Rocket Bikes to Rocket Rods: Part eight of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

Rocket Bikes to Rocket Rods: Part eight of our Disney Groundbreakers Series.

There had been a few proposals for a high-speed attraction throughout the years at Disney parks, with one going quite far into the development process called Rocket Bikes.  It would have been placed inside a new version of Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland called Sci-Fi City along with something similar to Alien Encounter inside an extraterrestrial zoo.  Oriental Land Co. (owner of Tokyo Disneyland) passed on the Tomorrowland proposal to allocate funds toward Tokyo DisneySea, later starting a piecemeal building by building redo of Tomorrowland at Tokyo Disneyland. 

Rocket Bikes went into the prototype phase, with a test track built at Walt Disney Imagineering facility.  Eddie Sotto (imagineer who worked on this project) and other people rode it; it turned out to be a fantastic experience.  Oriental Land wanted to keep Rockit Bikes as it was now called on concept arts, even if the rest of Sci-fi City doesn’t come to be.  The prototype track was designed by Fabriweld in Clearfield, Utah, and built and installed by Valley Iron Fabricator-Erectors out of Lancaster, CA at an Imagineering facility. It featured jumps, an excellent soundtrack, and while it wasn’t that fast, it proved very promising.

There was interest for Rocket Bikes in California, as it was seen as promising for the Tomorrowland at Disneyland. Eddie Sotto revealed that Paul Pressler, president of Disneyland (Anaheim, CA) and the president of Imagineering, didn’t want a non-IP bike ride in Tomorrowland in California.  He thought of using the ride system for a Star Wars Return of the Jedi Endor speeder bike attraction.  That proposal never came to be, so they tried to integrate Rocket Bikes on the existing Peoplemover track at Disneyland during the redo of Tomorrowland.

On paper, it was an exciting proposition, as Disneyland’s Peoplemover is over a mile long, with turns inside buildings and a portion with dips and turns above the Autopia track, intertwining with the Monorail track. Disneyland’s Peoplemover opened earlier than the Magic Kingdom’s version, using spinning tires mounted in the center of the path driving the multiple trains along the track.  The ride course was modified a few times, notably when Space Mountain opened in 1977 and Star Tours in 1987.  The section of track in the carousel building (that housed Carousel of Progress, followed by America Sings) had a themed tunnel screen.  It initially showed a racing car scene, crisscrossed over and around the Peoplemover train.  In 1982, it became the Game Grid of TRON, which remained until it closed on August 21st, 1995. 

Those building tunnels proved to be the challenge, as the original intent was to have the Rocket Bikes track bank in turns to give guests the excitement of riding an Italian or Japanese sports bike.  The space inside the buildings was insufficient to provide a safe rider’s reach envelope, so they went back to the drawing board.

The Rocket Bikes transformed into Rocket Rods, futuristic hot-rod electric cars capable of wheelies, under the impulse of Bruce Gordon, another Imagineer.  Those cars would wheelie off their front wheels when they launch at the start.  The vehicles would then slow down around the sharper curves before accelerating when they could.  The dips over Autopia would be a highlight and some indoor show scenes. 

Oriental Land Co., who still wanted to build Rocket Bikes inside their Tomorrowland, saw the proposal for Disneyland and decided they wanted that instead of Rocket Bikes.  Eddie Sotto wasn’t happy, as he felt Rocket Bikes was a lot more exciting and could be done perfectly there since there was enough space to bank the track properly.  Oriental Land still wanted Rocket Rods, and the two parties were at a stalemate.