My sprint north has but one purpose. “Go ride the new Indian FTR1200, on a flat track” said Rossco (BSMC editor) – through gritted teeth. Logically Ross should be here. He was 2016 UK Rookie Champion and top 3 in the Hooligan series, and loves nothing more than going fast and turning left (rumour is he can’t actually turn right). He’s also obsessed with the FTR750 that Indian have used to obliterate the competition in the American Flat Track series.
I on the other hand have no off-road credentials, unless you count my brief downhill MTB racing career. (I don’t) I roll up with 3 minutes to spare on a morning that feels cold enough to snap. The track is indoor so it’s not as cold as it might be. I’ve just ridden two hours in the snow over the Sierras so I’m still a wee bit chilly. The other lads are already on track or having instruction from Superhooligan loon Jordan Graham (pictured #47). I get myself together with the cunning use of cigarettes and coffee then swing a leg over my designated FTR.
The riding position, to me feels very Yamaha XSR like and the big twin’s bark does nothing to dispel this impression. Likewise, the suspension is firm and tuned for an aggressive pilot. The front brake lever has been removed (true flat trackers don’t run a front stopper, if you didn’t know) but other than that, this is a road legal machine. I’m aware it’s a pre-production bike but it’s so close to what we will see in the showroom you’d need be a bit anal to notice.
The clocks, whilst being full colour and having the now de riguer modes and the ability to customise settings, still look a little out of place perched as they are on the bars looking like an updated Sega Gameboy. The bars are wide, the foot pegs low and further forward than I’m used to and he seat is tall and firm.
I’m not really paying proper attention to the ergonomics as I’m nervous at the thought of taking this pre-production machine out on track. Jordan gives me the lowdown on how to ride flat track.
“Keep it in first, nail it until you hit the limiter, shut the throttle. The back should step out as you turn in, then push the bike down underneath you to hit the apex. The front won’t wash out, trust me.” He says…
“Then gas it on the way out and ride the slide.”
This seems both unlikely to happen and probably more difficult than it sounds. I nod vaguely and remember I’m wearing jeans and a jacket with no body armour. I blip the throttle to get a feel for it. Jordan leans in “Try not to hit the wall on the exit!”
I wobble round the first session feeling for grip and I’m shocked just how much there is. I can only liken it to riding on full wets. You know it’s slippy but the grip is there. There is also an unusual floating sensation as the bike finds its feet.
Next time out I’m ready to dig a bit deeper. Jordan has pointed out my missed turn in points, apexs and exits so I’m determined to try harder. A fist full of gas from the line sends the bike skittering side ways and I’m already grinning. The limiter kicks in a I approach the first turn and I follow Jordan’s advice. Snap the throttle shut, engine braking sends the rear to the right then I shove the bike to the ground aiming for the apex. I expect the front to fold but it doesn’t. It just digs in. I’m supposed to have my foot out but I can’t get the hang of it. The inside peg it carving through the dirt while the back end starts to come back in. I’m within spitting distance of the apex, I pin it and expect to low or high side any second. It doesn’t. I just fire out the corner fishtailing wildly. I’m ecstatic and promptly run way wide on the next turn. So continues the next two sessions with moments of “I’ve got this!” Followed by “bugger me, that wall is really close!”
With a bit of practice and perhaps a few more words of sage advice, I might get the hang of it but right now the Hooligan racers and Rossco have nothing to fear. I try to follow Jordan for a couple of laps but it’s hopeless. He turns in late and hard with both tyres scrabbling across the clay. It’s a delight to watch but he might as well be in another universe.
I continue until I get to the ‘feeling a bit cocky’ point. I’ve been here before. This is where I usually think “I’ve got this !” and then promptly throw the bike at the scenery. I decide discretion is the better part of valour and sit out the last session. I’m happy enough. I’ve managed to get it sideways on the way in and the way out, got the pegs down mid slide, passed only by Jordan and I haven’t crashed. I’m exhausted. My legs, arms and shoulders ache from wrestling the FTR around. Nimble it may be. Light it isn’t.
I’m left thinking about how this bike will be on the road. A cross between a big supermoto and a naked street bike perhaps. There’s a more off-road focussed option coming too. I predict these things are going to sell in droves. I know I want one. Watching the pros hurl these things around I am slightly in awe. I’m going to ask Ross for some tips, next time.
Now off to the one show. It’s an hour away and it’s started snowing again….
Check the vid!