It is here, finally. The Indian FTR1200 is arriving in dealerships in the next few weeks, which means that the motorcycle press can finally hop on this street tracker and talk about it.
But, we have already done that. Asphalt & Rubber was one of a few publications that got to ride a prototype of this machine back in October 2018, and since then we have seen countless outlets and social media darlings swing a leg over the Indian FTR1200.
Furthermore, racers already have the bike in their garages and are competing in the Super Hooligan National Championship series, and while the press launch for this bike was underway in Mexico, other outlets were busy getting exclusive tastes of the machine, including A&R.
So, while we are very excited to be the first to tell you how the new Indian FTR1200 does the business, this is very much a machine that has been in the sphere for quite a while, and thus is already a known quantity.
We didn’t let the hold us back too much, and I can confidently say that no other publication has spent more time in the saddle of the Indian FTR1200 S than us, getting to know every bit of this new motorcycle and where it takes the Indian Motorcycle brand. Let me explain.
Where Indian Is Going
Before we can get to talking about Indian FTR1200 as a motorcycle, we have to understand how it fits into the larger picture of the Indian Motorcycle story. It was just over eight years ago that Polaris Heavy Industries bought the rights to the Indian Motorcycle name, breathing new life into one of America’s oldest motorcycle brands.
Polaris of course also held the Victory motorcycle brand, which was very much the antithesis to Harley-Davidson in the cruiser realm. The plan seemed simple then, as Indian would play counterpoint to Victory, and go directly at Harley-Davidson’s business.
This two-pronged approach was short-lived, however. In early 2017, Polaris ceased operations for Victory, and the reason for this was simple.
While Victory struggled to grow and find a foothold in being the anti-Harley, the Indian Motorcycle company was flourishing. It turns out that the best way to beat Harley-Davidson is to do it at their own game. So, the money that was being spent on Victory was shifted around, and help to fuel Indian’s new-found growth.
When trying to siphon off loyal customers from Harley-Davidson, it helps that the Indian name has an authentic story in the American motorcycle landscape – something no other marque can claim.
It was this authenticity that helped propel Indian into a space that previously seemed immune from all comers. For all the worries that Harley-Davidson has about its future, and the state of baby boomers aging out of the brand, Harley-Davidson seemed until now to have a fortified position in the motorcycle industry. But, Indian is proving that no longer to be the case.
And in response, we now see Harley-Davidson looking for new avenues and segments to pursue, in the hopes of finding a lifeline. The Bar & Shield brand is pushing out from its cruiser niche, and looking to other mainstream segments for its growth. But here too goes Indian.
We have been warning for some time that Indian doesn’t want to be the next Harley-Davidson, they want to be the next Honda.
The Minnesota company isn’t content taking a slice of the cruiser pie from its neighbors in Milwaukee. Instead, the Indian Motorcycle brand wants to be a leader in every segment, be present in every market, and build a bike for every rider.
The first step in that process is the Indian FTR1200. The bike is just one stepping stone away from Indian’s cruiser lineup, most specifically the Indian Scout, and the machine has been the launching point for a sportier Indian brand…one that can even go racing.
From Racer to Super Hooligan
To build the bridge to the FTR1200, Polaris first built the Indian Scout FTR750 race bike. A purpose-built weapon, the Indian Scout FTR750 has been decimating its American Flat Track series competitors while in the hands of its “Indian Wrecking Crew” riders.
From the Indian Scout FTR750 came the Indian Scout FTR1200 concept, a machine that took the production road bike engine and framed it into a chassis that very much resembled the racing machine.
The concept was a huge success – a classic “shut up and take my money” situation for the Indian Motorcycle crew. It has been a long time since we have seen a production street tracker motorcycle from an established OEM, and with the pedigree that was being built by the FTR750, the FTR1200 seemed like a winner.
But, there is a big step between a concept and production bike, and when the Indian FTR1200 debuted in Germany last year, it was clear that the racing lines from the concept got diluted in the boardroom. With the Scout FTR1200 concept, Indian was obviously trying to build a bridge from the FTR750 to the FTR1200, but it caught more than a few by surprise.
