90 Years of the Coney Island Cyclone

The iconic Coney Island Cyclone will officially celebrate its 90th birthday on Sunday, June 25 with considerable fanfare, featuring a live performance by Brooklyn’s Fabolous, a deejay and an appearance by the Harlem Globetrotters. Opened on June 26, 1927, the Cyclone has certainly had its ups and downs. It was targeted for demolition, rescued by a vigorous campaign to save it, implicated in personal injuries, refurbished and ultimately declared both a city landmark and a National Historic Landmark. The fact that it still stands and operates is gratifying to say the least.


I have my own history with the Cyclone. On the way to the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair we had to drive right by it on our way to our rooming house in Brooklyn. I was dying to ride it but my uncle Adam, our chaperone, nixed that idea, proclaiming that roller coasters were unsafe because “They’re put together by a bunch of drunks.” Well! When I got word that the Cyclone was slated for demolition I decided that I would find a way to ride it no matter what. So I took the train from Philly to New York then the subway to Coney Island and rode it six times. This was circa 1971 and back in those days it was $1.00 a ride. Now it’s $10.00 a pop.

Coney Island Cyclone Turns 90The Cyclone was the last roller coaster I rode until almost 40 years later. I had more or less lost interest in coasters but regained it when my then fiancé commented, after passing by an amusement park, that we in our fifties were too old to ride roller coasters because that would result in internal injuries. Rubbish! I thought this highly unlikely and set out at the age of 59 on a mission that took me to theme parks all over the place, eventually bringing me back to the Cyclone.

And I must say that my third ride on Cyclone after a 40-year absence was pretty disastrous. The frayed seats and lack of padding on the sides of the cars caused an injury that precipitated a visit from the on-site doctor and took a month to heal, because of my left arm being repeatedly banged against the side of the car. (Cyclone makes a number of jarring right turns and for a single rider this tends to result in being thrown to the left.) However, when I later learned that the cars had been refurbished I decided to give it another go and am glad that I did, as the ride experience is now both awesome and comfortable. The padding on the cars made all the difference in the world.


Having a horror of mob scenes, I decided to ride the Cyclone again the weekend before the 90th birthday celebration, only to confront a huge crowd because it just so happened that the annual mermaid parade was taking place that day. No matter. Despite having to wait to ride because I couldn’t cross the police lines that blocked access, ride I did and it was worth the wait.

So what’s so great about the Cyclone? Apart from the fact that it’s a true classic, it’s a marvel of airtime. Even the first drop has me bouncing out of my seat. There are multiple moments of airtime Coney Island Cyclone On-ride Photothroughout the course of the ride and Cyclone packs a lot of ride into a compact twister. Speaking of twists, the abrupt right-hand turns leading into drops during the latter course of the ride are especially intense. And the angles seem just right. There really isn’t a dull moment from start to finish.

Another thing I like about this coaster is that it’s still braked manually, an anomaly in this day and age. Similarly anomalous is that whereas on most old wooden coasters, refurbished or not, the back of the train tends to offer the roughest ride, I actually find that the back gives the smoothest ride. Also, the ride operations make the most of the way that the station is configured. It’s not possible to cross the platform so the ride ops stop the train to allow riders to exit and send it down farther in the station to allow the next group of riders to board. This strikes me as a much more efficient modus operandi than, for instance, that on Skyrush at Hersheypark, where riders board and exit the train on the same side at the same point.

And while the Cyclone would hardly classify as an extreme thrill ride by today’s standards, it manages to hold its own. Happy 90th birthday!

What’s Your Take?
Have you ridden the Cyclone? What did you think? Leave a comment below.