The Cyclone is my absolute favorite roller coaster. And not just for the coaster, which is an incredible ride, but for what it represents: the entire Coney Island "Nickel Empire" experience and how closely it's all tied to American pop culture. There are many places in this country where hot dogs are still called "Coney Islands" thanks to Coney establishments such as Feltman's Restaurant and Nathan's. Feltman's is long gone (it was next door to the Cyclone where Astroland is today -- for now, anyway) but Nathan's survives. And so does the Cyclone.
(This description is written entirely from memory so I may be forgetting some little things. I also haven't been since 2005, and the prices have changed since then. Oh, and I took all these pics. Sup.)
The Cyclone is located at W. 10th and Surf Avenue in Brooklyn. (Much like 1060 W. Addison, Chicago, the address is good to use in a pinch if you don't want marketers to know your real address. I don't suggest using it on cops, though.) The lift hill and first drop face away from Surf Avenue, pointing towards the boardwalk and the beach beyond. On one side of the Cyclone is Astroland. On the other side is the New York Aquarium, whose expansion plans once threatened the Cyclone's very existence.
You buy one ride ticket at the round corner booth (last time I went, it was $5) and then walk all the way around the booth to wait in a set of switchbacks enclosed entirely in chain-link fence. On one side of the switchbacks is a small display case with Cyclone memorabilia in it. Once you reach the end of the switchbacks you go up a small ramp to the loading platform. An old guy, I'm talkin' ancient Brooklynite here, sits in a booth to your right and will take your ticket before letting you through the turnstile.
The waiting platform is small, accommodating maybe two trainloads of waiting passengers at the most. You enter from the front. You can wait for the front seat if you like but if the group of people waiting for the front seat starts to go back down that ramp, they start yelling at people to move on up and take any available seat. The wait for the front seat can also be longer than the line for it due to rerides, but we'll get to that later.
The station is decorated with many hand-painted warning signs, usually on big round pieces of wood. The most famous of these signs advises you to "hold on to your keys and wigs" though, in recent times, some signs have been updated to include cellphones. Another sign says "NO SMOKING" but you'll often see ride ops with a butt dangling from their mouths. That's New York for ya. Whadda you gonna do.
One guy sits at dispatch. He's usually the older fellow, white hair, with glasses and the mic. The younger guys work lapbars and brakes, and will often coast down from unload (no flush loading here) to the loading platform while standing on the train's running boards.
The seats are big and cushy, like the upholstery at a booth of your grandma's favorite old restaurant. They're also cracked and leathery and worn, which adds to the charm of the ride. The padding extends around the inner sides of the car, too. The lapbar, too, is heavily padded, and is roughly as big around as a carpet roll. (Ok, maybe I'm exaggerating there.) There's also a grab bar mounted to the "dashboard" of each seat. It is not padded. It is metal. If you are large enough and ride the Cyclone with shorts on too many times, you will spend the rest of your day with bloody knees. I've seen it happen.
The lapbars are single-position bars. Up or down. No compromises. The padding on the lapbars is not very helpful to larger riders and since the bars are locked car-by-car instead of bar by bar, if your lapbar won't go down, the other two lapbars in your car won't either, so they'll ask you to get out. Larger riders have a bit more luck riding alone, I've found. It's also more fun to ride alone because there are no seat dividers, so you'll slide back and forth on the seat due to the laterals. You will also learn why there's padding on the side of the car too.
You're dispatched slowly out of the station and make a right-hand U turn past the people waiting in the chainlink line. There is sometimes a mural on a wall to your left as you approach the chain lift. It points you towards the ocean and once you're up over the rooftops of the station (and past the mirror where they can keep tabs on the riders) you find yourself staring at the blue water and there's a bit of sun on you and a little bit of a breeze, and that's when the train makes its plunge.
The first drop, despite any hype or urban legends you may have heard, is a 58-degree drop and don't let anybody tell you otherwise. Well, actually, RCDB lists it as a 58.6 degree drop, so don't let anybody tell you otherwise on that. It's not only a steep drop, but it also jogs to the right a bit and plunges underneath the ride's final turnaround. The view from the front seat here is absolutely incredible. There's nothing to see but where you're gonna be in just a second or two for now. If you're in the back seat, you've suddenly found yourself in freefall.
