It's easy to get caught up in the roller coaster arms race. Cedar Point and Six Flags Magic Mountain out-build each other in order to lay claim to the title of park with the most roller coasters.
Coaster drop heights escalate from the once-monumental 200-foot mark to 300 feet and beyond in the same year. Ride designers devise maniacal new ways to invert us, upend us, and generally scare us senseless. And sometimes that sort of competition brings us fabulous rides, and sometimes it disappoints. That's the trouble with racing to the top. Sometimes the view from up there doesn't fulfill our expectations, and sometimes hurrying produces sloppy work.
It's much more difficult to resist the temptation to dazzle with statistics and instead make a conscious effort to build a remarkable ride in a space that suits it (in other words, to design a great ride instead of a promotional gimmick). With the addition of Talon, Dorney Park (Allentown, PA) has taken the wiser, more patient route, and the result is a masterpiece.
As Dorney Park's Public Relations Manager Mark Sosnowsky says, "We weren't out to create the longest, the tallest, the fastest, the [ride with the] most inversions. What we wanted to do was make the best possible ride experience."
Talon is, in fact, the tallest (135 feet) and the longest (3,110 feet) inverted roller coaster in the Northeast U.S., but it's neither the length of the first drop nor of the whole ride that distinguishes this ride from other Bolliger and Mabillard gems. Instead, Talon seamlessly combines its elements to sustain consistent thrills and surprises over its tight layout.
The ride's 120-foot first drop, which also twists riders 180 degrees (a common B&M beginning), is suitably intense. Talon then climbs into a 98-foot vertical loop and very quickly transitions into a zero-g roll followed by an immelman. Next is the ride's first helix, an upward (and rightward) spin that provides ample positive g-forces.
The S-curve follows quickly out of the helix, and in the middle of the S-curve is Talon's shining moment: a surprise drop that generates rare (for an inverted coaster) negative g-forces. The end of the S-curve rolls gracefully into a flat spin (not quite a corkscrew, not quite a zero-g roll) and then, before riders can right themselves, the final (leftward) helix delivers its heavy positive g-forces. Finally, another sudden drop gives riders in the back seat a bit more airtime before the ride swings up into the brake run.
The front row is most people's first choice on inverted roller coasters, but Talon might change that pattern. While the positive g-forces in the ride's two helixes are most face flattening in the front, the back seat packs the most thrills over the long haul.
Reverend Cliff Herring, regional representative for ACE and a man famous (he's in the Guinness Book of World Records) for marrying couples aboard roller coasters, says, "This may be the first inverted coaster that truly is a back seat ride." Though there aren't any bad rows on Talon, the back row is one that serious riders should not overlook.
There's more to Talon than acrobatics, however. As is true of many B&M coasters, Talon is visually stunning. The ride is almost as much fun to watch from the queue or the footpath as it is to ride. Several of Talon's elements dance tantalizingly close to passers by or waiting riders, and the ride's course weaves in and out, not to mention over and under, itself numerous times.
Still, the most shocking thing about this coaster is not the maneuvers it makes or even the way it looks; the real marvel is the way this thing sounds. Actually, what's amazing is that it hardly makes a sound at all. Talon was built using special sound-dampening materials, and as a result the coaster whispers as it negotiates its course. I am not exaggerating when I say this is the quietest roller coaster I've ever witnessed.
Moreover, the ride's relative silence matches its ornithological theme: it swoops stealthily above, bird-like, waiting to snap up its prey. B&M have previously used sound to enhance coaster experiences, most famously in creating the roar of Islands of Adventure's Incredible Hulk, and Talon is yet another example of how the Swiss gurus mesmerize us by totally integrating every facet of a ride experience.
Talon does not break records, and it does not give us any single thing that we have not seen before. But taken as a whole it is a spectacular ride. Its pacing rivals that of any B&M coaster, its combination of grace and raw power is awe-inspiring, and its dizzying array of twists, drops and inversions satiates even as it evokes hunger for another ride. The biggest, fastest, and longest rides don't always do that. But the best rides do it. In spades.