The new American kid in town
By Trevor Hedge
Indian may lay claim to being America’s first motorcycle company, pre-dating Harley by a couple of years, but it seems clear that their future success lies in moving their primary development focus away from the traditional big cruisers. Instead we can see development directions heading towards something a little more stripped back, and with a bit of a performance bent. The early Indian board track racers of a century ago are amazing examples of minimalist beauty, combined with a distinct purpose, performance.
So in 2019 we see Indian chasing performance once again with the new FTR 1200 machine that has spawned from their successful return to American Flat Track racing with the FTR750. Obviously the ‘Indian Wrecking Crew’ race team was a significant investment, and in somewhat of a cart before the horse type scenario, Indian went racing to establish some performance credentials. With the obvious intent that road going motorcycles would then be produced to cash in on some of that hard won racetrack credibility. Indian have completely creamed Harley on what had long been their own dirt, FTR credibility box ticked.
Despite some of the social media drivel that I have witnessed spew forth from some of the world’s motorcycle press attending the world launch of the new road going FTR 1200 in the canyons above Santa Monica early this month, the FTR is not a barking mad hot-rod full of attitude, but is instead a distinctly American motorcycle.
From the social media hyperbole put out there you could be forgiven for thinking that somehow the FTR 1200 was ready to take on some of the world’s best naked-bikes from Japan and Europe in the outright performance stakes, it’s not. But somehow that is what modern motorcycle journalism is becoming, magniloquent social media anecdotes that sound more like they have come from a motorcycle company’s marketing department. Rather than from the keyboard of a trusted analytical reviewer of motorcycles, fearlessly guarding their reputation and credibility. Don’t get me started on the ‘influencer’ leeches…
Anyway, off your soapbox Trev and back to the new Indian…
During the press introduction Indian staff took us through some of their sales figures and that data made it abundantly clear that the bulk of their more recent sales success has come on the back of the Scout and Bobber line-up, not the beautiful big chrome dripped cruisers that they are perhaps more renowned for. Thus following those more roadster style bikes up with the FTR 1200, a significant new platform that represents an absolutely massive investment by parent group Polaris, means you can expect to see an impending cavalcade of new models spun off this base concept in the months and years to come.
It has been a long drawn out lead time from show concept bikes to the machines actually hitting public roads, and it almost didn’t happen. Polaris acquired European specialist performance house Swiss Auto some years ago, and pulled from their hard won expertise on the world’s racetracks, including in 500 Grand Prix with ELF and Pulse, to help develop the FTR 1200 from the start. It took a closed roads test ride of the FTR development mules in Europe, with the Polaris/Indian big wigs on the bikes themselves, in order to get the final development budget signed off on, and the instructions issued to go full steam ahead in getting the machine to market.
But this being an Indian, there was always going to be some styling dictates made by the design and marketing teams that were going to give the chassis development engineers some grey hairs. The model is released on the back of the Flat Track race programme, thus it needed to carry a lot of that look through to the production road bike.
Running on a fairly square shouldered 150/80-18 rear tyre, partnered with a slightly more conventional looking 120/70-19 front, this rubber certainly helps with the look. No doubt it took an incredible amount of development hours by the chassis team in order to make it work dynamically.
The rear is so flat across the majority of its tread surface that you rarely need to put a foot down at the lights, as the contact patch while upright is so massive. Despite that 150 measurement, the crown of the tyre in width looks to far exceed that of a 200 sized sportsbike gum-ball. More sporting rubber, of course, has most of its contact patch away from the relatively narrow centre section, and instead the bulk of the rubber is on the massive shoulders of the tyre, where it is required for outright cornering performance and agility. The FTR 1200 takes a different approach.
The specially developed Dunlop DT3-R radials were designed and developed in the U.S.A. alongside the FTR 1200, and are produced in Dunlop North America’s Buffalo plant outside New York. Apart from the wide and fairly flat look to the rear tyre, it is the very distinct tread pattern that also makes the hoops really stand out as something different. The huge tread blocks resemble the tread of the DT3 flat-track race tyres, but of course with a vastly different construction for the road going motorcycle, and much tougher compounds to aid longevity. They do seem quite robust, and somewhat surprisingly you can’t really feel the bike moving around on those wide tread blocks. They also grip well enough.
You can, however, feel the effects of the rear tyres profile once banking the machine over to its limits in a turn. The transition in to a corner is smooth and progressive, but once properly pressing on, the limits of the rear tyre profile start to make themselves known. You hit that precipice of the sidewall and the bike is simply not going to bank any further. Indian state that the FTR 1200 has a maximum 43-degree lean angle, but unlike cruiser style motorcycles that are limited in their angle of the dangle by their undercarriage and ground clearance, the FTR’s maximum banking angle is purely result of the rubber it wears.
This does not ruin the ride though, it is one of many traits that makes the FTR unique, and different. Unlike more performance oriented naked-bikes whose performance levels are so high that most riders will never fully utilise their potential, you get the satisfaction of getting to the limits of the FTR, while running at a quick but cautious pace on the road. Don’t get me wrong, that pace is still plenty fast for all but the most sporting of riders. The Indian is deft enough that I don’t think a handy rider would ever really get left behind by mates on more sporting machinery in tight terrain, unless your riding buddies are starting to push the envelope of what is a prudent pace for the road that is.
