• Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, is launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger. Ah……anyone?
• First draft of the complete human genome is published in the journal Nature. We have blamed all our problems on our DNA ever since.
• Michael Brunet discovers the skull of Sahelanthropus Tchadensis (figure 1) in the Djurab Desert, Chad. One of the oldest known species in the human family tree, 6–7 million years old. How the hell would we know?
• The Leaning Tower of Pisa reopens after 11 years and $27,000,000 to fortify it (figure 2) without fixing its famous lean. Might stay up another couple hundred years before it tips over.
• The Fellowship of the Ring, first Lord of the Rings film is released. Makes $871 million total worldwide. No hobbling this Hobbit!
• Apple releases the iPod for organizing and playing digital music and videos. Discs slip!
• Windows XP first becomes available. Seems like only 6–7 million years ago, doesn’t it?
• The Polaroid Corporation files for federal bankruptcy protection. Who can wait 60 whole seconds for a selfie?
• U.S. President Bill Clinton awards former President Theodore Roosevelt a posthumous Medal of Honor for his service in the Spanish-American War and posthumously raises Meriwether Lewis’ rank from Lieutenant to Captain. Doubt they cared.
• Crash during Daytona 500 race on last lap claims the life of Dale Earnhardt. We cared!
• Two passenger planes hijacked by terrorists crash into New York’s World Trade Towers (figure 3) causing the collapse of both and deaths of 2,752 people. Terrorists hijack a passenger plane and crash it into the Pentagon causing the deaths of 125 people. Attempt by passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93 to retake control of their hijacked plane from terrorists causes plane to crash in Pennsylvania field killing all 64 people on board. Life in this country… goes on… but will never be the same again. No motorcycles were involved in the wreaking of this havoc!
H-D stock (figure 4) was up (to “blue chip” status), generous dividends were being paid and for the 16th consecutive year… the factory experienced records sales! Chairman Bleustein even bumped the production target for the year, to a total of 229,000! By contrast, GM, Ford and Chrysler were backing off at the same time… to the tune of 15-30 percent.
On the surface
The big news in Harley’s lineup for the year was the unanticipated introduction of a no-holds-barred muscle bike… VRSC (figure 5)… a.k.a. V-Rod! A joint project developed by Porsche Design (figure 6) and the first all-metric V-Twin in company history, it was about as high-tech a step as the Motor Company has ever taken in one bound. I mean, from air-cooled, pushrod-operated, two-valve slow-revving behemoths to a liquid-cooled, multi-valve, DOHC, 60-degree jet-sled (figure 7) in one fell swoop was enough to make traditionalists faint dead away. It was (and remains) the quickest, fastest and most radical Hog ever. When it came to market just about the only competition was the venerable Yamaha V-Max (since the first muscle bike scene of the late ’80s had faded). I’m not sure what, exactly, Harley hoped for with the V-Rod. Best guess… a lure for younger riders. Young or old, it sure lured plenty of horsepower junkies, who otherwise would never have set foot in a Harley shop. It never really turned out to be a big seller, but sold steadily for more than a decade and a half afterwards and to my mind has a legacy that is unique in American motorcycles. (BTW… the V-Rod ’bout has to be the most reliable machine Milwaukee has ever built.)
The inside story
The company spent something north of a quarter million, in 2001, expanding and upgrading production facilities in York, Tomahawk and Wauwatosa (figure 8). Money well spent as it turned out, since sales showed no signs of abating and… well… there was the 100th anniversary thing looming on the horizon.