Was this still a flat track bike? Is it a roadster? A naked, or standard? Something else?
The lines and purpose of the Indian FTR1200 got blurred, fueled in part by the four distinct aftermarket packages that the Minnesota was planning to sell as well. What was supposed to be a flat track race bike with lights was turning into something else, with panniers, windscreens, and a luggage rack.
Things didn’t come full circle until earlier this year, when the 2019 Super Hooligan National Championship series started, and we could see the Indian FTR1200 on the race track.
A turn-key Super Hooligan racer, this street-tracker pulls the slack where the superbike segment has trailed off, offering enthusiasts a motorcycle that can go from street to track with relative ease.
In the hands of the expert Super Hooligan racers, the Indian FTR1200 is perhaps not the weapon of choice, but for the casual enthusiast of flat track racing, the motorcycle opens up some unique possibilities.
Understanding the FTR1200
It wasn’t until I rode the FTR1200 at my home flat track course in Salem, Oregon that I understood the possibility of the machine that Indian built.
I am no stranger to taking a street-legal superbike, and rolling onto my local road course with fists-full of throttle. And now, we have the same proposition for those who prefer dirt track ovals to asphalt-paved race tracks.
I am not sure if we are seeing the start of larger movement in enthusiast-driven sport, but that is certainly the brand that the Super Hooligan series is trying to build.
The rising popularity and platform of the American Flat Track series also seems to help the cause as well, and behind both those forces is the weight of Indian Motorcycle company.
Now, not everyone has a flat track course in their backyard like DiBrino does, but the idea isn’t that crazy either – any empty lot with some dirt will do. Watching him flog the FTR1200 around his home track, the idea of a grassroots racing series carries a lot of weight in my eyes.
Making motorcycle racing affordable, and more importantly approachable, is a huge driving force in the motorcycle industry right now. With a street-legal turnkey fun bike on the market, the idea of riding out to a buddy’s house, flogging some laps, and then riding home, seems like a very real possibility. No track day fees, no bike prep, no worries. Just fun.
This is where the Indian FTR1200 makes a lot of sense to me, and where I see a great deal of potential for this budding segment.
Sure, the FTR1200 is a street bike first, and we evaluate it as such, but there is some value-added here that has piqued our interest. This track day (now racing) junky has a serious case of dirt intrigue.
But First, A Disclaimer
If I had to write a shorter review on the Indian FTR1200, the only aspect of the bike that I would talk about would be the 1,203cc v-twin engine. This is because it is the highlight of the machine, and also where our biggest trouble resided in our review process.
Firing up the Indian FTR1200 for the first time, it flamed out almost immediately. This was an issue present on the prototype models we rode last year, and generally not the biggest issue in my book. It is rare to see on a fuel-injected bike these days though.
Firing the motorcycle back to life, it gave its best effort for a little longer, and then died again. With a third-time’s-a-charm, the bike finally held its idle until I left for my ride.
Little did I know this would become the status quo when riding the Indian FTR1200 I had for review. The fueling issues didn’t stop there, with a few more flame outs when the bike was hot, along with a slew of throttle issues.
However, the most concerning issue came during downshifts, when the bike would surge while the clutch was re-engaging.
Depending on the clutch lever position, this would either cause an unexpected lurch from the bike, as if someone had whacked the throttle, or a noticeable blip in the exhaust note, like on quickshifter (which this bike sadly does not have).
A quick talk with Indian about my experiences, and it would seem that the “near production” machine that was delivered to me still had the pre-production throttle map on it, rather than the production throttle maps that my colleagues were enjoying in Mexico, at the international press launch.
On the one hand, odd things can happen when you operate outside of the norm (Indian had arranged for Asphalt & Rubber to get an exclusive early review on the FTR1200), which can lead to mistakes sometimes. On the other hand, Polaris isn’t known for its build quality and refinement…
I will let our readers assign values from each column of possibilities here, but the issue is important to flag as it is 1) such an unusual and often telling problem to see from a manufacturer, and 2) there exists a true safety concern from a throttle that seems to have a mind of its own.
