Reader’s Stories: Mr. Potatohead

INTRO – Editor ‘arris



Regulars who followed the “CMG Goes Racing” series last summer may have caught mention of a certain Costa Mouzouris, who was racing a Ducati. Well, as luck would have it, Costa is not just an excellent rider but he is also game in being half of the yet-to-be-confirmed Team CMG. Details have yet to be finalised, but with the demise of the Buell/BMW cup, we gathered as many of the elements as we could and came up with an all new Canadian Thunder Series (basically an air-cooled twins series).

Anyway, the other “as luck would have it” turn is that Costa is also a writer type (very handy). Answering to the Editor ‘arris challenge of “go on, write us a story then”, Costa came up with the following …

Oh, and the Team CMG/Canadian Thunder stuff? We’ll give you a full update in the next CMG news (whenever that eventually happens).


Costa slowly builds his engine.

Many people hear voices in their heads. Some may have dreams or delusions floating around up there that in some way push them along through life. Others may have religious figures guiding them, instructing them, showing them the light. Yet others have a complete vacuum, but can still manage to go about their daily business quite normally.

Me? I have an engine running in mine: a four-stroke, internal combustion engine.

Its configuration varies depending on what I demand from it and it runs all my waking hours. It can have overhead cams (single or double), overhead valves (two or more), sometimes pushrods, sometimes not. It may at times be fuel injected or at other times, carbureted. It has had superchargers and turbochargers installed, and every type of power enhancing device that I have heard of, or read about in my career as a technician, has been bolted onto this engine. It’s the Mr. Potatohead of engines. Yet throughout all these experiments and endless mental abuse, it has never missed one single revolution.

This engine is fueled by knowledge.

Did we mention that he’s also a racer?

Let me elaborate on the origins of this engine. It was first fired up at age fourteen, when I picked up my first power assisted two-wheeled device: a genuine Motobecane model 50v moped. It had pedals, but what interested me most was its engine. It wasn’t running and had two flat tires yet it was an acquisition that would forever change my life.

After taking care of the deflated tires, my focus turned to the engine. I knew nothing about how it worked other than it had a thing called a carburettor that gasoline spilled into. From there, it somehow worked its way down into the engine (and onto the floor), where a mystical chain of events took place that were supposed to make blue smoke puke out the tailpipe and cause the rear wheel to spin. I took the carburettor apart and cleaned it.

He can even add double overhead cams and liquid cooling.

That was the extent of my mechanical knowledge at the time and besides, every carburettor needs a good cleaning now and then. I put it back together, pedalled for about ten minutes, causing enough heat to build up in the poor thing to pre-ignite it to life. It was the happiest moment of my adolescence. Well, that and the discovery that I could use my penis for things other than the expulsion of liquid waste.

At that very moment though, as my garage filled with exhaust with my mother pounding on the floor above me, my eyes were forming tears, not of joy but well, tears from the choking smoke, a very simple little engine fired up inside my head. It consisted only of a carburettor, but during that summer back in ’79, the list of parts that made up my imaginary engine grew with every problem I solved while trying to keep my 50v on my journey of discovery. I’ve been adding to it ever since.

This engine has evolved over the years and has become at times, very complex. I use it in my pursuit of knowledge. Every time someone asks my advice on some mechanical ailment their motorcycle may be experiencing, I will perform various tests on my imaginary engine in an effort to solve their problems.

For example, when someone says to me, “My bike makes a knocking noise when I give it gas”, I will refer to my little motor and try to reproduce the symptoms to help locate the origins of the noise. I’ll wear the piston beyond the service wear limits; this in turn produces a certain noise in my head. I’LL perform these tests with the engine cold, and then hot. As the engine in my head heats up, my imaginary, worn piston expands, taking up the excessive clearance, thus reducing the noise. This is followed by the next step in the process: the gathering of more information.

Oh, and he’s a pretty good racer too.

“Does the noise go away the longer you ride or is it always there?” I’LL return, to which I will get a reply that makes me alter my engine once again, which in turn leads me to more questions. Usually, somewhere along the way, I will have gathered enough information to narrow the search to one or two probable causes. All this takes place in seconds and has been very effective in my career as a motorcycle technician. But not always, sometimes my imaginary tests don’t succeed in finding the problems or worse yet, throw me entirely in the wrong direction that only results in imaginary smoke blowing out my ears.

Damn good actually.

I know of another technician that had an imaginary engine in his head. We worked for the same dealership and at one time I remember he was having difficulty working on a Japanese V-twin engine. While assembling the valve-train he had neglected to time the camshafts properly. He got it right on one of the cylinders, but was 180 degrees off on the other. A simple problem to solve for someone with experience but having been in the field only two years, he could not yet figure out how one cylinder could be right and the other could not.

After discussing the situation with him for quite some time, it became clear to me that the engine in his head was rather incomplete. It consisted of a couple of shiny, chrome covers bolted over a jumble of parts that were thrown inside in no particular order. His Mr. Potatohead had the lips where the nose should be and the eyes where the ears should be. Together, we finished assembling his V-twin, though he never did learn the proper anatomy of his internal engine. I hear he is a make-up artist for some television production company now. I just hope he knows where the lipstick goes.

The things I try on my engine can be rudimentary or very intricate. I can see what happens if I throw a bolt down the intake or I can change the shape of the combustion chamber and see what effect that has on thermal efficiency. It is the ideal engine with infinitely adjustable cam and ignition timing, immeasurable bore and stroke combinations and can have multiple cylinders in all possible layouts. It’s like Silly Putty; I can mould it into whatever combination I want.

Canadian Thunder anybody?

But all this talk of electronically controlled exhaust power valves, 5 valves per cylinder, astronomical RPM, short strokes, multi-cylinder engines and pressurised air boxes is making the engine in my head spin. As of late, I’ve decided to go back to basics. I’ve removed the liquid cooling, have gone to fuel injection for ease of mental maintenance, limited my engine to two cylinders and two valves and will leave it close to stock.

No oversized, high compression pistons or radical cams; no lightweight crankshafts or billet rods. All those trick parts will have to rest in my imaginary parts bin. I just want a simple, air-cooled twin cylinder engine. One with enough oomph to propel the rear wheel with the might of 95 wild horses. One that will be capable of withstanding an entire season of abuse … on the racetrack!

Hmmm, the new Canadian Thunder Racing Series would be the perfect arena where I could use and abuse such an engine in real life and give my imaginary engine break. I can even try to win the inaugural championship for team CMG, making my little engine’s torturous work worthwhile. This is all coming together quite well, yes, I can hear it now as it revs at nine grand in my head, thunder bellowing out the exhaust pipe as I blast up the straight at Mosport, throttle cable stretched tight at 240 kph…

My little engine has gone a long way since it was first fired up; I just hope it never runs out of fuel.

Join the conversation!