2020 INDIAN FTR 1200S ROAD TEST
Flat Track Motorcycle Racing is perhaps the most American of Motorsports.
Flat Track is a game of way too much horsepower in too small a space with nowhere near enough traction and enough raw guts to make your jaw hit the dirt again and again.
The greats of American motorcycle road racing – Roberts, Rainey, Lawson, Rayburn, Nixon, Spencer – all became racers in the dirt long before they became GP Stars.
Name a more American motorsport? I laugh at NASCAR. I give respect to Indianapolis racers. One might make a case for Drag Racing, but Flat Track is a nearly 100-year long tradition of just two tires, a big motor and an endless reservoir of courage.
I had the pleasure of seeing Rodney Farris race in Frederick Maryland’s 4th of July tradition, the Barbara Fritchie Classic. Most Flat Trackers will get out of the throttle on corner entry, ‘back it in’, set the angle of the sliding motorcycle on the throttle, and power out. Not Rod. Rod was a poster boy for ‘Rolling Physics Problem’ – he’d enter every corner pretty much flat out, and then would let the traction conditions and output of the motor balance each other out – he’s set the slide of the bike by scrubbing both the front and back wheels – roostertailing furiously — at the same time.
It’s easy for me to describe it. It’s another thing altogether to do with a 100 horsepower motorcycle.
If Rod needed to run three races during the Fritchie – a heat, the Semi and The Main — it was unusual for anyone else to finish any one of them on the same lap as Rodney.
Flat Track Motorcycles are short on frills. Fat semi-knobby tires, wide handlebar, upright seating position and a flat, long and narrow saddle that provides the racer with lots of room to shift weight and balance. Bikes normally have a narrow, twin loop frame, and the maximum motor allowed by the rules – a 750 cc twin. Twin high mount mufflers are customary, and only rear wheel brakes are fitted. Think of it as your old Schwinn Sting Ray bicycle with a hod-rodded superbike twin shoehorned into it, and you’d be pretty close.
So, with Flat Tracking being our Made-In-The-USA, native form of official motorized hero behavior, surely Flat Track motorcycles – or Trackers – would be one of the most frequently observed types of motorcycles.
Yet, with the possible exception of Harley Davidson’s XR1200, no factory has ever designed and sold a street-legal tracker style motorcycle.
Its as counterintuitive as being told you couldn’t buy an NFL Football jersey anywhere in America.
The trackers that one does see are constructed by a network of niche market specialists – artists that make full-on custom tracker frames – frustrated engineers that take retired race bikes and convert them into street bikes by combining them with required bits of related road gear and being willing to mumble and obfuscate quite a bit at the local MVA’s registration desk.
Nearly 100 years of competition heritage between the American Manufacturers – Harley Davidson and Indian — and the many and changing offshore enemies – Triumph, BSA, Honda, Kawasaki – and no one had seen fit to make and sell that most American of sportbikes. The two companies with the most legitimate claim to this sporting heritage were making mostly slow, low, ill handling cruisers that were good for getting to the bar, rather than to the checkered flag.
Then the re-animated Indian Motorcycle decided to resume the endless flat track war that had flamed out with the bankruptcy of the original company in 1953. Resume, though, is perhaps the wrong word. Indian’s approach was to develop a specialized tool for winning races from a clean sheet of paper. Indian didn’t really want to compete – they wanted to dominate, to annihilate. And with a flattrack-optimized and very trick motor developed with their newly acquired race motor subsidiary – SwissAuto – combined with a twin loop frame that starts where specialists like TrackMaster left off – that’s exactly what they done. Ever see a motor designed around flywheels that can be changed for different track conditions? Didn’t think so. Indian did a great deal to make the racing FTR’s engine appear as if it was a Scout motor – using the Scout’s black painted cases and decorative milled edge decorations of the cylinder heads and clutch housing – but the motor has no common parts with the Scout, and even has a different V angle – the racer at 53 degrees, the Scout at 60.
As the Racing FTR kept racking up racing victories, first there were whispers of a street version, then a concept bike, and by May of 2019, preproduction examples of a street-going FTR, sporting a full 1200 ccs of displacement, were placed in the hands of a few journalists – and by fall, the bike was in dealerships.
