Modern steel roller coaster wheels have a metal core and are typically coated with polyurethane. There are various different materials available with different strengths, such as high durability or low friction.
The first roller coasters had track similar to a railway and thus only used wheels above the rails. They often required a brakeman to regulate the speed to keep the ride safe. These early roller coasters were usually called Scenic Railways or Switchback Railways.
Underfriction wheels were patented in 1919 by John A. Miller. A third set of wheels were added beneath the track, as well as the wheels located to either side (guide wheels) and above it (load wheels). These are known as underfriction wheels or up-stop wheels.
Most modern roller coasters have three wheels or sets of wheels in each wheel assembly: load wheels above the rails, guide wheels to one side and up-stop or underfriction wheels beneath the rails. Some steel roller coasters have two wheels per wheel assembly. An example is the Pinfari Zyklon range, which has wheels with flanges above the rail and smaller wheels at an angle beneath it.
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Underfriction wheel assembly viewed from the front
A wheel assembly on a pipeline roller coaster
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