TWMX All Access: Tom Morgan and White Brothers Engine Performance

If you’re still racing amateur classes, your knowledge of Tom Morgan might be limited only to his recent work with up-and-coming amateurs, but his career is a whole lot deeper than that. Over the years it has spanned involvement with the Factory Kawasaki team and seven AMA National Championships, as well as five prestigious Gold Wrench awards from the AMA.

Following his time with Kawasaki, he started his own successful engine modification company, Tom Morgan Racing, which was recently purchased by White Brothers and moved into their facility. As Tom explains, “There is no more TMR. It’s White Brothers Engine Performance now. They brought me in to develop engine performance products, and I was lucky enough that I could bring in my two guys with me, so everything transitioned nice and smooth.”

Ask Tom how long he’s been wrenching on engines, and he’ll smile and tell you, “Basically all my life. I started modifying engines about 35 years ago.” Tom grew up in Wisconsin, and there were plenty of different bikes and snowmobiles to wrench on. “My dad had a small shop and I got into working on that stuff in the early 70s. Later, I studied mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and decided that I wanted to live in California, so I came out here and worked at two dealerships. I kind of had had my own business for a while, and then went to work at Kawasaki in 1980.”

“Originally I was hired to do street bike development. Back then it was called quality assurance, not research and development. There were two of us American guys there, and the rest were all Japanese. The other guy kind of did all the dirt bike stuff and helped with the street bikes. I did all the street bikes. The original GPZs, and belt-drive 440, and fuel-injected Z1 Classic, and the Police bikes. All the chassis. We chose OEM tires and suspension settings, and all the fine-tuning stuff. It was a fun job. I was real good at fabrication and machining, and I could write all the test reports and work with the magazine guys on the street bike tests. I got to do test riding, too, and was a pretty good test rider. We used to spend a lot of time at Riverside Raceway, Willow Springs and Ontario. I did that for three years. After that I decided I wanted to go to the road race team. But Mark Johnson decided that he wanted to go from motocross to the road race team, so they said, ‘Sorry, Mark took the job.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll take his, then.’ That’s how I got into dirt bikes.”

“I spent 11 years with the motocross team. The first rider I had was Billy Liles, I had three years with him. Then a year with Eddie Warren on 125s. Then I went with Wardy for six years, and then LaRocco for one. When we got the big truck I was crew chief for the first semi that any of the teams had. I think I did that for two or three years before I left the team. I was kind of a jack-of-all-trades once again. I did a lot of the engine work for the team the last couple years I was there for Mike Kiedrowski, LaRocco and JeffMatiasevich.

Ask him what his specialty is, and he’ll tell you, “My specialty has always kind of been building pro level bikes, though over the last five years I’ve tried to concentrate on building things that the amateur riders could really use. Mainly engines, but I used to do a lot of suspension, too. I’ve kind of gotten out of that right now, although I think we’re going to bring that back in soon.”

It’s also doing a complete package so you don’t have a customer who’s trying to buy this part from this company, and that part from that company, and trying to pick out all the best things from all the different companies, and then when he puts it together, it doesn’t work right and falls apart. I can provide a complete package, where either I have designed and developed a part if I can’t find it available anywhere else, or to meet the performance or durability I want. I brg it all together, whether it’s my own design, or I bring in other aftermarket or OEM parts. I make sure I know all the tuning specs that are required, and I give that to the customer. I try to make it a pain-free situation. They either get the parts from me, or the whole engine from me and put it in, look at the jetting chart and go.”

So how did the whole alignment with White Brothers come about, and what did they hope to accomplish by bringing Tom in-house? “They were looking for a more complete package. My job here is to kind of coordinate their exhaust system development with an actual performance engine. To validate the whole thing and bring it together. All the parts they catalog as performance things come under my jurisdiction. We’ll be developing four-stroke engine packages for the four Japanese brands, so a guy who wants to do his own work, or even another engine builder can come to us and go, ‘Well, I need this valve set with valve springs, and that goes with this cam, and kind of have the whole thing packaged together as a trouble-free kit. If a guy wants to do his own porting in his own garage, he knows he can come here and get the valves and springs and cam that all work, and go from there.”

“The four-strokes are so specialized, and they’re still quite new for us motocrossers. There’s a big need for performance parts and reliable performance. It’s still moving along. I’m still designing new pistons, and working with valve companies and making valve springs and retainers and camshaft profiles. That’s the direction I’m going. More of the bits and pieces. Valves, retainers, special rods, and pistons.”

So how much will Tom be working back and forth with the pipe side of White Brothers? “We’ve already been trading back and forth. For example, the KX250F in the other room is their pipe bike, and I’ve been dynoing some stuff on it. Mainly they’re in charge of developing the pipes that go in the catalog. But as far as developing a pipe that works on my engines, we may have a performance pipe. If changes are needed, we may have a performance pipe recommended for a modified engine instead of just the stock bolt-on. They have to concentrate more on what works on an OEM stock bike, whereas I can get a little more focused on what works on a modified engine.”

