Showdown: Kumba vs. Bizarro


Although I hesitate to compare a traditional “sitting coaster” to a floorless coaster, in this case the reason for doing so is a compelling one.  After riding Kumba at Busch Gardens Tampa within the past several months, I tried to think of a coaster I’d ridden which was the most similar in design and the one that immediately came to mind is Bizarro at Six Flags Great Adventure.  (Other possibilities were Hydra The Revenge at Dorney Park and Wildfire at Silver Dollar City but neither comes as close.)  Both Kumba and Bizarro are B&M (Bolliger & Mabillard) coasters which feature the exact same elements in the exact same sequence.   In addition, both seat four across in eight rows for a total capacity of 32 riders. They even travel at approximately the same speed (60mph and 61mph, respectively).

Layout and Setting

Kumba and Bizarro have meandering layouts in contrasting settings.  Kumba takes advantage of its park’s luxuriant scenery while Bizarro sits in more pedestrian surroundings.  For setting, except for the view of a parking lot at the top of the lift hill, Kumba comes out way ahead.

Photo by Bobbie Butterfield


Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

Elements and Sequence

Both Kumba and Bizarro feature seven inversions: vertical loop, dive loop, zero-g roll, cobra roll and interlocking corkscrews, in that order.  Both have a brake run before the final two inversions.  When Kumba opened in 1993 it set a new record, long since surpassed, for tallest vertical loop on any coaster.  In this category the two coasters are equal.

Ride Experience

Kumba makes a right turn out of the loading station, ascends a 143-foot chain lift hill, drops 135 feet to the left and enters a 114-foot vertical loop.   The loop wraps around the lift hill, a nice touch, especially when the train passes through the loop on the way up.  The train then races through the dive loop, dives to the ground and ascends into a zero-g roll which will blow you away.  After a slight turn it goes up into the cobra roll, and exiting this element, comes to the block brake.  These elements are all exceptionally smooth.  Following the block brake are the interlocking corkscrews, small hill and two short tunnels which signal the end of the course. (The train enters a helix after the first tunnel.)  It’s an action-packed ride with tremendous momentum.  Kumba is said to mean “roar” in South African Congo language, and with no sand to dampen the sound of the train, roar it does.

Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

Bizarro makes a left turn from the loading station, ascends a 142-foot lift hill, drops 132 feet to the left and navigates the same elements as Kumba.   The second inversion features special effects.  When the train is halfway to the bottom of the dive loop, flames shoot up on the sides of the track – except when it’s very windy.  You can really feel the heat!  Next are the zero-g roll and cobra roll.  The first five elements flow beautifully although I find the zero-g roll to be just a bit rough.  I know this coaster intimately because it’s in my home park and whenever I see the zero-g roll coming up I brace myself.  The cobra roll is good but the train seems to come to almost a crashing halt at the block brake that follows. The remainder of the course consists of a short drop to the left, 270-degree helix and the interlocking corkscrews.  It’s worth mentioning that while going through the corkscrews, the riders are sprayed with mist.  There is a large cylinder, with sharp projections, from which the mist emanates.  Whenever I reach this point of the ride I experience an irrational fear of having my eyes gouged out. (See first photo below.) Otherwise the corkscrews are just dandy.  After the corkscrews the train goes through several twists before returning to the station.

In this category Kumba scores points for positioning of the loop, smoothness of the ride and the tunnels.  Bizarro scores points for the special effects and higher G-forces.

Bizarro, the newly transformed coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson NJ. Photo courtesy of Six Flags Great Adventure.
Photo by Bobbie Butterfield

The Winner

And the winner is: Kumba.  While these coasters share one of the best sequences of elements I’ve encountered, I think that on Kumba the elements are executed somewhat better.  Kumba may be old- school compared with Bizarro, which is basically a new and purportedly improved version of the same ride, but sometimes the more traditional model is the more powerful.  Yes, floorless coasters are great; they offer a feeling of freedom and it’s really cool when the gate opens so you know that you’re off and running.  Bizarro is a good floorless coaster but Kumba is an exceptionally good sitting coaster.  It retains a primal feel and high level of intensity that I find lacking on Bizarro. I approach Bizarro with the expectation of having a fun ride whereas I approach Kumba with the expectation of having an awesome ride. To sum it up, Kumba impresses me as more vital and dynamic.

What’s your take?  Have you ridden Kumba and Bizarro and if so, how do you think they match up?