I do know that Indian intends to provide us with another bike, straight from the Mexican press launch, to show the proper production throttle mapping, which hopefully can be added to this review as an addendum.
FTR1200 by the Numbers
Okay, now where were we?? Oh yes, the motor. Pay no attention to the 123hp that is quoted for the Indian FTR1200 – that figure would lead you to believe the wrong things about this motorcycle.
Instead, focus on the 85 lbs•ft of peak torque, the majority of which comes on incredibly early in the rev range. The FTR motor doesn’t make horsepower because of a lack of torque, it comes from a lack of revs, and this bike pulls from virtually any gear and any speed.
Equipped with a slipper-assist clutch, the gearbox on the FTR1200 was more than a delight – I don’t think I experienced a single missed shift or false neutral during my time on the machine, and the actuation through the gears is butter smooth. The clutch is a different animal though, and betrays the bike’s more…agricultural roots, with its notchy use.
The three riding modes are a bit harder to evaluate, because of the afore-mentioned reasons, but Indian does seem to have the intent of providing three very different maps to the rider. This is important to know, since often the “Sport” map on a bike is the only map worth a damn.
But on the Indian FTR1200, the “Sport” mode is very much a mode designed for when you are gripping and ripping. “Standard” makes the throttle usable at smaller turn rates, and makes the FTR1200 more well-mannered for casual riding (though it does have a bit of lag and that “rubberband” feeling). “Rain” mode is for when traction issues exist, either because water is falling from the sky, or because you’re doing hot laps around a dirt oval.
The throttle connection isn’t the best, however, and likely comes from the pre-production mapping (it wasn’t that great when I rode the bike in October last year, either). As such, I remain curious to see what the final mappings feel like, especially after knowing so well how far behind they started.
One element I was sad to see unchanged was the electronics interface, which maintains only one option for the IMU-powered brakes and traction control: on or off. Those two systems aren’t even switched on or off independently of each other, making the electronics package an “all or nothing” affair for the rider.
On the one hand, this could be seen as a useful feature, since dirt riders are likely not going to want either rider aid engaged when super-hooliganing (that’s a word now) around a track.
But, the sport rider in me would rather see not only independent toggles for the systems, but also different levels of interference. While we are at it, let’s throw in some wheelie and slide control settings too, okay Indian?
My usual pet peeve on motorcycles, I am not in love with Indian’s switchgear, which feels tiny and cheap on the left-hand cluster. As is the norm now, all the lights are LED lit, including the now ubiquitous “Daymaker” headlight.
At 508 lbs fully fueled, the Indian FTR1200 is already a big girl – especially for the category, and this is before you realize that the bike only has a 3.4 gallon fuel tank. This makes for a usable range of roughly 100 miles in my experience…and you don’t want to have to push this bike to the next gas station, let me tell you.
The bulk of the weight seems to come from the engine, which is a very close sibling to what can be found on the Indian Scout cruiser. The two motors share virtually no parts – even the engine cases are different (though visually similar) – but you can tell that they come from the same family tree.
Thanks to narrow tires and wheels though (check out the 150 rear Dunlop DT3-R on the back wheel), side-to-side transitions on the Indian FTR1200 are actually pretty quick.
You can feel the weight of the 19″ front wheel through the handle bars though, and when on the brakes you get a reminder regarding the words of Sir Issac Newton.
The Brembo package is quite good though, especially with its dual 320mm semi-floating rotors and radial master cylinder at the front, though the package is without the more performance focused M50 or Stylema calipers that are all the rage right now.
The Indian FTR1200 S trim level features adjustable suspension, though adjusting the forks is made very, very difficult because of the Pro-Taper handlebar placement. Riders on the Indian FTR1200 base model will have to do without adjustable suspension pieces, however, which is surprising at the $13,500 price point of the lower-spec machine.
The “S” bike also gets a TFT dash, which is a touchscreen (very cool feature) and has different layouts that can be swiped through. If you can Tinder, you can change the dash on the Indian FTR1200 S motorcycle.
The dash works with your gloves on, though it can be cumbersome, but you can also toggle through the menus via your left-hand controls.
