple, large fan turn. With the conversion, RMC raised the height of it by maybe 30-40 feet, and flattened the banking completely, so you rise up while curving right, straighten out at the crest, then continue curving right on the way down, so what ends up happening is you get two distinct jolts of lateral g’s to the left. One going up, and one going down. I was extremely impressed with how much speed the train has going up and over this hill despite how giant it is.

Coming out of the camelback, we come to the first truly unique element of the ride: a large, outside banked curving hill, in which the track is banked outward to the left while curving right. You would think that the lateral g’s here would be uncomfortably intense, but actually, they are almost completely cancelled out by the airtime created by the rising and falling of the track. This is probably my favorite element of the ride, because it feels just like a regular ejector airtime hill, but the fact that you’re tipped on your side and absolutely booking it up and over makes it so powerful feeling and fun.

Dropping to ground level, the train rises and levels out over a quick speed bump before rising into the first inversion, an upward zero-g roll. This zero-g roll is cool because after completing the flip, you twist right side up at the highest point before continuing your roll to the right that leads seamlessly into a banked right turn diving under the lift hill. The whole element could be described as a 450 degree roll since that’s the amount of degrees you roll before getting to the turn. It’s also probably the smoothest, most comfortable zero-g roll I’ve ever experienced. You gently float through the whole thing with what feels like no effort.

After turning under the lift, the train does a quick 90 degree banked hop before turning back under the lift hill, lining up for the second inversion, a twisted snake dive, in which the train rolls left 180 degrees before reversing direction, rolling right while diving back down to the ground. This is probably the most disorienting moment of the ride because you can’t see it coming at all, and before you know it you’ve been flipped upside down before being thrown right side up again. It happens so fast your brain almost can’t register it.

The train dips down another quick speed bump before rising into an ejector filled double up/left turn into the mid course brakes. Depending on the day, the park will either trim the train’s speed quite a bit, or not at all, so the intensity of the second half varies some, but nonetheless it still features some of the best parts of the ride, including what immediately follows the brake run.

The train does a quick curve to the left before dropping down a straight drop filled with more airtime. The bottom of this drop is one of the most underrated moments of the ride, where the track curves a little left while bottoming out, straightens out on the ground, then curves left again while diving under the big camelback and rising into the next part. You sorta get this left-right-left jig that to me is an amazing example of the little pacing nuances that RMC loves to throw in.

After traveling through a quick double up parallel to the first drop, the train speeds up and over an s-curve hill that dives into the underbelly of the structure. This is where the Steel Vengeance experience really comes into its own. With mounds of wood and steel completely surrounding you, the train travels around a fast overbanked turn that curves above the final brake run, followed by a fast and low zero-g roll to the left that comes out of freaking NOWHERE. This roll is probably my second favorite part of the ride, because you are booking it at this point and twisting so fast it turns your vision blurry.

Emerging out of the structure, you speed up and over two traditional airtime hills (the second of which includes a quick jog to the right) before plunging right into the wood structure of the outside banked hill. Here you curve left over a 90 degree banked hill. At the top of the curve the track reverses direction and curves outward for a split second, resulting in what RMC calls a “wave turn,” giving riders a quick pop of airtime while tipped on their side. Riding out of that, the train rockets through one more zero-g roll, this time to the right.

At the bottom of the roll, you reverse direction and bank left into another overbanked turn. The quick change in direction throws riders to the right in the process. Coming out of the turn, the train travels up and over a straight hill banked slightly to the right at the top, emerging from the structure and lining up for the finale: 4 small but powerful bunny hops. Each one launching riders out of their seats before rising into the final brake run and heading home.

I had the stupidest grin on my face hitting that brake run on my first ride. Just speechless. The ride is packed to the brim with so many fun elements, all taken at such amazing speed. No dead spots ANYWHERE (besides the midcourse brakes obviously), and the whole thing is so perfectly smooth. I swear there is not a single moment of vibration on the entire ride. Those swivel axle trains track so dang perfectly through all the twists and turns, I was amazed.  Did I just ride the perfect roller coaster?

It should go without saying, but roller coasters are a very subjective thing. Every coaster fan has their idea of what the perfect coaster might be, but in order to form that opinion, one has to figure out what they like and don’t like. I happen to mainly like consistent speed, quick-paced elements, variety, and length. Plus, I try not to look for “my one perfect roller coaster.” I try to enjoy many different types of coasters equally. From old school jostling woodies to multi-looping steel coasters, as well as airtime-filled hyper coasters and intense launch coasters. Each coaster type has its own strengths and weaknesses, and I like to rate each coaster I ride based on how well it plays to its strengths.

