Remember that smug and satisfying feeling you got when you handed in your schoolwork early? Nope, me neither. But I just had a taste. Back in October last year Indian Motorcycle threw a massive shindig at the Intermot show to unveil their hotly anticipated FTR1200. I couldn’t get to Germany so to make up for it I penned a feature, blind – and here it is. So after a lovely day riding the new FTR1200 in the canyons above Los Angeles everyone else is scribbling away in their hotel rooms and I’m off to the beach. Nice.
Not so fast. Six months is a long time in the motorcycle world and since Intermot I’ve had a good poke around the FTR, sat on a few and our man in the US rode one of the pre-production models, on dirt – click here. And apart from actually riding the bikes themselves, loads of other folk have had the chance to see the FTR1200 at various shows and race meetings. While the response has generally been very positive there’s also been a good dose of ignorance too.
——— warning, if you don’t want to be told how to suck eggs scroll right down, near the bottom, for the actual ride report ———
If anyone genuinely thought Indian were going to stick a licence plate and a headlight on an FTR750 (above right) then they need to have a word with themselves. If you really, really want, and need, to race an FTR750 chances are you already do. If you don’t race Stateside then your local track isn’t big enough and you don’t need one. The 750 is a dedicated competition machine. A prototype racer built for one purpose, going in circles, on dirt. Fast. Not a machine to be burdened with ABS and pillion pegs.
That being said, last summer we were teased with footage of Dimitri Coste hooning the FTR1200 Concept around an oval and nearly everyone (myself included) in our office crossed their fingers and asked where to send their deposit cheques. It seemed the perfect combination of the 750’s race looks with the extra brawn needed for the road. See more pics and video of that here. Although this prototype seemed more likely to translate to the final road bike than the 750, when was the last time you saw a factory concept end up in the showroom? That’s right never, the clue is in the title.
Indian have been under pressure to deliver on their promise and “build that and take my money” seemed the most common social media comment, but herein is the problem. The designers at any motorcycle brand are able to sketch and clay model panty dropping machines but it’s not until the practicalities of the mass market and homologation get in the way that the reality becomes bloated and covered with seemingly unnecessary appendages. Yes, the FTR1200’s stock pipes are a bit ugly and poke out at a funny angle, but what are Indian supposed to do? Placate the flat track stalwarts with a pair of ear drum bursting leg scorchers and end up in court because some dickhead sues them for sautéing his girlfriend’s inner thigh?
Nearly every single mass produced bike these days needs to carry two people, fat ones at that, do it fast, coz that’s what people want, and then stop on a dime without skidding, while showing the speed camera behind a clear view of the licence plate. It must do all of this in a whisper quiet manner while emitting nothing but floral scents. Coz dem the rules. Without any legislation the FTR1200 would look exactly like the 750. Taking everything into consideration I reckon Indian have done a pretty good job of producing a decent looking bike. Imagine the tank had no logo and you’d never heard of flat track and this pulled up at the lights…. it’s more handsome than a Monster 1200 I reckon.
But if you don’t agree then check out what Jordan Graham, Roland Sands and Thor Drake have done with their pre-production bikes (click to enlarge). With very few mods these Hooligan Series flat trackers instantly look more racy. And once this new model hits the dealers loads of replicas and homages will follow. But Indian aren’t in the business of manufacturing motorcycles for a tiny niche within a niche. They can’t afford to. Sure, their utter domination of American Flat Track over the last couple of years has crept onto the radars of the general public but not in large enough numbers to solely market a motorcycle to.
The AFT organisation and current champ, Indian factory rider Jared Mees’ combined social media reach is tiny. This new era for the Indian race team is marketing gold and the lineage between the prototype competition machines and this road going FTR1200 is omnipresent. But to think that Polaris (Indian Motorcycle’s owner – if you didn’t know) plan to just stock up on burgundy paint, imitate their race bike and sit back while the coffers fill up is more than a bit naive.
In a hyper competitive market they need to be hungry, and from what I can glean from the top brass and their pointy sales graphs – they’re ravenous. So what is the competition for the FTR1200? Well, large capacity nakeds with grunt rather than raw power, in a slightly retro style. Ducati Monster, Suzuki Katana, BMW R nineT and maybe, at a push maybe Honda’s CB1000R, the Kawasaki Z900 RS or Yamaha’s XSR900 would be on the wishlist for punters looking for a new motorcycle in this sector. Yeah, I know. The Duke and the Japanese machines would knock the FTR into the weeds if pure performance is your thing. But for the growing number of people it simply isn’t.
