Prepare to enter the Grid: Part 13 of our look at Vekoma

Prepare to enter the Grid: Part 13 of our look at Vekoma

The second roller coaster at Shanghai Disneyland is a dream that moviegoers have had since the movie premiered in 1982: what if we could enter the Grid of TRON and race on one of the Light Cycles?  Walt Disney Imagineering selected the Vekoma Motorbike Coaster as the base of their new attraction, and this ride would have the most massive shoes in the world to fill: replace Space Mountain as the centerpiece of Tomorrowland.

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The entrance to Tomorrowland with TRON in the background

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TRON at night with the illuminated canopy.

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A look at the Canopy and the track under.

The ride was placed in the back of the land, and the track was first assembled before a light blue show building was built over the Grid part of the journey.  It also houses the waiting line and large station area.  A large canopy was built above the first part of the trip and it serves two roles: allow the ride to operate in the rain and serve as the background for amazing light effects.

The ride layout is the largest ever constructed for a Motorcycle style ride with 3196 feet of track, and it reaches nearly 80 feet in the air.  For capacity and reliability, the usual Hydraulic launch system present on other Motorbike coaster was replaced with an LSM launch system similar to the one used on the new style launch coaster.  That also helps a lot as it is silent and during the attraction, low noise braking can be done.  It is quite important to Disney as they tell a show and it is quite hard to tell a story when you hear loud mechanical noises.

Seven set of trains were constructed for the ride.  The Lightcycle very advanced features are awe-inspiring, with changing lights and onboard audio.  The music adds a lot to the ride experience, and the lights are used for an effect during the ride. Right in front of the rider on the top of the Cycle is a small rubber cover that can be pulled and secures a holder for cell phones and wallets.

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The Lightcycles.

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A close-up of the Lightcycles.  The H shaped opening on the left is the storage pouch for cell phones.  The silver handles in the top left corner are what you pull and activate the three restraints.

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The correct riding position and you can see behind the rider’s leg the metal bar that restrain the legs.

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Five of the trains feature seven pairs of Lightcycle and two replace the last pair with something Disney requested for those who can’t use the Lightcycle comfortably: the TAV.  The TAV (Transfer Accessible Vehicle) is patterned after the Light Car that jumps in the middle of the scene in Tron Legacy, and it features two side by side seats.  Each guest is secured with a lap bar similar to Expedition Everest, and this allows those who can’t bend down or who can’t fit the Light Cycle to ride.  The picture of the TAV was provided by Cabin Crew Coaster Kings.

The ride is quite advanced as the ride operators told in advance on their consoles that a train with the TAV is approaching their loading station.  The ride features four station areas.  When the train approaches the end, like Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris, it goes over a transfer track that goes to the left or right depending on where it needs to go. It then stops at an unload position.  It then goes forward to the load position once guests have exited and the load is clear.  Multiply that by two and it features four station positions in total.

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One of the loading station.

The transfer track is after the track switch out of the station, and like the other, it slides instead of rotating like on Space Mountain at Disneyland Paris.

Guests approach the ride from the upper level of Tomorrowland and enter the canopy area. Every 30 seconds or so in peak operation, trains of light cycles fly above our head, and at night, lights follow them on the canopy.  Due to the Light Cycle seating arrangement, bags are not allowed on ride, and only small items can be stored onboard.  So, free lockers were installed to the left of the entrance and then guests can enter the waiting line.

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The information sign for TRON at night.

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Cabin Crew Coaster Kings provided us with this picture of the outdoor extended stand-by queue and the three different entrance to the ride.

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A train ready for launch.

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The elaborate launch area.

Three lines are offered: Fast Pass access for those who reserved online, at a booth in Tomorrowland or those who purchased Premier Access on the application, Single Riders Line, and Stand-By queue.  The single riders line has a more direct path to the station area while the other two go by themed rooms and a large scenic area overlooking the launch.  It gets guests quite pumped up for their ride, and right after the merge, they enter the station area.  Throughout the line, the different teams from the Tron world are presented, and that is when we are told we part of Team Blue and our opponents for our Lightcycle match will be Team Orange.

The station is enormous, and we enter from the upper level.  A ramp is split in two for both Single Riders and regular guests, and we eventually reach the bottom where cast members assign us to a row on each side.  To simplify things, each row has two sets of air gates. One for the Lightcycle closest to load and the other has arrows directing the player to go behind the cycles and then load.  It avoids the issue of having guests trying to climb the motorcycles, leading to delays in boarding and potential falls.

Riders need to straddle the Cycle first then put their feet in the stirrups.  Those move and guests need to go as far back as possible before pulling the bright silver motorcycle handles.  That activates the backrest and calf bars that come out of the Lightcycle and serves to restrain us.  Vekoma worked quite hard to give a little more room than the prototype Motorcycle coaster, but for safety reasons, all three restraints need to be quite tight.

Once every guest has been checked, the train is quickly dispatched out of the station, and the music comes to life.  After passing the two track switches, our Light Cycle team has reached the launch area.  A countdown in Mandarin plays, and then we launch very quickly outside.  That is where we realize the riding position amplifies all the forces as the launch that would be quite tame feels very intense.  Plus, to simulate a real motorcycle changing gears, the LSM are programmed to give us a second “kick” near the end of the launch stretch.

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We are then outside, flying above onlookers under the canopy.  After a long turn and dip session, the train finally enters the Grid Arena, 79 feet in the air.  Our Cycle lights briefly turn off as a flash of light blinds us to get our eyes used to the darkness inside. That is the first block brake, and we are silently slowed down a little.

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A train entering the Grid Arena.

The race is now on as we take on the Orange Team and we need to cross the gates before them.  What is incredible is that among all the lighted up barriers, second sets of orange gates are also present.  The track layout itself is a bunch of figure 8 divided by two more block brakes. Coming off the first block brake in the arena, a mirror is mounted in front of us and our cycles light change to orange, simulating the other team racing toward us.  After the last block brake, the team dives to the ground follows two Orange Cycles on a screen and then we finally win when we jump over them, and they hit our wall light, blowing them away.  The ride then concludes in a simulated orange explosion, and the eddy-current brakes slow us.

The ride is very popular in Shanghai, and at the 2017 D23 expo in Anaheim, CA, Disney announced Tron Lightcycles Power Run would be exported to the Magic Kingdom in Florida.  It is currently scheduled to open in 2021 to the left of Space Mountain, and no details are known about changes to the ride.