And while the production motorcycle most definitely isn’t a street legal version of the racing FTR, what a motorcycle it is.
First and foremost, the FTR appears to be almost all motor.
If you’re the sort of rider who prefers to be able to see blue sky when looking through one’s motorcycle, this isn’t your bike. The FTR’s 1200 cc, water-cooled, double overhead cam, 4-valve motor completely fills the frame of the motorcycle. And unlike the graceful, light, traditional twin loop frame of the racer, the streetgoing FTR has a very modern and stout-appearing trellis frame, which, if you are lucky enough to have the S model Race Replica, as we were, is painted in a very vivid and very Indian Red. The powerplant is mounted to serve as a stressed member, with the expected serpentine V-twin’s exhaust headers curling directly underneath it. The 1200’s swingarm does share its design with the racer – it too, is a very trick and well triangulated tubular steel trellis with the chain actually running under the top loop. That swingarm acts on a single linkageless and fully adjustable shock whose spring is also red so as not to ruin the party.
The front end works though a nice gold anodized inverted fork – which, like the shock, is produced by Sachs, a company which has been making suspension units for BMW since those bikes had Earles’ forks, and probably before that. Brakes are Brembo’s best – superbike spec four piston radial mounts at the front, and a cute single piston unit at the rear. Tires – a 19 inch front and 18 inch rear – are Dunlop DT3-Rs – a very convincing looking copy of the standard flat track competition tire. Brakes and tires work through a Bosch provided Motorcycle Stability Control suite – Inertial Management Unit controlled cornering ABS, traction and wheelie control.
The S-spec bike has the flattrack look dual can exhaust system – a performance unit from Akropovic festooned with little carbon fiber heat shield jewelry here and there. Weirdly, race spec trackers always seem to carry their exhaust on the left side of the motorcycle – the FTR’s is on the right. The handlebar is a competition-spec ProTaper unit in a Tracker Bend – wide with very little pullback. Competition trackers have flat saddles so that a rider can move his weight to the rear to weight the rear wheel – the FTR has a more street practice dished saddle with a bum stop – good for carrying a passenger and better to help remain aboard the motorcycle under, um, certain conditions.
The bike’s ‘tank’ does a magnificent job of channeling the racebike – the red Indian script against white, red and highly metallic black was eyecatching and enthusiast catching – expect your gas stops to take longer. The tank pulls off the amazing trick of looking tiny from beside the bike and broad shouldered from the saddle. Regardless – it isn’t actually a fuel tank, it’s the airbox – your fuel is carried under the seat.
Swinging a leg over reveals a roomy rider’s triangle for flat tracker pilot size people – have you ever noticed that all the best racers are small and aerodynamic? – with wide, well sculpted metal footpegs directly beneath the saddle although, to be frank, this bike is tall – with saddle height of 33 inches. Turning the key animates the Indian’s full color LCD touchscreen dash – which allows selection of a few different instrument layouts and access to configuration, diagnostics and ride mode screens. Pressing the run button on the bike’s kill switch automatically spins the engine until it starts.
If Indian’s intention was to mimic the dynamics of the competition engine, then they’ve succeeded completely. The 1200 has almost no flywheel – it revs insanely quickly on blips of throttle. The engine is cold blooded – it takes more than a little heat in the system before things stop snortin and there’s smooth power available. The bike’s engine management software does not like tentative uses of the throttle – no one will be using any FTRs for parade escort duty.
And none of that matters a whit when you’ve got a little open pavement and you really open the throttle.
For a 1200 cc twin, and whose cruiser stablemates are characterized by mounds of low RPM torque, the FTR is not strong below 3-4,000 rpm. But when the revs rise, the FTR’s competition heritage comes though loud and clear. When these 4-valve heads start to really move mixture, the FTR becomes The Hammer, driving you out of corners with a force and immediacy that has few rivals. You will never ever wonder, when riding an FTR, if you need a downshift in order to make a 2-lane pass. And as the revs rise, the power continues to build all the way to redline – to feel that kind of insane rubberband snap at the top of fourth or fifth of the six available gears and road speeds which my attorney has advised me not to comment on is thrilling in the extreme. After only a few well executed corner exits I no longer wonder at all why the Indian American Flat Track factory team consistently sweeps the podium – an FTR exiting a corner feels like one is being propelled directly by the steel-toed boot of God right up your ahhhh.