Dying, insurance premiums and the increasing difficulty in maintaining a clean driving licence have been blunting performance bike (not just sports bikes) sales charts for years. The smart money is in motorcycles that look cool, sound good and deliver plenty of thrills without requiring two decades of riding experience to extract their potential. With little competition BMW mopped up with the R nineT, until Triumph came along and schooled everyone in how to do modern retro.
The point about performance is perhaps the most pertinent. Seasoned bikers know how to play Spec Shed Top Trumps and therefore may discount the FTR based on it’s 221 kg heft alone. And some might see Polaris selling-out the Indian name. But relying on the old guard to keep the balance sheets balanced would be churlish. Remember when Britain ruled the world of motorcycle manufacturing? The pesky Japanese turned up with their whizzy and reliable machines, threatening to change the tune. Did the old guard listen then? Nope.
Here at the Bike Shed it’s a near daily occurrence that we hear of someone new to biking who’s passed their test and wants to get involved. Do they know that you must cut your teeth on a 125 two stroke, before moving up to a 250, and then if you’re any good progress to an old 600? Do they bollocks. Modern bikes are so damn easy, and safe, to ride that engine capacity is no longer the headline factor in choosing one’s first big bike. Whop an A2 licence restrictor kit (33hp here in the UK) on an FTR1200 and bingo, you’ve got yourself a bike to learn on with the potential for proper speed once you’re a bonafide grown up. And as for most millennials having heard of Indian Motorcycle, let alone be abreast of the century of heritage, forget it. Case in point, my best friend Tom (a bit old to be a millennial but close enough). He last rode a motorcycle when we were kids, a Honda Z50 and he’s not done more than sit on an static one since, yet when I mentioned coming on this launch he chimed in with “I really have no idea what I’m talking about but I like the idea of an Indian, if I had a licence I’d get one”.
People like Tom simply want to ride something cool and charismatic. And so far Indian is going the right way about building this into their brand. Sure, their showrooms are still packed with tassely barges but even some of those have been given an overhaul for the new customer, and l think some of the baggers look the nuts.
I’ll go put my soapbox away and collect my cheque from Indian’s marketing guy.
Slightly arrogantly I thought I’d be able to pretty much review the FTR1200 without riding it. During the Scout Bobber press launch in 2017 myself and the rest of the journos were mighty impressed with the v-twin powertrain and figured it’d make a great street tracker and perhaps a café racer. The latter not so aligned with the Indian brand currently, but you never know. How much difference could a tweak in riding position really make.
Turns out I couldn’t be more wrong. The badge on the tank is the same but that’s pretty much where the similarities end with the FTR1200 and Scout. The steel trellis frame is all new, with a single sided Sachs monoshock rather than old school twinshocks. And the motor is also new. It’s still a 60 v-twin and but packs four more cubes at 1203cc. Some of the architecture is shared with the Scout motor but essentially it’s a fresh approach with different internals including rods, pistons, cams and cylinder head ports. Externally the cases have changed too. I noticed a few differences but would need a Scout side-by-side to tick them off. One of the main changes though is the swingarm which now pivots from a different place. I’ve laboured the point. The engine is a new one, not a rehash.
The tank itself is a plastic under-the-seat-affair which centralises weight and allows for a useful 125 mile range without the need for a massive vessel between the rider’s legs. The airbox is perfectly placed to downdraught twin throttle bodies and is skinned with plastic ‘tank’ panels, allowing for easy customisation, or repair, should skidding in circles be your thing.
The cast wheels are 18″ at the rear and 19″ up front, with specially developed Dunlop DT3-R tyres. They look near as damn it the same as the DT3 control tyre used in the AFT and DTRA but the blocks are ever so slightly different. The compound is harder than the chewing gum racer version and the sidewalls, especially the rear, are beefed up. Brakes are by the now ubiquitous Brembo (radial Monoblocs up front) and run a regular ABS – not the cornering type. The sizes and specs for these and the rest of the equipment can be found in a link at the bottom.
Then there’s a choice to be made. The base model (a slightly unfair moniker) is black, everywhere. And that’s the easy way to spot the difference. Black, partially adjustable fork and shock, both by Sachs, a black frame and black bodywork. And it’s actually my favourite to look at. I’m not down with gold suspension, no matter who makes it. The S model has a fully adjustable fork and piggyback shock, again from Sachs. The S also gets fancy paint full of snazzy metalflake. But the big deal on the S is the TFT dash which controls the three rider modes – Rain, Standard & Sport. The ABS, wheelie and lean sensitive traction control are also switchable on the S and there’s cruise control as standard on all models. Aesthetically I prefer the analog gauge on the base bike but the TFT screen options are easy to use via a gloved-hand-compatible touchscreen or toggle on the left switchgear. Not bad for just over a grand extra.
