How do I build a LEGO roller coaster? - rdflego builds a city
Let’s talk about roller coasters and what design I’m going for.
I am not a snob when it comes to roller coasters so I have no preference on wooden, steel or hybrid designs. The truth is I don’t like riding roller coasters at all but it would be remiss of me to build a theme park and not to include a roller coaster within my section of park.
For those of you who can relate to the feelings of elation and excitement you understand that riding a roller coaster doesn’t start when you reach the top of the lift hill, but instead when you start queuing.
I remember the first roller coaster I went on was The Big One at the Blackpool Pleasure Beach when I was in my mid teens. We got there early in order to beat the queues and we were mostly successful but the only piece of decor was a large Pepsi can that guests could walk through. The ride scared me and it took me 45 minutes to calm down after it was over but it’s weird to think how little build up there was for such an impressive ride.
A few years later, with my vow never to ride a roller coaster again in my life I was invited to Alton Towers as a part of my GCSE business diploma. Being the only one not making the most of short, rainy day queues I instead chose to look at the theming and decoration around the park. At Alton Towers the lines had plants, animatronics and projections that started a story the ride would eventually finish. The line was more than just a funnel to send people down and had been given a function to increase the entertainment of the ride.
This is of course a copy of what Disney had always been doing but, let’s face it, every theme park is trying to copy Disney. And there’s no reason why I shouldn’t do the same. That’s why the queue for my roller coaster is going to tell a story that the ride will eventually pay off. A tale of bravery and adventure that will teach guests the mythical story of a prophecy to save a medieval population from a terrifying beast. Take for example the Elves line that features medieval and magical inspiration. There has already been some expansive storytelling in the TV show which focuses on the simple journey of an outsider (Emily) teaming up with four magical Elves on a wondourous adventure.
In my medieval inspired ride I want the guests to have the same arc as Emily going from 21st century natives and transporting them to a medieval wonderland where elves will train them how to defeat an evil giant. The queue will feature dioramas that the guests can interact with while teaching them an ancient prophecy about defeating a powerful, greedy giant. All of this will ready guests to jump onto the ride so that they can sit back and be taken on an adventure to defeat the giant which will be waiting for them at the end of the track.
But if we are going to have a castle and an evil giant at the end of the track then we need to work out exactly what the track is going to look like. I’ve opted to build one that has the riders travel along the track facing forwards and then return them down the same track going backwards before terminating in the station. An unconventional design but one that makes the most of the limited space I have to work with. The riders will be launched from the station into the initial turn past the base of the castle. From there the guests will travel up a small hill and into a chicane that could have a small feature around it. Before reaching the castle the riders will climb a lift hill up to the top of the castle, meet the giant and travel the same track going backwards.
The track itself will be made from LEGO Technic pieces with the car running along a metal or nylon wire. The wire will have holes drilled into it to allow something to be inserted to ease the process of attaching everything to the ride supports. The track and it’s connectors to the supports will not likely be made of LEGO and instead be made of something small enough to connect it to the supports, which will be made from LEGO Technic.
The cars will leave the station with either a fully LEGO or mainly LEGO solution to launch the riders down the track. If it is possible to launch the cars using nothing but LEGO then I will use a Technic pull back motor and gear it appropriately to give the riders enough momentum to go around the track. The launching system will propel the cars from the station via a shuttle behind the cars pushing them forwards down the track. The pullback motor will be nestled underneath the first turn in order to gain enough momentum using the full force of the motor. The output of the motor will connect a wire down the track and onto the shuttle in order to propel the cars out of the station. The shuttle will be pushing the cars out of the station as the wire connecting it winds up a spool attached to the output of the pullback motor and a gearing system. The gearing system is simply there to add a little more speed to the cars. An added bonus of this solution is that the shuttle will also act as a brake for returning cars; the cars will bump into the shuttle and unwind spool connected to the motor. The pull back motor is going to resist this and should stop the cars before they return to the station.
Moving down to the other end of the track the riders will need to be given enough momentum to travel the complete length of the track again so that they can return to the station. To do this there will be a lift hill for the cars to roll up towards the top of a castle. The lift hill will be made of Technic pieces and a chain link made from the smaller, wide variant of vehicle tracks that LEGO makes. I will be employing a second shuttle to catch the cars as they go up the hill so that the cars never come into contact with the chain link. This was I don’t need to worry about the cars falling down the hill and getting stuck on a link of the chain. Instead the shuttle will connect to the chain link and pull the cars to the very top of the track before releasing them back down.
This next bit may be a tad convoluted but stay with me.
There is an addition to the roller coaster cars that I haven’t mentioned; a magnet. I needed to work out how I could build a LEGO solution to raise the cars to the top of a hill and release them back down the track without creating an overly complicated solution. I needed something simple that would reliably work and magnets seem like they could be the easiest solution. If I attach a magnet to the front of the first car it will connect with another magnet on the shuttle. The two will be magnetically joined together throughout the climb and go up the lift hill together. Once the shuttle reaches the apex of the hill the cars will run into stoppers that won't allow the cars to continue up the hill and break the magnetic bond between them, leaving the riders to travel backwards down the track.
Finally the story that the riders will be following will involve a giant waiting for riders at the top of the hill. Similar to the iconic scene where KIng Kong hangs from the Empire State Building my giant will be holding on to the castle, ready to smash the riders as they make the climb. In actuality the giant is an oversized wooden model of a minifigure gifted to me on my 21st birthday. It will be supported externally from the castle via a Technic axle holder wedged into the hand and some bricks stacked up under one of the feet because I cannot be bothered to work out a fancier solution. The castle will have turrets and all the usual protrusions to look like your average, run of the mill fantasy castle with features scaled appropriately.
After returning back into the station at the end of their roller coaster adventure the riders can make the short walk back onto the main promenade via a bin in case they feel ill. They will also be next to the entrance of the ride so if they’d like to do it again, all they need to do is queue.
And that's what I have to aim for. The process of making this roller coaster is underway as you can see but there are regular updates on twitter @rdflego or right here on the website. If you can think of something I’ve missed then please let me in the comment section down below or through the social links. I’ve got to get back to work and make all this talk a real coaster!