I actually think a lot of people will get plenty of riding satisfaction from the FTR purely due to its more approachable limits. Despite carrying only those moderate lean angle numbers, from the cockpit you get the impression that you really are cranking the thing on its ear. Its a somewhat endearing character trait. The only real drawback comes when you need to tighten your line. If the radius of a corner closes much quicker than you anticipated, you then find you have no more available lean angle to do it with. Despite the pegs and undercarriage of the bike being nowhere near the tarmac, you simply run out of rear tyre.
Overall though the handing could be best described as ‘solid’ and ‘taut’. It steers and tracks very well, and the Sachs shock is not upset by mid-corner bumps at all, you quickly trust the bike and are charging at a decent pace in no time. The engine plays its part in the chassis equation as a stressed member.
We only rode the up-spec FTR 1200 S variants, which at $22,995 Ride Away command a $3000 premium over the regular FTR 1200. Both bikes have cartridge forks with 150mm of travel, but the S model gets a remote reservoir on its rear shock and full adjustment at both ends.
Chassis geometry is the same across both bikes, 26.3-degrees of rake, 130mm of trail and a generous 183mm of ground clearance. Despite that fairly generous suspension travel and clearance, the seat height is a relatively low 840mm, and throwing your leg over the machine is never a chore. Bending your foot back to reach the bloody side-stand is though!
I was quite impressed with the suspension. I have found that a lay-down style shock devoid of a linkage can generally be pretty easily overwhelmed unless it is a fairly high-spec item. A linkage can help mask some minor shock deficiencies, but there is no hiding any minor foibles without one. Thus I was very pleased that even despite my current bulk, the FTR 1200 handled bumps very well. This was a welcome surprise, and helped instil a feeling of overall quality to the machine.
One would also think that relatively spindly trellis swing-arm, utilised for the look that resembles the Flat Track race bikes, could also produce some ill traits at speed, but as I wrote before, the word I would use to describe the handling of the machine is ‘solid’. The trellis frame and swing-arm prove strong enough for the job. The chassis development team and test riders really have done the hard yards to ensure they have delivered a very competent and sure-footed machine. That is no mean feat when running on such strangely sized rubber, and goes to prove that Indian are not scared of taking some risks, rather than just sticking to a regular well-proven formula. Good on them.
Braking power is strong enough and is wonderfully linear through the stroke at both levers. There is enough initial bite to inspire confidence, with the braking power is then easily modulated at the controls, even the rear provides a level of feedback and control that is rarely found on road going motorcycles.
The hardware is provided by Brembo and consists of 320 mm rotors up front with four-piston M4.32 calipers, while a P34 caliper squeezes a generously sized 265 mm rear, thus the spec’ sheet cred is there, but it is the overall control through the levers that makes the package. No doubt plenty of work went in to the pad and master cylinder selection criteria to realise that real feel of quality and tactile feedback that reaches your digits and the ball of your foot.
Plenty of thought has been put into the minor details with the cable routing being very tidy. The way the rear brake cabling is routed is a particularly nice touch that impressed me in regards to its fit and finish. The lovely paint finish on both the upper and lower triple clamps was also impressive.
The ergonomics feel natural enough with no real period of familiarisation required to feel at home.
Along with higher-spec suspension, the S model also scores a high-level ABS and traction control system complete with IMU driven lean angle algorithms, riding modes, and the facility to easily turn off the traction control and ABS systems. The base model gets a more rudimentary ABS system and misses out on traction control altogether.
The ABS was completely unobtrusive and well tuned, even on a dirt road. However, I found the traction control systems intervened a little too early for my liking. Switching to ‘Sport’ mode certainly helped proceedings, but it is certainly a very sensitive system, which is a great boon for safety. I would leave the system on unless really throwing some caution to the wind with a mad rush of blood.
A 1203 cc, or 73 cubic inch in American parlance, 60-degree v-twin is what motivates the 221kg Indian. It is of a DOHC design with four-valves per cylinder, a quite high 12.5:1 compression ratio and a pair of massive 60 mm throttle bodies. Somewhat curiously, the engine shirks the increasingly common move to thinner lubricants that has been driven in the quest for efficiency, and instead runs fairly thick 15W60 oil.
Despite a big-bore and relatively short stroke design of the low-inertia crank, the FTR 1200 only revs to less than 9000 rpm. Thus the size of those throttle bodies comes as quite a surprise. Getting such big jugs to fuel properly at low speed can be quite an engineering headache. Indian have got it pretty much there, but I think there is still some room for improvement. The transition from all out power to mid-corner feathering is not always as sweet as it could be.
In some very limited instances a little hunting in the lower mid-range that is quite common to most big twins can be felt, but I am getting very picky here. That’s my job… I did get the impression that things improved a little as we rose in elevation up from the beachside Pacific Coast Highway up into the Santa Monica canyons. Then I got to thinking, Indian Motorcycles are developed and produced in Medina, Minnesota, which is over 1000 feet in altitude, perhaps that might have something to do with it…?