The train rushes down the first drop and up into a fan curve with surprising laterals. This is the only left-hand turn in the entire ride, by the way; with the exceptions of a few jogs to the left, all other turnarounds are right turns. So if you're sitting with your pal, let 'em take the left seat and you'll be doing almost all of the smooshing. The turn finishes with just enough of a lag time for you to get your bearings, then you plunge down the second drop, over a tall bump which crosses just under the top of the lift hill, and then up to the top of the Surf Avenue turnaround. This is one of the few places in the ride where the turnaround is taken slowly, but even so, you don't get of a chance to catch your breath.
Now you take a drop along the "back side" of the structure (on the Aquarium side) and over a nice airtime hill, with excellent headchoppers placed at exactly the right place. Sometimes the troughs here aren't maintained well and you'll get a pothole or two, but kidney damage is nothing when you're riding on the Cyclone.
Up you go, negotiating a hard right underneath the far turnaround. By this time your buddy realizes why you were so kind as to let him have the left side of the car. This one doesn't waste any time and begins to dive just as the curve evens out, ducking under the same set of track the first hill dove under. Now back on the Astroland side, it's up over a medium-sized airtime hill, a slam down over a small speed hill, and then into the final fan curve of the ride, a low and just-banked-enough lateral smasher which just barely clears the top of the ticket booth. Now your buddy is trying to think up ways to exact revenge on you for this.
Your last fan turn ends with a sudden drop down into the very heart of the ride structure. I believe you're even under the station at this point. There's no tunnel, you're out in the open, but you sure feel as if you're in one. And down here is one of the Cyclone's meanest tricks of all; a combo speed bump-lateral job that comes out of nowhere while you're trying to get adjusted to the sudden darkness. It's great.
Finally you run up one more hill and over the last curve, an unbanked turn leading to a final dip and then up into the tunneled brake run. You may not have even realized the ride has finished by the time you make it to unload.
Now here's the thing. This is New York, and in New York, money talks. You've paid your five bucks for a ride and now it's time for a bargain. Now you have the opportunity to pay four bucks for a reride, right there at unload, and ride the train with the ops down the station to the loading platform. The dispatcher gets on the microphone here: "Ride it again, four dollars! One more time, four dollars!"
If you ask nicely and nobody else has beaten you to it, you can get out of your seat at unload, pay your four bucks, and hop in the front. Congratulations, you just trumped everybody waiting in line! Try to ignore the dirty looks from the people waiting when the rest of the schmoes board. (I suggest you pull this front seat trump only once, perhaps for your last ride of the day. You don't make many friends by hogging the front seat, even though you did indeed pay, and karma's only gonna catch up with you someday.)
But here's what you do. Don't pay four dollars for a reride. Hand the attendant a twenty. Now you'll be able to ride five times in a row... or maybe six, or perhaps seven. Since you've paid in bulk, the operators will sometimes accidentally on purpose lose count of how many you've already had -- but don't try fooling them yourself.
And while I don't suggest taking all your rerides in the front, I don't suggest riding all your rides in the back, either. The back seat of the Cyclone is probably the most notorious back seat of any currently operating wooden coaster. It will realign your spine. It will crack you up good. It's the roller coaster equivalent of three rounds in the ring with Two-Ton Tony Galerno, and some folks love it. I have yet to ride the back seat twice in a row. Once is usually enough for me, and I have to take a break afterwards. The trains are three-benchers, so the back seat of each car is above the rear wheel's axle. This just enhances an already-rough ride. I enjoy sitting in the front of any car, thank you kindly.
Well, you've ridden the Cyclone. Once you've had your seven or eight rides for the day, you can stagger off, stumble down the exit ramp, push your way through the giant people-grater turnstile, and wander out onto the bright sunlight and West 10th Street. Find a way to make it over to the food place on the corner, sit or stand in whatever shade you can find and have a cold beverage of your choice while watching the Cyclone do its thing. The same thing it's been doing for 80 years.
The coaster has had some rough patches, such as when it was condemned and shut down for several years in the early 1970s, and it barely escaped the destruction at the hands of the Aquarium thanks to a strong community effort. Eventually, the City of New York itself took ownership of the coaster and renovated it back to life. Now a part of the Parks Department (which explains why you may see flags with green maple leaves, the symbol of the Parks Department, flying from the top of the lift hill), the Cyclone stands tall as one of the few true reminders left of the great Nickel Empire, along with the Wonder Wheel and the ghost of the Parachute Tower.
Astroland's days may be numbered. But with luck, friends, and careful maintenance, the Cyclone could continue to run for another 80 years. I am certain that it will still be thrilling even then, no matter how "sophisticated" adrenalin-seekers' tastes become.
Happy birthday, you legend, you.