May 2008, interviewed and written by Brian Marion and Duncan Moore
For T.R. Reiser motorcycles are really in his blood. He’s a second generation rider and racer who grew up working in motorcycle dealerships. The knowledge and experience he has gained over those early years led him to create T-Man Performance, a company recognized as specializing in getting the most from a V-twin engine. AMD’s Brian Marion found out more about what it takes to reach the highest levels of Harley performance work.
To understand T.R. you have to start with his father. As a kid, T.R.’s father, Tom Reiser,was the General Manager at A.D. Farrow in Columbus Ohio, the oldest Harley dealer in the country and a champion racer. His father’sracing successes included the 1968 Drag World Championship with an ET of 9.26 seconds and a top speed of 154.4 mph. He also had wins in hill climb events taking National Championships in 1964, 1992 and 1993. But it was when his father left Farrow’s to start his own shop, Reiser Cycle Service, that T.R. began his motorcycle career. No spoiled child,T.R. swept the floors all the while watching and learning and slowly being allowed to turn wrenches. By the time he was a teen, T.R. hadalso followed his father into racing. At 15,T.R. began competing in hill climbs on a 250 CR Sprint. After two years he had outgrown the Sprint, so his dad put him on his 88ci stroker Sportster. The result was impressive, the first time out on the bike he had the fastest time of the day, going on to win the district championship. Such was his passion for racing that the following year (1978) he took to campaigning a 360 Bultaco Astro as an amateurDirt Track racer, gaining his Pro license a year later. In 1980 he was runner up in the Canadian National Hill Climb Championship. And when his father was unable to race because of an injury, T.R. took over the gas unlimited bike winning the final two hill climbs. The following year they built a gas unlimited Championship bike. Riding this bike, T.R. won every event he entered in 1981 including the Invitational National Championship at York, Pennsylvania, going on to become the AMA Grand National Champion of the Unlimited Class.
In the early ‘80s, T.R. went to work as a motorcycle mechanic and after completing training at Harley School, went to work as a line mechanic at A.D. Farrow. After a few years he decided he wanted a break from bikes and went to work in the aircraft industry at McDonald Douglas for one and a half years. It was time well spent, as it was there that he learned the skills needed to work in a machine shop. But the aero industry held no passion for him and T.R. was beginning to get interested in Harley performance work but knew he had more to learn. His answer to this problem was to send his resume to Dan Baisley, one of the leading cylinder head porters. By a strange twist of fate, that resume found its way to Danny Fitzmaurice at Zipper’s Performance who offered T.R. a position. T.R. takes up the story: “I began there as a line mechanic doing engine installs, but my interest was in head work, so I was soon able to move to the porting room and then to the engine build room.”
By 1991, after two years with Zipper’s, T.R. took a job at the home office of the Easyriders franchise. He not only ran the Columbus Ohio Service and Performance Center new franchises across the country with their service and machine centers. However, this was a period when custom bikes with only minor hop-ups were the norm and Harley was discouraging its dealers from offering performance work. T.R. knew that there was a market for performance and began doing this specialty work on his own time. With each job he reinvested that money into buying needed machinery and the seeds of the business, which would become T-Man Performance, were sown.
A trip to Sturgis in 1996 proved to be a milestone for T.R. “I won the King of the Hill and Street Bike Shootout drag races and met Martha Delaney, who worked for the sanction, and would become my wife,” he says. That marriage meant a move to North Carolina where T.R. took a job in Greensboro at the Easyriders franchise on a one-year contract that allowed him to continue doing cylinder head work. A year later he moved into the current home of T-Man Performance and officially set up his own shop. The facility was originally 2,800 sq ft, but it has now doubled in size. The plan is to use the expanded area to run training seminars for the dealers who use T-Man performance kits. T.R. explains the reasoning for training: “We want people to be happy with our kits, and for them to be happy they need to produce the numbers (engine output figures), and that’s what we’ll assist them in doing. We use Power Commander, Race Tuner and ThunderMax, each of which has a special niche.” It is planned that the training programs will run during the summer months, which are traditionally a quieter time for engine builders. In the past this time has been used by T.R. for research and development and to work on restocking inventory. Alongside the CNC ported cylinder heads, which established the business’ reputation, T-Man Performance also offers their own cams, pistons, big bore kits and manifolds. Additional machining services include engine case and cylinder head repairs, engine boring and rebuilds, an area which T.R. particularly cares about: “When an engine leaves the shop it’s my reputation and the reputation of the shop that goes with it, that’s why I do all the builds.”
While the engine builds are done in-house, many of the other parts are brought in. T.R.’s reasoning is that: “We try to utilize the best people in our industry. There’s no sense in me trying to make a throttle body when Horsepower, Inc already makes a good one.” It is this working with other companies, to utilize each other strengths, where T.R. sees the future of the performance industry. He explains: “In the next few years it’s going to take small companies working together to stay successful. That, and customer service, after all, in the end all we have is our name so it pays to keep a good reputation.” Looking into the future T.R. has no plans to diversify the product line, but to continue improving on it, concentrating on what he knows best. He explains: “We’re never going to manufacture our own engine. We do best by enhancing what is already there. Why try and reinvent the wheel when there’s 100,000s of Harleys out there that we can enhance.