Slick Cylinders getting ready to race

by Cori Hilsgen

The Slick Cylinders, a group of St. Cloud State University mechanical and manufacturing-engineering students, are revving their engine and getting ready to race.

The Slick Cylinder team includes Jacob Harper, Sartell; Dan Kezar, Forest Lake; Travis G. Meyer, Lakeville; Gene Studniski, Milaca, Heather VanSlyke, Zimmerman; and Jim Wicklund, Roseville.

The six students are working toward their mechanical and manufacturing-engineering degrees. This is their senior design project. The group is participating in the 2017 Society of Automotive Engineers, a professional association; and Clean Snowmobile Challenge, a standards-development organization.

Harper didn’t grow up in Sartell but bought his house in Sartell a few years ago when he decided to attend St. Cloud State University to study engineering.

As a manager and bartender at the Old Capital Tavern in Sauk Rapids, he said he has heard some wonderful stories about what is being offered to young engineers in the local high schools.

“I’ve had many parents explain to me in great detail about the advantages and opportunities behind these programs,” Harper said.

VanSlyke is the project lead and a National Science Foundation science, technology, engineering and math scholar.

She has been a snowmobiling fan for many years because it has long been a family hobby.

VanSlyke said the goal of the project is to take a stock snowmobile, what you would purchase from a dealership without any fancy gadgets or accessories, and modify it to make it flex-fuel capable, reduce its emissions and noise levels, and also improve its fuel economy.

The senior design project was VanSlyke’s idea. She has interned at Polaris, in both the Roseau and Wyoming locations in Minnesota, for the past two summers and was hired by the company to begin working there as an engineer after graduation. She will travel to Switzerland to work on a motorcycle platform – for six months.

The team began working on the project last fall.

The Polaris company has been supportive and donated a 2015 Polaris Rush 800 Pro-S for the team to use as a base model.

She said the Polaris Rush has a two-stroke engine, which generally runs pretty loud and not very clean, so her idea was to install a Polaris RZR engine.

“The Polaris RZR is a really fun side-by-side all-terrain vehicle, and this is a four-stroke engine which already runs significantly quieter and is cleaner from the start,” VanSlyke said.

Team members are working on different facets of the project. Harper is working on the sled’s steering post and exhaust.

Studniski is the second person to lead on the project.

“(He) is the most amazing computer-aided design guru I’ve ever met,” VanSlyke said.

Kezer is managing the team to keep everyone on schedule. VanSlyke said he also works at the school shop, so he’s been very helpful with all the hands-on manufacturing the team needs to get done on the sled.

Meyer has been helping trouble-shoot some of the computer-aided design models for the steering post. Wicklund is also working on the steering post and exhaust.

VanSlyke shared a few details about her team members. Harper is a die-hard Vikings football team fan, and he and a few other team members enjoy aggravating her, a Packer’s football team fan, weekly.

Studniski is a retired U.S. Marine. He and his wife, Marah, have a newborn daughter, Ashlyn.

Meyer is on the St. Cloud State University Swim and Dive Team. Wicklund, who has a young daughter, has also been hired to start working after graduation.

Dr. Ken Miller is the advisor for the team. VanSlyke said Miller has raced just about everything under the sun.

“He’s been a fantastic resource for us and has been very supportive through(out) the whole process,” she said.

VanSlyke said through working on the project, the team has developed a couple quotes that just seem to stick, including, “It’s probably fine,” and  “It will only take 20 minutes,” and those oft-repeated phrases are essentially the way the team seems to operate.

“We always say it will take 20 minutes, and sometimes it ends up taking two weeks,” she said. “It’s been more of an inside joke, but it makes us smile and laugh through all the stress.”

The redesigned snowmobiles will compete March 6-11 at Michigan Tech’s Keweenaw Research Center in Houghton.

The challenge is not an actual race, but challenges that award the most points to the fastest-accomplished task.

Their snowmobile or sled will compete against 24 other teams in several tasks that include the following:

• An endurance run where each snowmobile must travel 100 miles without needing to refuel. At the end of the miles, fuel consumption is calculated to determine the most fuel-efficient snowmobile.

• An acceleration run where each snowmobile must show what it’s made of in 10 yards. The fastest time earns the most points.

• A cold start where the sleds are stored in a -20 degrees Fahrenheit garage overnight. The sled that starts up, warms up and travels 10 feet in the fastest time earns the most points.

• A handling course where each team needs to prove its sled is fun, safe and manageable to ride.

• An emissions test where the judge takes each sled for a ride with an emissions sleigh hooked up to the exhaust. The sleigh collects data through sensors, and the data is transferred to a computer to create graphs and generate the overall emissions scores.

• An indoor dyno test to prove the sled is not illegal and is within horsepower limits. The sled also can’t overheat or bog down during the throttle cycles.

• The sled is also judged on appearance. Would someone want to buy it?

• How expensive is the sled? Would someone purchase it for that price?

The team will also submit a formal report proving its modifications with engineering drawings, designs, computer-aided design and the math behind its designs.

At the end of the competition, the team will present its report and try to prove to people their sled would be worth buying.

Besides bragging rights, winners of the competition can earn scholarships and awards for things such as best engine design, lowest emissions, quietest snowmobile and more.

The team is self-funded. Harper said they have had to work hard to find funding and parts for the project, but he said the knowledge they have gained will last forever.

VanSlyke said they could use additional funds to help finish the project.

“Throughout the whole project we have hit a few road bumps but have found a way to stay a team and have fun throughout the project,” Harper said. “We don’t really know what to expect, other than what has been read in the rules. It should be a great time and experience whether we come in first or last. We just hope another team picks up any pieces and continues the project next year.”

After graduation, Harper hopes to work toward cleaner forms of transportation or work in the medical field.

If you would like to donate to the team or for more information, email

contributed photo
Slick Cylinders team members (clockwise) Heather VanSlyke, Dan Kezar, and Gene Studniski are shown with their team’s Polaris snowmobile after the removal of the engine from their sled on the second day of working on their project.

contributed photo
The Slick Cylinders, a group of St. Cloud State University mechanical and manufacturing engineering students, wear new jackets donated by Up North Sports located in Bemidji for their mid-design presentations. Pictured (left to right) are Dan Kezar, Jake Harper, Gene Studniski, Heather VanSlyke, Travis Meyer, Jim Wicklund and Dr. Ken Miller, team advisor.

contributed photo
Members of the Slick Cylinder team, Heather VanSlyke (left) and Gene Studniski, pour an aluminum casting for some reinforcement brackets in their sled. The team has made the majority of their parts for their redesigned sled.

contributed photo
The Slick Cylinders team includes (left to right) Dan Kezar, Jake Harper, Heather VanSlyke, Jim Wicklund, Travis Meyer and Gene Studniski. They are shown with their 2015 Polaris Rush 800 Pro-S sled before they started taking it apart to redesign it for the 2017 Society of Automotive Engineers Clean Snowmobile Challenge in Houghton, Mich.

Cori Hilsgen

Cori Hilsgen

Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
Cori Hilsgen
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