Steve Harris 1949 - 2022: Pioneering engineer and Harris Performance founder has died
The death in June, 2022 of Steve Harris marks the end of an era – when a single or a small group of independent engineers could play a major part in the motorcycle industry.
Essentially self-taught, and working with younger brother Lester and old schoolfriend Steve Bayford, Steve built racing and road chassis for privateers and factories, assembled complete motorcycles, designed and sold accessories and played a significant role from street level all the way to MotoGP and World Superbikes.
As well as building one-off racing frames for riders including Barry Sheene, Harris Performance Products were also selected by Yamaha to build works-replica grand prix chassis for YZR500 engines, run by privateer teams between 1992 and 1996.
One of the Hertfordshire firm’s first landmarks was converting Yamaha TZ250/350 production racers from twin-shock to monoshock. Racing star Steve Parrish was an early customer. “Back then, whatever you needed doing – from footpegs to a full chassis, Steve was the go-to guy.”
Parrish remained a close friend, and had plenty more to do with the firm, including developing a chassis for the FZ750 engine, backed by Yamaha importers Mitsui, for British Superbikes.
Harris also worked closely with Suzuki, designing and developing their factory WSB machine, and running the team in its early years.
The firm’s high point in racing was manufacturing the grand prix chassis, and running the Shell-backed Harris 500 GP team from 1992 to 1996, with Sean Emmett as lead rider.
Steve was always the public face of the firm. At the same time Harris Performance often worked in the background of the industry, while to most motorcyclists they were best known for their Harris Magnum frame kits.
The Magnum was built in large numbers (“probably more than 1000,” according to Bayford) and through five iterations through the 1980s and 1990s.
Lester Harris recalls: “There were three of us with different abilities that complemented each other. Steve was the instigator, and in many ways the driving force. He was gregarious, always looked at the big picture, and felt that anything was possible.
“At the time, motorcycle technology was quite basic. There were a lot of good engines, but chassis design wasn’t so good.
“The Magnum established the firm. We had built an endurance racing chassis for Mike Trimby and Andy Goldsmith, and Steve said: ‘It’s almost a road bike – it has lights, and electrics.’”
Steve was an inspirational engineer in an era when independent chassis builders – among them Nico Bakker, Tony Foale and Colin Seeley – were able to dramatically improve on the output of the factories.
Harris Performance was sold to Royal Enfield, a long-standing client, in 2015, and the Harris brothers retired. After a long illness, Steve succumbed to Parkinson’s disease on June 15. He is survived by his wife, schoolday’s sweetheart Gillian, and two children, James and Katie.