But for the full Jared Mees effect there’s the Race Replica version, with burgundy painted frame and shock spring, plus twin Akrapovič silencers. Then there are of course a myriad of accessories, far too many combinations to list here. Suffice to say Indian are keen to shake their cruiser image and can offer the FTR1200 owner the opportunity to Tour, Sport, Rally & Tracker. There’s a link below to save me rambling on any further. Based purely on looks though I’d go for a regular 1200 and add the carbon tank panels, mudguard and seat cowl from the Sport Collection. Or maybe the Tracker seat. And it’d be worth chucking on the wire spoked wheels from the Rally version to see what that looked like.
To match the looks the fit and finish is really rather good too, with components feeling premium and well thought out. The brand name Pro Taper bars might be headline grabbing (for some) on the spec list but it was actually the braided cable sheathing and Indian monogrammed rubber looped fastenings that impressed me more. And I really had to hunt for a cable tie. The fiddly left hand switchgear and clumsy robotic weld around the exhaust to catalytic converter was about all I could moan about. The FTR’s detailing is on par with the other premium brands for sure.
And riding it isn’t what I expected either. I thought the FTR1200 would be a lollopy torque monster like the Scout but with a comfy riding position. Turns out the Indian engineering team had higher expectations than I did. The other journos had their own preconceptions too. Would the FTR be more Monster than R nineT? Or a cruiser on steroids. Turns out we couldn’t really find a suitable pigeonhole. A cruiser though this thing aint. With 123hp on tap and a 10,000 rpm red line the FTR comes out of its corner ready for a brawl.
The motor feels buttery smooth from 3,000 to 6,000 rpm and for the first session I don’t think I shifted later than 7,ooo – I thought I was all in. But remembering the way the Scout begged for a good thrashing I loosened the FTR’s reins which revealed a split personality. The smoothness is replaced by an angry, staccato racket from just under one’s chin as the airbox sucks hard. The last 2000 rpm are beyond peak power but the engine will gladly rev. Leave it hanging or downshift and there’s a very satisfying pop and bang on overrun. Addictive even. I did try the Akra system on a Race Replica version but I couldn’t really tell the difference, the baffles needed to be removed. My stocker actually sounded better I thought.
Shifting a quarter ton (wet weight) of metal plus an over-burgered rider knocked the edges off the headline horsepower figure as you’d expect but the bike doesn’t feel slow, or lacking. In fact I wouldn’t want any more power. If anything, and being picky, I’d have liked a bit more torque and a slightly softer power delivery. At times the throttle response was a bit snatchy, in both Sport and Standard mode. A couple of miniature slides out of tight flik-flak bends were enough to chill me out. But… to give the FTR benefit of the doubt our fleet was brand new with just 30-40 miles on the clock, not run in yet and the ECUs were still in their “rider learning phase”. In the morning I preferred Standard mode but by the afternoon I’d got more of a measure of the fueling and elected to keep the thing spooled up. Rain mode would be perfect for wet cobbles, in Siberia. I had a brief dabble and it felt like a plug lead had fallen off – ideal for inclement climes like back home in Blighty.
And about the weight… at no point did I feel like I was astride a heifer. Quite where the extra pounds were hiding I don’t know. The subframe is aloominum, the tank plastic and there didn’t appear to anything cheap and nasty bolted on. The stock exhaust system is a bit burly but there’s a bag of cement’s worth of extra somewhere. Maybe a giant flywheel lurks beneath the nicely detailed engine cases. But who cares. Changing direction took stern inputs on the bars but that felt part of the theatre of riding a big ol’ 1.2 litre Indian. Owners looking for a naked to burn though knee sliders and take to track days, go get a Monster 1200, or similar. This is a different bike for a different rider.
The brakes are as you’d expect from Brembo, perfectly excellent. Gentle double digits suffice 99% of the time, and a single would be more than adequate. The ABS on the rear cut in fairly easily but wasn’t all that intrusive and I didn’t have cause to hamfist the front lever and make the tyre chirp. The choppy road surface was chosen specifically to highlight the FTR’s capable Sachs suspension, and it did an admirable job. The FTR remained planted, even when cutting the road’s centreline, which in California consists of deep gouges made to stop car drivers drifting across lanes.
