I’m not sure which of Great America’s B&M quartet is my personal favorite but I think Raging Bull is easily their most ambitious. Unfortunately, that infers that it also must be the one with the most holding it back from the greatness it could be. In this case, quite literally “holding it back”. Two words:
Ah, I’m foreshadowing too much. First, what is there to like about Raging Bull? Plenty. For starters (and this may be an unpopular opinion) but I personally feel that Raging Bull has one of the best layouts ever seen on a B&M speed coaster. I see a lot more of the attention to layout detailing found on their older rides than all the post-Nitro stuff where it was just about copying and pasting the same damn algorithms for camelbacks, hammerheads, and spirals over and over again. It seems ever since Magnum started the trend, every hyper coaster has to be entirely airtime based, and designed around some variation of an out-and-back layout (if not directly in the plotting, then at least in the spirit of having the hills being the showcase elements with turns randomly inserted to turn it back to the station). True hyper-twisters are extremely hard to come by; Kings Dominion’s Intimidator 305 may be the closest yet to that ideal, and the two Giovanola hypers are possibly the next closest thing (in the U.S., at least). Raging Bull seems to be the inspiration for those two, but it blends more traditional airtime and straight maneuvers within an overall twistery layout, and in my opinion if it would just run like it’s supposed to it would strike a perfect balance between the two.
Like every other B&M speed coaster, the seating and restraints are the most comfortable and unrestrictive ever devised for a modern steel coaster, the tipped back seats lifting feet off the floor helping to establish a tremendous sensation of freedom while on the ride. The station also beats other similar rides with similar themes (*cough*kingsisland*cough*), actually recalling a southwestern mission church rather than simply being one of the contractor’s prefab steel sheds with wooden paneling nailed in at crooked angles. And from off-ride, Raging Bull actually does some justice to the surrounding area; an intimidating presence in the park, to be sure, but it doesn’t dominate the midways and distract attention from the southwestern ambiance. It’s there just a few meters off to the side, impossibly tall and larger than life (probably helped by the fact that the footers are all hidden behind the themed environment’s western border, sprouting up from behind the horizon like a steel rainbow) but subdued enough that the its presence doesn’t overwhelm you unless you stare it dead in the eyes. The orange track with plum supports and jet black trains are an original paint combination, not gaudy like the trademark Cedar Fair bright red and yellow, but still attention grabbing, highlighting both the Southwestern inspiration and the technological sheen at the same time. The three, 36 passenger trains cycle through the station with considerable speed (a public countdown timer in the station helps ensure dispatches every minute or so), making Raging Bull perhaps the only coaster suited to handle the typically Great American sized crowds.
The first drop is easily my favorite on any B&M speed coaster. The pre-drop is a fun ‘false alarm’, an extra moment to savor the impending freefall while taking in the awesome vantage point. It also gives the train a bit more speed over the crest of the main 208 foot drop, and with the back of the train not adding as much counterweight as the front starts to tip over, the ‘snap’ into the drop is far more intense and shocking than it is on other megacoasters. Row nine in particular is dee-licious. This isn’t a quick moment of sharp ejector air; it’s sustained as mild ejector for the few seconds it takes to reach the pullout at the bottom, something few parabolic first drops that start near zero speed are able to accomplish. Then there’s the underground tunnel at the bottom which is rare for a B&M (especially their speed coasters) and helps highlight the sense of speed at the bottom, which can sometimes be a hard thing to viscerally discern when the trains run so smoothly. I could probably rate this first drop as one of my top ten favorites. Unfortunately this is probably the best the ride ever has going for it, so enjoy this element while it lasts.
Actually the next turn is a nice maneuver as well. Some people dislike it because it’s rather drawn out and not particularly overbanked like the hammerhead maneuvers on Nitro or Diamondback, but I like the shaping to it, how it’s made of three parts, the twisting crest into, the flat pinched corner at top, then gracefully descending back down with another rotational twist out of the curve. It all gives a better sense of space and changing directionality than those other turnarounds, even if it is rather slow paced and not particularly aggressive.
