To some, the Georgia Cyclone was a rickety giant they happily skipped as they entered Six Flags Over Georgia. To others, it was a noble throwback to a bygone era of clambering coasters.
The Cyclone was not the sleekest or most famous of the thrill rides that dot the theme park’s landscape. And it definitely wasn’t the smoothest. But even the ride’s fiercest critics waited in lines Sunday that stretched longer than an hour to take one last whirl before the park shuttered it for good.
“I won’t be too sad to see it go,” said Mark Hammond, a Fayetteville rider who earlier used sharper language that made a nearby Six Flags official blush. “But I had to say goodbye.”
The Cyclone opened in 1990 as a spitting image of its more famous brethren, the legendary Coney Island Cyclone. Since then, it has beckoned visitors from near the park’s entrance, giving rides to roughly 8.7 million people across its creaky wooden tracks.
The ride’s biggest fans saw it as welcome nostalgia among flashier fare, like the Goliath and the Scorcher, that have long since eclipsed the Cyclone in popularity. Others gladly spurned it for the smoother, steel-braced rides with elaborate storylines and high-tech gadgetry that let feet dangle and arms flail.
The Cyclone wasn’t the first wooden roller coaster at Six Flags, nor is it the last. The Great American Scream Machine, open since 1973, still holds court on the other side of the park, barreling riders down a 105-foot drop at speeds of 57 miles per hour.
The Cyclone never reached the same dizzying pace, though it could feel like it. An initial 95-foot rise up a clop-clop-clop of wooden planks hurtled riders through slopes and slices that topped out at 50 miles per hour. Some cuts were smooth; most are not. One constant – riders best hold tight, for the Cyclone had a knack for lifting them out of their seats.
For all this, the Cyclone routinely landed on top-50 lists of the world’s best wooden coasters, with many reviewers citing the extreme – and to some, surprising – power of the ride. It tugged, yanked and tore riders across the convoluted track, sometimes all at the same time.
A generation of parkgoers saw it as a must-ride, a first test just outside the ticket gate that prepared them for the adventures elsewhere. Now it is to be replaced, though park officials will only say it will be succeeded by another “innovative and thrilling” addition.
Brian Self is an out-with-the-old type of guy who was eager to trade rumors about what will take its place. But the Peachtree City restaurateur was drawn to the Cyclone on Sunday by a sense of history.
“I love riding every ride before they close down. I just wanted one last hoorah,” he said. “I’ll miss the nostalgia – but I’m looking forward to what’s next.”
The final bumpy ride was bittersweet for the Tyner clan, for this was 9-year-old Ava’s favorite ride.
“I like the classic ones. I like the noises. And I like that it’s more rickety,” she said, catching her breath after a head-spinning ride. “I don’t know why, I just like it that way.”
Her mother Lisa, a nurse from Woodstock, tried to explain the ride’s allure.
“It’s simple: You just buckle in and ride,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. I love the fancy rides where you hang down. But this is my childhood.”
As for Ava, she seemed like she’d get by just fine. Her interview done, she was already off to the races in search of the next thrill.