The low and mid-range is strong enough that most of the time I forget about using the top end, only to be then surprised by an extra dose of squirt that starts around 6000 rpm when I did start to wind the thing out a little more.
The ride by wire throttle does dull the response to the throttle tube a little more than I prefer, which means you don’t really feel that claimed 123 horsepower punch you through the seat of your pants when you get on the gas.
That 93 kW arrives at 8250 rpm while the peak twist of 120 Nm is broached at 5900 rpm. It just goes with the times I guess that it never really feels quite like those numbers are being fed to the rear tyre. I don’t doubt them, I just wish I could feel their presence more pugnaciously, a little more anger in its throttle response would also have been welcome to help the make the experience more evocative.
The engine note from the handsome 2-1-2 exhaust system, even with the optional Akrapovic mufflers, is also a little more subdued than I expected. No doubt both those traits are due to this engine being designed to meet ever more stringent emissions and noise regulations that loom in the future as Indian sought to future-proof this new power-plant for many years to come. It also tuned to run fine on 91 octane, which is the recommended fuel for the FTR.
One area of the drivetrain I hold zero reservations on is the gearbox and slip-assist clutch set-up. Finding neutral is easier on the Indian than on just about any bike in existence. I missed two shifts over my 153 kilometre stint on the FTR 1200 but they were my fault, and would not have happened if I had adjusted the lever to better suit the minimalist DriRider street boots I wore on test.
The clutch is light and smooth in action, with a slipper set-up that still allows plenty of engine braking. One of the testers on the launch must have had some aversion to using the front brake, as at every photo stop turn point he was chirping on the rear ABS and testing out the slipper function as he bashed down the cogs.
Where the fuel tank would normally reside you will instead find a large air-box under that tank cover. The 13-litre fuel cell extends from just in front of the rider, underneath the seat and then extends further under the tail section. Indian claim a 200 km range from the relatively small tank, but if up playing silly buggers I would surmise that a 170 km range would be a little more realistic.
The tank lay-out also forced some new thinking in regards to battery positioning with the 240 CCA battery positioned in front of the engine. The seat proved comfortable enough during our brief time on the bike and I think would prove compliant enough for 400 km days in the saddle before it grew too many teeth.
While the base model has a round analogue speedometer the S scores a comprehensive phablet style 4.3-inch touch-screen LCD with phone and music functionality.
The bike is also Bluetooth equipped but from what I could gather that will be used for functionality that will be introduced further down the line. As from what I could deduce phone control from the switchgear via the dash was only available when the phone was plugged into the under-seat USB fast charger.
There is no GPS direction functionality built into the instrumentation although Indian Ride Command phone app will track your ride for you and offers a feature list that will no doubt grow in time.
Cruise control is standard across all models and the switchgear works well.
The S also gets a painted front fender, a more premium red over grey paint scheme, and a larger painted nacelle surrounding the attractive LED headlight.
Add another $2000 for the Race Replica paint scheme with its much more attractive red painted frame and standard Akra cans, and you are now up to $24,995 Ride Away. That is certainly getting up there in price but every time we have featured any news on the FTR 1200 it has proved immensely popular with readers, and the feedback has been very positive indeed. But will they open their wallets…?
Apparently so. Indian Motorcycles Australia told MCNews.com.au that around 100 deposits have already been put down ahead of the June arrival of the machine. Indian hope to sell more than 300 of their unique new offering here this year, which would be some achievement in what are currently very difficult market conditions.
I really hope Indian’s daring investment in taking a risk and trying something new pays dividends for them. I also look forward to the inevitable run of new models that will come in the future from this first base new platform. It is good to see Indian leading on the front foot, and I have a new respect for the brand as a result. I hope that they surprise me again with something else a bit bold and different in the near future. Vive la difference…
|Indian FTR 1200 Specifications|
|Engine||1203 cc, liquid cooled, 60-degree, V-Twin|
|Bore x Stroke||102 x 73.6 mm|
|Claimed Power||123 hp at 8250 rpm|
|Claimed Torque||120 Nm at 5900 rpm|
|Induction||Closed loop injection with 2 x 60 mm throttle bodies|
|Transmission||Six speed, chain final drive|
|Clutch||Slip-Assist wet multi-plate|
|Forks||Inverted 43 mm cartridge style, 150 mm travel (S is fully adjustable)|
|Shock||Single, 150 mm travel (S is fully adjustable)|
|Front Brakes||320 mm rotors, Brembo four-piston calipers|
|Rear Brake||265 mm rotor, Brembo two-piston caliper|
|ABS||Standard model has regular ABS while S has lean-angle ABS|
|Traction Control||S model gets full IMU driven stability control|
|Rims||19 x 3” (F), 18 x 4.25” (R)|
|Tyres||120/70R-19 (F), 150/80-18 (R)|
|Dry Weight||222 kg|
|Ground Clearance||183 mm|
|Rake / Trail||26.3-degrees / 130 mm|
|Seat Height||840 mm|
|Ride Away Prices||$19,995 for base model, $22,995 for S, and $24,995 for Race Replica|