Indian FTR 1200 & 1200 S: The Skids are Alright
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Indian FTR 1200 & 1200 S: The Skids are Alright

By AMCN_ - 01 October 2019

In the crammed and competitive space that is the big-bore naked market, Indian would have been a fool to flog us a flimsily disguised facsimile of what’s already on offer. Thankfully, a fool it is not. Instead, the FTR 1200 is a refreshing and unique newcomer, with a character and personality which owes nothing to any other roadster in the game. A true Indian. And this is completely down to the fact that Indian itself produced the bike with which the FTR 1200 takes its inspiration; the FTR750 factory flat track racer. 

How much does the FTR 1200 have in common with Indian’s factory flat tracker? Not much, really. How much does it matter? Even less. If you want an FTR 750 to do a bit of high-speed circle-work, you can have one for US$50K. However, the FTR 1200 is a roadbike dressed for the dirt, not a dirt tracker modified for the street. And this is all fine. All part of the great motorcycling tradition of selling bikes by winning races and printing stickers. If the FTR 1200 goes and blows away the field in the production-based AFT Hooligan class, then it can garner some genuine flat track kudos of its own, and I certainly wouldn’t bet against it. 

In spite of its hard-core track looks, the FTR 1200 makes a great white-line scratcher

Development testing on the FTR 1200 commenced in March 2016, and for a new platform to go from development mule to launch in just three years is as quick as it gets in motorcycle manufacturing. Depending on its complexity, four to five years is the common time scale for a clean-sheet design. Considering this, it’s plain to see that Polaris is a somewhat underestimated powerhouse of the industry, which bodes well for its ability to react quickly to the market. 

The street and race FTRs’ familial characteristics are engineered through both styling cues and physical attributes. The wheels and tyres, for instance, were a key part of the design brief to be faithful to the flat track aesthetic, and as a result play a huge part in defining the dynamic character of the FTR 1200 chassis. Dunlop developed the street version of its DTR competition tyre specifically for the FTR 1200, substituting the flat-track regulatory 19-inch rear for a slightly wider 150/80 and 18-inch diameter design. Its broad, flat profile and 18-inch size were likely to be a concession for road-use stability, while also opening up a range of alternative tyre choices, given that 19-inch rear road tyres are uncommon. Up front, the Dunlops retain the flat-track-true 19-inch diameter. Its conventional sportsbike-like 120/70 profile gave a convincing hold on the road and a reassuringly solid platform for heavy braking, which is not what I would have predicted for such a seriously powerful braking package combined with the deep block pattern of the DTR tyres. 

Despite their heavily grooved design, the tyres run remarkably smooth and quiet. Their relatively narrow profiles, especially when combined with those bullhorn-wide flat-track style ’bars, make the FTR 1200 an agile and engaging canyon carver – there’s enough leverage in those ’bars to bust open a bank vault. These design elements provide a significant difference in chassis dynamics when compared to other naked roadsters with sportsbike tyre combos. Around tight hairpins the FTR doesn’t suffer the understeer often caused by a big 180- to 200-section rear tyre. There’s even a sensation of oversteer until you get a feel for how the FTR turns in, from which point onward it’s all just pure delight, railing tight bends in the style of a more lightweight sportsbike. The FTR’s handling may be unique to a point just north of quirky, but it’s also engaging, easily adapted to, and an imperial f***tonne of fun. 

The rear Dunlop’s flat, narrow profile has one disadvantage over more conventional sportsbike sizes, in that the contact patch at maximum lean is comparatively small. But, have no fear, traction control is here! Game leaders in electronics, Bosch, supply the six-axis IMU-controlled leanangle sensitive stability control, traction-control and ABS system fitted to the up-spec S model, which also gets three riding modes, providing the choice of Rain-, Standard- and Sport-appropriate throttle response and TC levels, all applied via the dual ride-by-wire Mikuni throttle bodies. Rain mode also reduces peak power from 93kW down to 70kW. There’s a Track mode, too, which allows you to slide, spin and wheelie the FTR to your heart’s content and your parent’s contempt. 

Best of all, these options are all available at the touch of a button, on-the-fly, without even having to close the throttle. Finally! This is certainly the first motorcycle I’ve tested that grants the rider this level of trust. Although the riding mode is retained, all rider aids do default back to on when the ignition is switched off. Which is fair enough, when it’s so easy to disable them again. 

Both models are specced with cruise control as standard, which is adjusted via the left switchblock. The switchgear in general deserves a complimentary mention, just for being so neat, simple and intuitive to use.

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As a measure of how quickly the FTR 1200’s development has been fast-tracked to get the new model in dealers asap, all the launch bikes were from a preproduction run. This is perfectly normal practise in the motorcycle industry, but it does often mean that last-minute refinements are ongoing at the time of the model launch, usually in the mapping and calibration of the ECU and other electronics. These settings constantly need to be refined as the bike’s design evolves, so are always among the final pieces of the development jigsaw. 

The problem R&D teams have is convincing the marketing department to delay a world launch just because the calibration is a couple of tweaks short of perfect. In the FTR 1200’s case, transient and steady state throttle calibration needs improving before bikes hit the dealers, and I’m certain that will be the case. In non-industry lingo, it means that fuel and ignition mapping needs smoothing out in the areas where the throttle is held at a constant opening or being minutely trimmed, particularly with light engine load. In this scenario the pre-production bike would sometimes hunt, making it occasionally surge on the overrun, and also frustratingly tricky to wheelie. But, since my mission brief included the words “lots of wheelies”, I soldiered on and got the job done. 

