Floorless Ninja: How Vekoma Trains Could Elevate the Blackbelt of Coasters

Alexander: Here at CCK, we love Ninja. It’s one of our favorite coasters in California, and a must-ride on every visit to Magic Mountain.

We are also huge Arrow Dynamics fans in general and are positively enamored with Arrow Suspended coasters. The 5 Arrow Suspended coasters still in operation are my favorite coasters at their respective parks (yes, even Cedar Point’s Iron Dragon)

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Ninja is a fantastic ride that honestly needs no adjustment, but what if there was potential for it to be even greater than it already is? I didn’t previously imagine such a possibility, but a trip to the U.K. changed that.

Before we talk about that, let’s talk about Vekoma for a moment. We all know Vekoma and Arrow shared a lengthy partnership which yielded many innovations; a lesser known development of that partnership was Vekoma’s production model answer to the Arrow Suspended coaster. Like their looping coaster models, Vekoma’s Suspended coasters were built to the same qualifications as their Arrow counterparts and marketed primarily to the Eastern Hemisphere.

Photo: parkwelten.de

Unlike the fully-customizable Arrow Suspended Coaster, Vekoma’s “Swinging Turns” coaster was offered in one space efficient, cookie-cutter layout that was designed to appeal to a broad audience. The model yielded three installations, all of which are still in operation. Like many early Vekoma projects, Arrow also provided the rolling stock for the Swinging Turns line; the relationship between these coasters and their trains is where things get interesting.

On a visit to the London area in 2015, I spent some time at Chessington Worlds of Adventure, a Merlin park home to the last Arrow Suspended coaster operating outside of North America. I had high hopes for the Transylvanian-themed Vampire, but I wasn’t entirely sure how I would feel about its trains; since 2002, Vampire has operated Vekoma-built floorless trains (featuring a seat design similar to their family inverted coasters) in place of the photorealistic Vampire bat trains Arrow manufactured for the ride in 1990.

I wondered if lighter trains with a higher center of gravity would detract from the ride’s main selling point: swinging action. However, much to my delight, the floorless trains elevated the Suspended coaster experience in ways I hadn’t considered.

Unobstructed views of guests walking the streets of Transylvania below really added to the element of flight (the element a ride such as this is so keen on delivering), all while keeping the free-swinging momentum intact. Vampire ultimately became my favorite of the 5 Arrow Suspended coasters despite my initial skepticism.

Lately Vekoma has made a name for themselves in the re-imagining department of the theme park industry. Updated rolling stock for their existing roller coasters have won over countless amusement parks and parkgoers alike; their MK-1212 looping coaster trains have multiplied ridership for both Arrow and Vekoma coasters due to their comfortable shoulder-vest configuration. (As seen above).

Photo: dreamworld.co.th

While eliminating the head banging aspect of looping coasters is a more pressing matter for parks than, say, giving your Suspended coaster floorless trains, but the appeal of the next-gen Swinging Turns rolling stock is undeniable. Though there isn’t a large pool of coasters that could benefit from these trains, 3 of the world’s 8 applicable coasters have already converted to floorless trains (the others being the Swinging Turns models in Belgium and Taiwan).

This brings us to the current status of Ninja, where the ride is arguably at a crossroads. Rolling-stock-wise, Ninja came into ample spare parts with the retiring of Astroworld’s XLR8 in 2005, but then experienced a sizable setback from “The Tree Incident” in 2014.

Using the salvageable parts of the damaged 3rd train as a parts donor for the two remaining trains has worked perfectly fine thus far, but with resort-level operations and a Samurai Summit remodel on the horizon, Ninja’s operational hinderances may warrant some action. Six Flags is proud of Ninja and its enduring popularity; as the park’s cardinal “in-between” coaster, it offers a family friendly ride that still entertains more adventurous thrillseekers.

Due to the limited marketability of family coasters for a park like Magic Mountain, the few such rides they operate are protected by their necessary place on the thrill spectrum and the low-potency advertising power of modern “in-between” coasters, since major thrill developments are what give them an edge over the competition.

A lot of care has gone into keeping Ninja safely operational in the last few years, and small upgrades added as recently as this year (new light package, new loose article bins) demonstrate a commitment to the ride; but what if even bigger changes are in store?

Next year will bring a sorely needed remodel to what’s left of Colossus County Fair, transforming it into the (thematically played out but nonetheless appropriate and appreciated) Boardwalk area, and the next few seasons will see more atmospheric overhauls until the whole park looks fresh as a daisy.

It’s only a matter of time before Samurai Summit (and Psyclone Bay and Baja Ridge) get their long-awaited reimaginings, and with them should come some pretty substantial additions to the Magic Mountain ride roster. If Ninja’s here to stay, and Samurai Summit is poised to receive the next big Magic Mountain makeover, is there possibly a better way to reinvent the area than installing floorless Vekoma trains on the star attraction?

Spoiler alert: No, there’s not.

Long live the Blackbelt of Coasters.

We have recently discussed the MK1212 trains of Vekoma that would wonderfully improve the ride experience on Viper, after we rode Blue Hawk at Six Flags Over Georgia. Make sure to check out our Viper and Vekoma MK1212 Trains article!

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4 Replies to “Floorless Ninja: How Vekoma Trains Could Elevate the Blackbelt of Coasters”

  1. Funny, i read this in line for its sister coaster Vortex at canadas wonderland. (Which is the best od this type pf coaster i have been on with its brother the bat at kings island close behind)

    I liked ninja at mm but found the trains banged forward and backward against each onter when it sped up and slowed down. Not sure if it was worn out connectors between trains or track geometry or a bit of both.

    Dont know if new trains will solve this problem but Vortex is still pretty fluid and smooth on the transitions. I like it just the way it is.

    As much as i like these coasters i Respectfully disagree they are the best in any of their respective parks.

  2. When I first learned of the trains on Vampire, my first thought was, “Ninja needs these!” Since SFMM is apparently going to keep Ninja as long as they can, getting these trains would make perfect sense, especially with a refreshment of the Samurai Summit area.

  3. I’ve literally been saying Ninja should be floorless for YEARS ! , I even predicted Lex Luther Drop Of Doom YEARS before it happened, I should work for six flags ride development team !

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