Undisputed national champs: SDSU bike builders race to another victory

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UNIVERSITY MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS

BROOKINGS, S.D. — April 18, 2018 — Competing in the shadow of Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, a group of SDSU mechanical engineering students won top honors among 44 entries April 15.

South Dakota State University’s Human Powered Vehicle team edged the University of Akron entry by two points to win the competition sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers at State College, Pennsylvania. Three weeks earlier, the SDSU entry won a similar contest in Pomona, California, making SDSU the undisputed winner. Not since 2013 has one team won both contests.

At Pomona, SDSU scored 90 out of a possible 100 points to top second-place California State University, Northridge, in the 16-team competition.

Competition was stiffer in the State College contest, according to Greg Michna, adviser of the SDSU Human Powered Vehicle team and an associate professor of mechanical engineering. As a result, SDSU’s margin of victory was much narrower—81.84 to 79.25.

“We weren’t quite sure going into the announcements if we had won,” said Michna, noting the team was confident of victory at the West Region.

In sprint competition April 14, SDSU women won first and Akron placed second. The SDSU men placed second with Akron first. In innovation judging April 13, SDSU placed fourth while Akron was third. In design competition, SDSU gained an edge, placing first while Akron was seventh, giving the Jackrabbits a 25.06 to 20.35 point advantage in that contest. 

Endurance race determined champion

So the contest would be won or lost in the endurance race, a 2 ½-hour event on a 1.275-kilometer course in one of the stadium’s parking lots.

The endurance race, which includes parcel pickups, hairpin turns, speed bumps and rumble strips, saw Akron University place second with 40 laps while SDSU was fifth with 36 laps. “The guys spent an hour and a half creating a spreadsheet showing how close to Akron we would have to finish in order for us to win (overall),” Michna said.

Team captain Eric Looyenga said, “All through the race we’re asking ‘Where’s Akron?’ We had to make sure we were keeping up with them.”

SDSU’s entry, dubbed FlapJack, started slow as it performed parcel pickups, but State had its “ringer” for the third of five riders. Alex Gray, an experienced endurance bicycle racer and a member of last year’s race team, “got us all the way back to sixth place” as he completed the maximum 16 laps, Looyenga said. He then got behind the handle bars and moved SDSU into fifth place.

The final rider, Cole Sullivan, kept the trailing field in the rearview mirror. “The first four teams were difficult to catch,” Looyenga said.

A nerve-wracking wait

The strong but not dominating performance left room for doubt as the announcements neared. “It was really nerve-wracking because we didn’t know if we had won or not. It was definitely a relief when we won. We were very happy. The (1,300-mile, 23-hour) trip home (by van and car) went by real quick.

It feels amazing. We put in so much work all year and it paid off at the end. It’s cool to see how far we’ve come in four years,” Looyenga said.

SDSU first entered the competition in 2015, Looyenga’s freshman year. In 2015 and 2016, SDSU only entered one competition, finishing 17th and 23rd, respectively. By 2017, SDSU had a highly motivated crew and finished second and third. Many of the 20 members on the 2018 team returned from 2017, including Looyenga.

Sullivan shared men’s sprint racing at State College with 2017 team captain Jake Ostby, who graduated in December but was still eligible.

The other racer at State College was Claire Eggleston, who won the women’s sprint competition and was the only female on the endurance team.

Pit crew comes through

She got some good help in the pits between her sixth and seventh 380-meter sprint race of the day. FlapJack’s carbon fiber handlebar broke against Akron during Eggleston’s sixth race. SDSU would have another chance against the Zips if the Jacks could get their cycle ready in 10 minutes. Fortunately, steering lead Josh Zwinger had made and brought extra handlebars.

The part was replaced and Eggleston was able to pedal the 65-pound, carbon fiber composite bicycle to a narrow win.

“This endurance race, we didn’t have the two track people that we had last time, so we knew we needed people to step up and they did,” Looyenga said. “It was a huge team effort. Everybody put in a lot of work the whole year,” which began with design and contacting sponsors as soon as the school year began in August.

In addition to the bike racing, SDSU also had an entry in the Old Guard Oral Presentation. Peder Solberg of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, finished first for a talk he gave on plans to better orientate members of the Formula SAE race car team to that activity, sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers, so there is less attrition.

Eggleston competed in that event at Pomona and finished second. Students can give a 15-minute presentation on any technical subject.

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