Indian’s factory FTR racer is a surprisingly tall machine up close, defying the low profile look of the seat, tank and airbox cover combination. The FTR 1200 follows its namesake in looking low but riding surprisingly high, as the comfortably wide and 840mm high seat combines with firm suspension to make the FTR a loftier perch than it first appears. This is only a negative if you are a seriously short legged rider who lacks confidence in low speed manoeuvres. My 173cm frame has fairly proportionate legs, and I just managed to get my toes to ground on both sides. But, don’t let a tallish seat put you off having a test ride, the FTR’s low centre of mass, wide ’bars, narrow tyres and short wheelbase all help make it easy to manoeuvre at low speed for a bike of its weight. 

Character is all-important in a bike that will be purchased primarily for its hot looks and ballsy attitude. The FTR has the goods in all three. Its 1203cc 60-degree V-twin lays down a sumptuous spread of power befitting a bike born on the dirt. There are no noticeable symptoms of what Indian describes as its low-inertia crankshaft, in the way that KTM’s big V-twins can struggle for momentum at low rpm. Testing this to the extreme, I rode a snaking section of switchbacks, some as slow as 30km/h, all in sixth gear. Not a problem. Even with wide open throttle from nearidle rpm, the FTR would pull smoothly in top. This is an engine that laps up load and goes about its business with a smooth, supple personality, and an accompanying soundtrack to sooth the soul. 

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Think Super Fly, played through an Akrapovic. The Factory Replica FTR 1200 S comes with the famed Slovenian song pipes fitted as standard, plus the substantially faster looking ‘Indian Red’ frame and race replica paint. Which undoubtably make it worth the extra two grand investment. 

Although its power delivery is more supple than psycho, that’s not to say the standard bike isn’t also a hustler. Think Super Fly, again, because it’s a bad mutha when you want some. From 6000rpm there’s an extra injection of urgency, which links the curves with more than enough zip to keep hardened scratchers happy. Though seemingly quite a stylised and focussed design, the FTR has the versatility to satisfy many moods of the pleasure-obsessed motorcyclist. 

Mounted low and central on the top yoke of the S model is the neat and well-thought-out touchscreen LCD dash, which can be swapped between two equally attractive layouts with either dial or digital style tacho. My preference was for the old-school dial style, which also featured ambient and coolant temperatures, odometer, fuel gauge, gear position, large central speed display, and a cute little compass you can watch spinning like a felled fighter jet as you paint donuts in the dust. The standard-model FTR has to make do with analogue clocks, but the donuts will be just as delicious. 

Both dashes include a fast-charge USB port, and the S adds Bluetooth connectivity to sync your tunes, contacts, messages and all that other great phonie stuff that phones do. It also enables Indian’s own Ride Command app. This is primarily a route planning and navigation tool which can send turn-by-turn directions to the dash, but also features maintenance and trip logging features, and is well worth the download. 

Road-going versions of Dunlop’s DTR tyres just add to the track cred being brought to your driveway.

Sachs suspension is used across both models, with a 43mm USD fork up front and a single offset shock directly driven by the tubular steel swingarm. There was a feel of assuredness to the chassis as it tracked the canyon roads of the Malibu Hills. Purposeful, controlled, and always eager, with a level of suspension support which I can only describe as firm but fair. Firm enough to cling to composure like nervous velcro, but fair enough to let you lash it on all day long. 

The firm factory settings on the FTR 1200 S Factory Replica I rode for the entire launch route suited me perfectly, but those softies who prefer things, well… soft, can do so. Full adjustability adorns the S model, while the cooking model FTR offers only rear preload and rebound fiddling, but these tweaks are all you’ll need to nanny your fanny. Or, if you really do need a cushion to put your tush on, I’d suggest leaving the suspension taught and terrific, and buying the Aviator seat from the Touring collection. Personally, I found the standard equipment and ergos just peachy. 

The key feature hiding beneath the FTR 1200 minimal bodywork is the under-seat fuel tank, which makes way for the airbox to sit directly above the engine. This not only improves induction flow to the cylinder heads, it also squeezes the bike’s already compact centre of mass lower and more rearward, adding to the FTR’s dynamic yet composed disposition on the road. Its 13-litre capacity isn’t exactly longhaul friendly, with a claimed range of 200km, but let’s face it, the FTR just isn’t the type of bike on which this should be the primary purchase consideration. Just stop more often, taking the opportunity to stare starry-eyed at your twowheeled beauty more often. 

From the comfy chequered flag handgrips and Pro Taper aluminium ’bars, to the grippy on/ off-road friendly cast aluminium footpegs and the top notch stitched seat, the FTR touch points shine class and quality. And I fell into the FTR’s relaxed and spacious ergos like an old pair of slippers. The reach outward to those wide ’bars on occasions felt a stretch, but not enough to get the hacksaw out. 

Indian makes no bones about this being a vital breakthrough model for them to achieve their ambitious goals for global sales, and they expect the FTR to be their strongest model as soon as it hits the dealers. The question is, will the FTR 1200 meet the expectations of the many riders lured by its carefully crafted Wrecking Crew image? 

For me, as someone who was seduced by the storyline first, then rode the machine later, the answer is... Yes! I wanted thrills and fun, and I got ‘em by the canyon load. This is a motorcycle I would genuinely love to have in my own garage. Why? Because life is made for good times, and the FTR 1200 was built to deliver.

Protect your Indian. Call Shannons Insurance on 13 46 46 to get a quote today.