Rocky Mountain Construction’s hybrid coasters are very unique among ride types, as they combine the best of multiple coasters. Being built on a wood structure lends their layouts to feature the pacing and elements of traditional wood coasters, but their track being steel also gives them the smooth riding experience of traditional steel coasters as well as having the ability to perform inversions, so it’s a bit of an all in one situation. If there was one type of coaster that could do anything and everything both wood and steel coasters can do, it would theoretically be RMC’s I-Box coasters.

Steel Vengeance is by far RMC’s largest coaster (as of early 2019), so, given their crazy nature, that should automatically make it the best of the bunch right? Well, not so fast.

Here’s the deal. It’s one thing to build a coaster that is really tall, really long, really fast, really intense etc, but it’s what you do with those things that makes or breaks the roller coaster experience. It would’ve been really easy for RMC to design Steel Vengeance as a straight-up onslaught of violent airtime hills, twists, and inversions that would’ve left riders completely exhausted, dizzy, and probably quite sore. Several of their previous coasters, such as Wicked Cyclone, Outlaw Run, Lightning Rod, and Storm Chaser, are short rides (60 seconds or less) that are very intense to the point that they’re almost too much to enjoy (especially Storm Chaser. That ride actually hurt me). That kind of design philosophy should not be applied to a coaster twice as long. I was actually a bit concerned that Steel Vengeance would be too intense and super tiring since it was a longer ride, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case.

Steel Vengeance feels like RMC’s most well-balanced, carefully thought-out roller coaster to date. It conserves its speed just about perfectly through the entire ride, and trust me. With a ride that features a 200 foot first drop with a top speed of 74 mph, that’s important. You want that speed always being used to do something exciting, and that’s exactly what we have here.

Thanks to the natural progression of elements (starting out simple and grand, and gradually becoming more chaotic and complex by the end), the ride does not waste any of its speed. Even better, the signature RMC airtime hills are spaced out extremely well in between the twists, turns, and flips. This helps Steel Vengeance not feel repetitive or tiring in any way. Also, the overall intensity of the individual elements, while still strong, is less than what you would find on the more compact, violent RMC coasters. This is a VERY GOOD thing taking into account the duration of the coaster at just over two minutes long. Ride it once or twice, you shouldn’t feel fatigued at all. Ride it many times in a row, however, then you may start to feel pretty spent haha.

Steel Vengeance is one of a handful of coasters that I would call a total package ride. It has just about everything you could want in a hybrid coaster. Big Height. Fast speeds. Long length. Inversions. Ridiculously smooth ride. Twists and turns at every corner. Not to mention, TONS of airtime. Adding to that, I personally love that Steel Vengeance doesn’t have any gimmicks. No weird seating arrangement, no launched lift hill, no pause at the top of the first drop, no over-marketed track element. The ride doesn’t need any of that. It’s just an honest-to-god freaking good roller coaster that is all substance and style, and perhaps most importantly, fun as hell.

Taking a look at the industry over the past decade, it’s obvious Rocky Mountain Construction pretty much defines this current era. The company can seemingly do no wrong, with each coaster they build being crazier and more interesting than the previous one, so it’s fitting that their largest, most hyped roller coaster yet would be built at none other than Cedar Point; the only park that could’ve built Steel Vengeance.

To say people were anxiously anticipating this roller coaster would be an understatement. It felt like the biggest deal in the amusement world that Cedar Point had finally decided to work with RMC to rebuild Mean Streak. It was a pipe dream for myself and so many for so long, that when it finally happened, we all went nuts. I for one was super happy Cedar Point decided to wait and let RMC hone in their craft before bringing them in for Steel Vengeance. I truly feel that if the park had built the ride even a year earlier, it would’ve been inferior to what it is now.

Now, back to that question. Is Steel Vengeance the world’s greatest coaster? Well, no. I don’t think that can exist, nor should it exist, because there are SO MANY different types of roller coasters out there, and it would be a crime to devalue them all. However, given that the ride plays perfectly to its strengths and in my eyes doesn’t seem to contain a single negative point, that makes it the gold standard for hybrid coasters. One that knows exactly what it needs to be, and nails it on every level. In doing so, it makes itself the landmark roller coaster of the decade.

STEEL VENGEANCE RATING: 10 / 10 (Perfect!)

Until next time, I’ll catch you in the front seat!

-JC

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