Curious about the transition from high-performance two-strokes to four-strokes, we quizzed Tom about how tough it had been. “The street bike experience that I had helped me out a lot. I wasn’t worried, but I thought it would take me a little longer to come up to speed. I played around with the 400 and 426 Yamahas a little bit, but I never actually sold anything to anyone, though I did have a few friends that I did things for, and I worked with Craig Decker a little bit back in 2002. There just wasn’t a big market for it. People were under the assumption they could buy them and ride them stock. It was something that I drug my feet getting into, but then it did happen overnight. When Honda announced they were coming out with a CRF250, that’s when I kind of made my mind up that I was just going four-stroke while keeping the two-stroke stuff close to the side. As it turned out, the two-stroke stuff just really died out that year, and four-strokes were the way to go. “

He hasn’t been able to completely shake the two-strokes, though. With a laugh, he said, “I still do YZ85s, That’s one that just keeps hanging with me, because I have such a good YZ85/105/112 motor. Even though I’ve actually dropped it off of the web site, it keeps coming back at me. So I’ve decided to put it back on, and restock parts for it. I just have a really reliable engine that performs well, so I just keep getting requests to build them.”

So what’s Tom’s take on the complaints that four-strokes are more costly to maintain? “I’d actually say they require less maintenance than a two-stroke. A high-output 125 two-stroke, you really can’t expect a piston ring to last more than a couple hours on a bike that’s putting out 40 horsepower. With four-strokes, it depends on the power output level. It’s the difference of buying say, a Toyota car, and you drive it 200,000 miles and do very little to it. But if you buy a Toyota Indy car, you’re going to be rebuilding the engine every week. It’s just the difference in the power output level.”

“The thing with four-strokes is that people aren’t as experienced with them, and they are more complicated to work on. So you have a lot of that two-stroke mentality. We’re doing one right now where the guy thought that rebuilding it was just pulling it apart and putting a piston and rings in it. Really, the high wear parts are more in the valve train and the cylinder. You’ve got to go through and check valve seats and guides, and replace valves and springs. It’s a little more complicated for the average person to maintain. Most of them don’t have the equipment or knowledge to take care of the valve seats in the head, and if you don’t do that, you’re looking for problems. You can make power or hurt power by doing that right or wrong.”

“If you look at a stock 250F with a few hours of running time on it, it’s maybe 32 horsepower. My average customer engine that’s well cared for and jetted correctly is easily six horsepower more than that at its peak, and probably more like eight to nine more at the rev limit. That’s a huge difference in power, and that’s running on pump gas. It’s a reliable low maintenance engine, and I can go up from there.”

“I’m a firm believer in testing. I want to know what can happen and try to prevent it from happening before I sell it to somebody. I think I do more testing than anyone else in the industry. That’s both dyno and on the track. I think I’m a little slower in getting things out a lot of times. There may be other engine builders that have modifications a week or two after the bikes come out. Sometimes it takes me longer.”

What’s next for Tom and White Brothers? “Just continue developing the four-stroke engines so I can get more power and do it reliably. I’ve got some good things on the new 250 Honda. I’ve been testing on all the ’06s, but on that one I had a lot of those available soon on the ’06 model because of the White Brother’s association with Honda. Right now I’m producing several more horsepower than I ever have on pump gas. It’s looking good, and being here allows me more time to be creative like that. I still have as much or more responsibility, but now it’s more in the direction of developing things for the business, rather than running the business.  Before, I was worrying about paying unemployment taxes, and things like that. Now I don’t have to worry about that stuff. It makes me happy.”

Contact:

White Brothers
24845 Corbit Place
Yorba Linda CA, 92887
(714) 692-4218
www.whitebrothers.com

wo-stroke, you really can’t expect a piston ring to last more than a couple hours on a bike that’s putting out 40 horsepower. With four-strokes, it depends on the power output level. It’s the difference of buying say, a Toyota car, and you drive it 200,000 miles and do very little to it. But if you buy a Toyota Indy car, you’re going to be rebuilding the engine every week. It’s just the difference in the power output level.”

“The thing with four-strokes is that people aren’t as experienced with them, and they are more complicated to work on. So you have a lot of that two-stroke mentality. We’re doing one right now where the guy thought that rebuilding it was just pulling it apart and putting a piston and rings in it. Really, the high wear parts are more in the valve train and the cylinder. You’ve got to go through and check valve seats and guides, and replace valves and springs. It’s a little more complicated for the average person to maintain. Most of them don’t have the equipment or knowledge to take care of the valve seats in the head, and if you don’t do that, you’re looking for problems. You can make power or hurt power by doing that right or wrong.”

“If you look at a stock 250F with a few hours of running time on it, it’s maybe 32 horsepower. My average customer engine that’s well cared for and jetted correctly is easily six horsepower more than that at its peak, and probably more like eight to nine more at the rev limit. That’s a huge difference in power, and that’s running on pump gas. It’s a reliable low maintenance engine, and I can go up from there.”

“I’m a firm believer in testing. I want to know what can happen and try to prevent it from happening before I sell it to somebody. I think I do more testing than anyone else in the industry. That’s both dyno and on the track. I think I’m a little slower in getting things out a lot of times. There may be other engine builders that have modifications a week or two after the bikes come out. Sometimes it takes me longer.”

What’s next for Tom and White Brothers? “Just continue developing the four-stroke engines so I can get more power and do it reliably. I’ve got some good things on the new 250 Honda. I’ve been testing on all the ’06s, but on that one I had a lot of those available soon on the ’06 model because of the White Brother’s association with Honda. Right now I’m producing several more horsepower than I ever have on pump gas. It’s looking good, and being here allows me more time to be creative like that. I still have as much or more responsibility, but now it’s more in the direction of developing things for the business, rather than running the business.  Before, I was worrying about paying unemployment taxes, and things like that. Now I don’t have to worry about that stuff. It makes me happy.”

Contact:

White Brothers
24845 Corbit Place
Yorba Linda CA, 92887
(714) 692-4218
www.whitebrothers.com