We were supposed to swap between the base and S models but with dark clouds and ominous weather on the horizon everyone’s focus was on ensuring photographic continuity (I got stuck with a grey one – which I liked). Again, with more time we’d have twiddled with the suspension settings. I’m not sure which position the knobs were in, but I’d wager ‘here come the journos, stiff them all up a bit’ might have been a request. Or maybe I just felt I’d have preferred a slightly plusher setup.
Right at the end of the day I swapped my silvery grey S (non Race Rep) for a black Bobby Basic and was supposed to head off from the junction with the PCH back up the canyon for a few yards to get a bit of video footage. I got completely carried away and ended up back at the top of the mountain near the cloud line. Maybe I was jet lagged, and tired after a 150 miles in the saddle, maybe it was because I was on my own and not trying to keep up with the faster boys. Or maybe just for once I preferred the cheaper version of something. The non S felt more compliant, softer and even though the default engine mode is the same Standard as the S, I found it to be smoother without the fuelling peaks. It was however one of the bikes used for pre-launch photography and route planning so perhaps it simply benefitted from having a few hundred miles under its belt. Either way I enjoyed it more and made use of the 87 ft-lbs of torque and shifted at its peak, just under 6,000 rpm, and rolled through the sinews of fresh asphalt in third gear. And could have carried on like this for hours.
The tracker inspired rubber was a hot topic on the day. The rear being an 18 incher leaves little choice of rubber should owners want to try something else. Sure, if the FTR was rolling on 17s with less trackery tread we’d have ridden harder and faster, but choadie wheels on this bike would look shit and wedged the bike into the wrong pigeon hole. If this had been a smaller displacement street tracker then a 19 out back would have looked better, but with the 1200’s shove a 4.5″ rear wheel is as narrow as Indian would dare go.
Luckily for our group the weather held and we didn’t experience the DT3-R rubber in the wet, but apparently they work just fine.
Perhaps my favourite bit about the FTR is the ergonomics. Look at this photo above. I’m 5’10”, six foot in those Cubaned shit kickers, and for me it offered a perfect riding position. And that’s saying something. If you’ve endured one of my tomes you’ll be aware of my constant bemoaning of manufactures for building hateful torture machines. The Indian’s pegs are high and rearward, but right beneath my hips. The Pro Taper bars sweep perfectly to complete the ideal posture. Again, for me. Due to a neck problem I ride like Quasimodinio, the fifth Ninja Turtle, yet in most of these action shots I appear to be sitting on a broomstick.
This did mean I had to make more of an effort to hang off the bike when the going got spirited but that wasn’t really necessary. The firm yet very comfy saddle caressed my buns and the rise to the pillion portion prevented any sliding rearward, leaving my hands nice and loose. Under braking the tank shell was the perfect shape and width to grip with the knees. And being plastic there’s some reassuring flex. All this combined meant I didn’t once have a burning sensation between my shoulder blades, a stiff neck, sore wrists or a numb bum. OK, so the test route wasn’t anywhere close to as arduous as some of the all-dayers we’re sometimes subjected to but I’d ride this thing for days. The Touring Collection sounded like a load of marketing spiel at the presentation but with a small fly screen and a couple of bags I’d be well up for a proper road trip on an FTR.
On my way back down the mountain on my own, me and the Indian clicked. Most of the day I’d been guilty of comparing the FTR1200 to what’s already on the market and trying to seek out its shortcomings. And you’ll note I’ve not mentioned Harley-Davidson. Indian will of course be nibbling away at H-D’s market share and the inter-brand rivalry is over a century old but at the moment the Motor Company don’t do one of these, their stuff is bigger, beefier and some examples are more badass, but, their stuff also has a foot stuck in the cruiser quag. Not for long though, watch this space.
I was also wrong to mention the XSR900 and Z900RS. Just because the neo-retro, new wave, classic heritage blah blah scene groups such machines based on looks doesn’t mean we’re comparing apples with apples. The buyer of the FTR1200 might look at a Monster 1200 but more likely they’re a BMW R nineT customer who wants something fresher and a bit different.
Turning onto the PCH and joining the rush hour from Malibu beach back to Santa Monica my press launch bubble was burst. No lead or tail rider, no mates and no arranged route. I was a Joe Normal weaving through the traffic and stopping at lights. And I was loving it. The FTR is as easy to ride as a 125, looks pretty darn good, has loads of poke and posses perhaps the most important thing in a motorcycle – soul. Bin that stock pipe, as most owners will, and you’ve got character by the bucketload. Combined with practicality, comfort and fun the FTR1200 is a better bike than I’d initially given it credit for.
It might be inspired by flat track glory, but who wants to spend their whole life going around in circles.
Click to enlarge the customisation options