It feels like I haven’t raved about Gravity Group woodies for at least a week now so let’s take a look at one of their miniature European offerings. Wood Express opened at Parc Saint Paul in France on the 1st July 2018 and in my eagerness to experience even more of the manufacturer’s goodness we managed to hop across the channel and try it out just a couple of weeks into operation.
Outside of the absolute monsters they also happen to construct, the company have developed a bit of a reputation for creating some of the world’s best ‘family’ woodies, smaller wooden coasters with lower height restrictions aimed at younger guests, but due to the effectiveness of their layouts these are good fun for just about anyone. Standing at a mere 50ft tall, Wood Express is a perfect testament as to why this concept works so well (and would do so for just about any amusement establishment in the world).
The short 6 car Timberliner train with its as-standard cushy seats and comfy lap bars carries a remarkable amount of momentum out of this first drop, which is best experienced in the back row for that initial short burst of signature airtime. In following a reasonably classic out and back style, the first outbound leg of the journey consists of a (relatively) large airtime hill and a quick slight right turn under some structure into a faster shallow hill before banking hard and coming back on itself.
The exit of this turn contains a sharp hop of a transition while levelling out and then surges up into the next largest hill in a ‘double-up’ type affair. A further two airtime moments are squeezed into this straight section with both a leap over the first stretch of track and a reverse equivalent of the transition into the next floor hugging hairpin, back at the station end of the layout.
To compliment the earlier little ‘double-up’ we now get a mini ‘double-down’ in the same manner upon leaving the second turnaround. It’s an unusual sequence that’s hard to see coming and even harder to predict when the expected time spent out of your seat is rudely interrupted for the briefest of moments before resuming normal service.
While still carrying an astonishing amount of drive there’s yet another hill of almost the same height as the previous largest which somehow manages to not skimp on any of the force. This leads to the final, sharpest corner which performs a reverse of the first speed hill under the structure and a quick slight left into the tiny home stretch, consisting of a quick transitional pop and an enthusiastic little burst into the brake run.
Wood Express always left me wanting more, though in no way did I ever feel short changed by the amount of quality ride time it packs into just 1,500ft of track. It’s ridiculous fun for what it is and the perfect excuse to keep lapping again and again.
There’s a satisfying bit of symmetry or even Feng shui going on in the layout, making use of what little there really is to play with in terms of height, speed and what anyone could realistically do with the footprint, but yet the experience still manages to feel significantly wild, unpredictable and out of control, sticking to the roots of what makes me prefer this style of coaster to other more simplistic ‘airtime machines.’
With that in mind, though I’m not usually one to count moments in the interests of maintaining that lack of anticipation in any given instance, I did find myself instinctively adding them up in my head on this ride over the course of a few rounds. The result is a mind-boggling 12 (13 in the back) and while none of them are obviously spectacular in their own right, I find the best part about the whole experience is how consistent in delivery and force these moments are from start to finish. There’s no real sense of slowing down, weakening or pausing for thought and it just seems to defy the inherent physics of a rollercoaster, which is nothing short of top notch design in my eyes.