Overall, the chassis of the Indian FTR1200 S feels quite supple, with good feedback from the front-end of the machine. The setup feels a little on the stiff side, even for this 220 lbs rider. So, smaller riders will want to fiddle with the knobs for a more comfortable riding experience.
The riding position is very comfortable though, and upright. The spread on the long handlebar give you good leverage on the machine, while the seat height makes it easy for my 32″ inseam to flat-foot even on unsure terrain.
The Dunlop DT3-R tires are also a surprise highlight on the Indian FTR1200 package, and they have been made exclusively (at least for now) for the street use by the American motorcycle brand.
Not only do these road-legal flat track tires look the part, but they hook up quite well, both on the asphalt and on the dirt. When I first saw the tire profile and tread, I was worried how the Dunlops would work on the road, but I have to say that I am quite impressed with what they have to offer.
Yeah, But Would You Buy It?*
It is hard to recommend any motorcycle that shows up with improper fueling and throttle mapping from the factory. That is a full stop. And to further the issue, I can only review what is put in front of me – there are no points for intentions and promises.
To that end, I can’t recommend the FTR1200 to any rider until Indian provides a working bike for us to evaluate, and since that isn’t going to occur in the time given to us for our exclusive review, that leaves Asphalt & Rubber unable to assess this motorcycle to the standards we demand.
But even if we give Indian the benefit of the doubt, there are ample points to take issue with, when it comes to the FTR1200. Similarly, even when we take into account the throttle mapping and fueling issues, there are hidden gems that come from riding this motorcycle. If you will, allow me to continue with an asterisk.
America’s European Problem
For me, the true review of the Indian FTR1200 comes down to price. When I first rode the prototype in Minnesota, Indian was coy about where it was planning to place the FTR1200 in the market, and even asked the assembled journalists on what they thought the price tag should be on the new motorcycle.
My response was $11,000 / $13,000 for the base and “S” models – about $2,500 below what Indian had in mind. I wasn’t the only one looking for a cheaper sticker price.
The engine on the Indian FTR1200 is the highlight of the motorcycle. The table-top flat torque curve gives a rider a wide powerband to play with, which allows the Indian FTR1200 to haul the mail seemingly at will. It is a joy to ride, for this simple fact alone.
But, what price should one pay for that joy? I loath to see motorcycles priced above the $10,000 mark with non-adjustable suspension pieces, and it is a cardinal sin above the $13,000 MSRP point.
Rudimentary electronics also get negative marks in this territory, and by the time we get to the $15,500 sticker price on the Indian FTR1200 S model, we are in a very competitive league of motorcycles.
For that price, you can get yourself into an Aprilia Tuono V4 1100 RR or a Ducati Monster 1200 – two machines that boast more power, more features, and more performance. Even the water-down Triumph Speed Triple S makes a strong argument against the Indian FTR1200, with its $14,350 price tag.
When stopped by passersby, I would describe the Indian FTR1200 as Yamaha MT-09 performance for Ducati Monster pricing, and while that is a line fueled by some hyperbole, it isn’t too far from the truth.
If I complained about the Husqvarna Svartpilen 701 not bringing enough features and “premium” feel to the segment for its $12,000 price tag, you can imagine my thoughts here with the pricier Indian FTR1200.
While it is hard to place the Indian FTR1200 in a specific category, the bike is going to have a hard time in comparisons
Part of the confusion on pricing for the Indian FTR1200 comes from its category-crossing nature, but is the bike really a crossover model? The Ducati Scrambler, despite its name, is really more of a street tracker than a scrambler model.
Fun on the Ducati starts at $9,400 and goes up to $13,000 with the more comparable 1,100cc version. With approximately the same features, the “expensive Italian brand” undercuts Indian’s price point by $2,500 with its Scrambler 1100 model…and considerably more so with the Scrambler Icon and its 800cc motor.
Though the Ducati doesn’t have the same punch as the Indian, is the gap really there? Especially when we are talking about roughly a 55 lbs weight difference?
