Cyclone vs. Thunderbolt: Coney Island Roller Coaster Showdown

Jonathan Zeller

(Updated 05/23/2019)

Coney Island’s Luna Park is bracketed by its two major roller coasters—one old and wooden, the other new and made of steel. The former is the Cyclone, located by the West 8th Street-NY Aquarium subway stop. The wood-tracked landmark has been terrifying riders since 1927, and still stands today despite the many changes that have taken place around it. Walking west down the Boardwalk from the Cyclone, you’ll find the Thunderbolt—a new roller coaster built in 2014 that shares its name with an old wooden number that operated from two years before the Cyclone opened until the 1980s.

The Cyclone’s vintage neon signage, shaky waiting platform and bumpy ride make you feel like the Coolidge administration never ended; the smooth steel track, loops and twists, and automated departing message at the Thunderbolt assure you you’ve returned safely to the 21st century. We sent two of our thrill-ride correspondents to the seaside amusement district, where they rode both coasters. (Watch the videos below.) Which is more thrilling? See our handy comparison chart below, and then head out to Coney Island to experience them for yourself.

The Cyclone

The Thunderbolt

Tale of the Tape

Roller coasterThe CycloneThe Thunderbolt
Debut June 26, 1927 June 14, 2014
Top speed 60 miles per hour 55 miles per hour
You must be this tall to ride 54" 50"
Track material Wood Steel
Did our thrill-ride correspondents cry? Yes Yes (“It squeezes the tears out of your eyes.”)
Biggest drop 85 feet 115 feet
Length of ride 2 minutes 1 minute 40 seconds
Source of fear “You always feel like it’s going to fall apart” from the shaking, says our correspondent. (Luna Park staffer Kristen assures us that the Cyclone is inspected regularly and it’s all just part of the fun!) The first drop, the feeling of your feet dangling as you’re strapped in
Named for a weather phenomenonYesYou bet
Fun factIn 1948 the New York Times reported that Emilio Franco—a man who hadn’t spoken in five-plus years—regained his voice after riding the Cyclone. His words: “I feel sick.”Molly and George Moran, who built the original Thunderbolt, lived in the house underneath the roller coaster.

For more summertime fun, visit our guide to Coney Island.