We surge back up, crossing over the first drop into what should be the ride’s really big airtime centerpiece moment. Instead, we are unexpectedly thrown forward into our restraints as those nefarious trim brakes clobber our train’s kinetic energy. We spend the rest of the hill sitting firmly in our seats, trying to pretend the 0.5 g-forces felt from the descending acceleration on the way down is actual 0-g airtime. It gets worse from here. The next hill, a steeply banked camelback hill, should have been a very elegant yet askew maneuver. There’s not too much inward curvature so in theory it could sustain close to 0 g’s like a regular camelback, only we’d be tipped completely on our sides for several moments, creating a rather bizarre disjuncture between sight (abnormal) and sensation (relaxed). However, because we’re going so much slower than the design intended, I found myself in a very uncomfortable position as everyone in the train was sliding in their seats down to the left, ironically creating the most extreme laterals ever experienced on a B&M speed coaster. Maybe there’s something to like about this unintentionally forceful section, but it’s also an annoying reminder of how compromised the rest of the layout will be due to the reduced speed.
This is a problem. Why is that trim brake on so hard? The two reasons normally associated for their use (reduced wear and tear and controlling the experience for rider comfort) seem to have the reverse effect in this case. For riders it causes both a jolt forward into the seats from the sudden slowdown in forward momentum, and this next hill puts us in an awkward position on the left side of our waists. And as far as maintenance is concerned, I can only imagine the frictional wear down on the braking and undercarriage components costs them something over time. Plus, I read recently (back in 2009) that the train vallied in the figure eight during a test run on a rather cool day. Fishing out a vallied train, especially a heavy one like Raging Bull’s, I can’t imagine is anything the maintenance department enjoys having called in, and it seems probable that the trims bear part of the responsibility.
Anyway, so next we pull back up into the other bookending turnaround, this one similar to the first but tighter and crossing over itself on the way out. Some people might complain that the layout wastes too much on these unnecessary turning maneuvers (I recall I had a similar complaint for Diamondback) but in the context of the ride I appreciate that these multiple changes in direction keep the layout feeling longer and more involved than if it were kept much simpler. I think of Raging Bull as having a fully realized layout, rather than a plot of land that can fit a couple camelback hills before they have to turn around after just one or two.
We climb up into the midcourse brake, which mercifully was very light, letting this final section of the ride still have a bit of a pulse. Diving off the brake there’s generous airtime for those in the back (the back is easily the best row on this coaster, if you haven’t guessed already), and then again on the subsequent bunny hop. We make our way around a partial uphill helix, appearing for a moment to run out of momentum, but then are met with a dive all the way down to ground level that causes the speedometer to kick up again.
Again, some people don’t like this last part but I do. Raging Bull ends with a figure eight finale, mixed with a few slight rises and minor drops, but for the most part the pacing is kept consistently fast without as much variation between crests and valleys. It always charges into and around each curve with an excess of speed, unlike the wavering between fast and slow that normally comes with the string of air hills. The other speed coasters all end with more of the same dynamics, maybe some individual drop or bunny hill that feels a bit more definitive than the rest, but on Raging Bull the figure eight distinctly feels like a separate part of the ride, signaling we’ve reached the coda and that the end must be near. However I wish the transitions could have been more daring, perhaps to be made more like Mantis’ extremely tight figure eight. Regardless it’s a unique close to a unique hyper coaster.
I sincerely believe that if they would just turn off the trim brakes and let the damn thing actually produce some stronger g-forces (at least that aren’t unintentional), Raging Bull could be one of B&M’s best efforts. As it rides right now, I’m just too… frustrated… whenever I ride it, always keenly aware of how slow every element is taken and how the ride at nearly any given moment could and should be better than it presently is. Maybe people out there still on a regular basis get trimless rides that show the potential this ride really has. That’s the only reason I can think of for its continually high placement on the top twenty-five page of the Golden Ticket Awards… well, besides the fact that a cumulative point system will always show bias towards more well known coasters at popular parks.