The weight gap gets even larger when we talk about the Husqvarna Svartpilen 701, which I would argue is the most authentic street tracker on the market, with its thumping 693cc single-cylinder engine.
Again, under-powered in comparison to the FTR1200, and about on par when it comes to features, the Svartpilen 701 is a staggering 140 lbs lighter. Let that sink in for a moment.
Having ridden all three bikes, I am left longing for a chimera. The Ducati feels more polished and worth its price tag, the Husqvarna is feather-light and feels like something I would actually want to flat track on the weekends, while the Indian leads the pack with its power and punch.
An American Perspective
But, maybe I am viewing this segment from European eyes. There is a certain “je ne sais quoi” that comes with American motorcycles, and cracking the domestic market buyer.
In the United States, we have two types of motorcyclists: those who ride a Harley-Davidson…and then everyone else.
Indian is slowly building a third type of rider though, one that comes from the Harley-Davidson camp, but has eschewed the Bar & Shield brand for being too stuck in the 1950s.
For these riders, a motorcycle that can tout the phrase “Made in the USA” is still a positive selling point, and they vote hard with their dollars. There is too a romanticism that comes from the American v-twin scene, both for its classic heritage and its raw visceral feelings.
This is an element that can get lost in a motorcycle review, and we have seen more than a few manufacturers fail to understand its true power when coming to the American market with their latest creation.
Somewhere in the past decade or two, Harley-Davidson resigned itself from carrying the mantle of the American motorcycle industry, and now Indian seems ready to take on that honor (or burden, as the case can sometimes be).
With that, there comes a certain irrationality in predicting buying choices and market reactions, and I think the Indian FTR1200 is going to be caught in this strange nexus of pulling on the emotions of motorcyclists, in the USA, and abroad.
Where We Go From Here
When I think quietly about it…there is something about this bike.
I will let you in on a well-kept secret in the motorcycle journalism trade: the true review of a motorcycle is actually quite easy to test. You go ride the bike for a good long ride – ideally until you have emptied the tank.
Then, you come back home (or wherever you started), and put the bike away. And as you walk away from the machine, if you have a twinge of desire to hop right back on the motorcycle and ride again, then you have a good motorcycle in your presence.
The Indian FTR1200 S is that kind of bike.
I am not really sure why I want to ride this bike every time I walk past it in my garage. I wouldn’t say that the looks particularly call to me – the flat tracker aesthetic is lost on me, especially with all of the FTR’s added roadster lines (I do think a high-mount dirt track style exhaust would help me here).
Additionally, I am equally not impressed by the middle-ground features that Indian settled on for the spec sheet. The bike is physically heavy, and while its roll rate does well thanks to the narrow tires, you can still feel the heavy weight of the front wheel.
But yet, that motor calls to me (weird throttle issues aside); the riding position is comfortable and commanding; and the platform begs me to go buy a proper steel shoe for some Friday night hooligan fun…and that is worth quite a bit.
There is a siren’s song the accompany’s the Indian FTR1200, begging my unsuspecting soul to put my helmet once again.
The Next, Next Thing
Knowing that this isn’t the last Indian to use the FTR1200 engine, nor will it be the last model from the historic brand to stray from its cruiser roots, I have a certain level of excitement for the future.
We know the path that Indian is headed down, both because the company’s personnel have made it clear that Indian plans on building a robust lineup of motorcycles that cover a range of segments, but also because of leaked documents.
Later this year, Indian will announce a streetfighter-type version of the FTR1200, which will have 17″ wheels, sticky rubber, and perhaps a more robust software package. And then for the 2021 model year, we will see an adventure-touring model, with long-travel suspension, debut to the lineup as well.
Small versions of the FTR engine are sure to come – we would guess a 750cc version is next – and well, the rest of it will come in due course.
It is an exciting time to be in the American motorcycle business. The skies are dark and cloudy right now, with dwindling sales and poor forecasts, but there is light gleaming through the clouds as well.
I, for one, am excited about where this first chapter takes the Indian Motorcycle brand.
Dirt Photo: © 2019 Jensen Beeler / Asphalt & Rubber – All Rights Reserved