There is a lot more to this motorcycle than mere motor, though. In the earliest phase of testing, I took the bike to Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive. I ran the FTR though about 40 miles of mountain ridge, and I was happily surprised by how comfortable and planted the motorcycle was in very sporty touring mode – there was all but infinite ground clearance, and the bike’s frame, suspension and tires worked well leaned over and carving – the FTR had the kind of handling that let one cut harder and dial in more lean when you were already cutting pretty hard to start with. The dirty look Dunlops had way better cornering traction than I was expecting, and the bike’s 6-axis stability control kept things extremely tidy on both fast corner entrances and enthusiastic exits. The FTR’s big twin had such phenomenal engine braking that one can make little use of the excellent brakes, and the bike’s slipper and assist clutch makes downshift corner entries make you look like a better rider than you are.
Continued backroad sorties continued to reinforce the initial impression of a uniquely American sports motorcycle – providing immediate access to stonking power, with handling and ergonomics to match. The bike is even surprisingly at ease at high sustained highway speeds. Its an old trick of the trade that vehicle designers will telegraph the vehicle’s designed cruise speed or RPM by placing it at the very top of the tach or speedo instrument. The FTR’s analog tach image shows needle straight up at an even 5000 rpm, which works out to an indicated 84 mph in sixth gear. The FTR 1200 S has much acceleration at 5000 rpm in top gear as most motorcycles have in second gear at redline. The bike’s user manual points out that the machine – operating in ‘Street’ Mode – is electronically limited to 124 miles an hour, and that the stability control system provides ‘wheelie mitigation’. The FTR makes both of those things seem like a really good idea.
On the dirt roads in the farm country around my place the FTR is a total hoot. The motor makes breaking the rear tire loose on corner exits almost boringly easy, and the upright riding position and wide bars put the rider fully in command and control.
Things are never perfect, and the FTR isn’t either. The fuel capacity and range are comically small. In full backroad assault mode you’ll be lucky to get 100 miles out of a tank. I queried the bike’s excellent diagnostics display – which allows you to both view and clear motor fault codes (how cool is that?) — and it doesn’t keep track of the fuel mileage anywhere. I suspect Indian is hoping you’ll either stop asking or you won’t care or both. The motor sheds a great deal of heat – get in a situation where your forward progress is limited and things can get genuinely uncomfortable genuinely fast. The bike does vibrate when its making power – there are explosions involved after all — whether that’s character or a character flaw is probably a matter of personal taste.
With the FTR, one gets what motorcycling enthusiasts have been asking for for decades – an American standard style and genuinely and unapologetically sporting motorcycle. The bike’s Flat Track heritage – simple, light, narrow, powerful — doesn’t begin to explain the FTR’s extraordinary capabilities when ridden aggressively on the street. The FTR1200S has a motor which delivers a huge hit of horsepower and torque in a rev-happy blast that starts strong in the midrange and grows to incomprehensible at redline. Indian has combined that motor with a frame, suspension, brakes and electronic stability control suite that allows a rider to take maximum advantage of the power at their command.
It took guts for Indian to build such a hammer of a motorcycle – it takes some measure of guts to ride it. The FTR is absolutely not a relaxing or calming motorcycle to ride. If you are the type of rider for whom every ride is a ‘ride it like you stole it’ exhaust barking, wheels sliding, stoppie hard braking trip to the edge, then the FTR1200S is absolutely your motorcycle.
FTR 1200 S SPECIFICATIONS
Engine & Drivetrain
Bore x Stroke
4.016 in x 2.898 in (102 mm x 73.6 mm)
73 cu in (1203 cc)
Assist & Slip, Multi-Plate
Electronic Fuel Injection System
Closed Loop Fuel Injection / 60 mm Bore
DOHC, 4-Valves per Cylinder, Graded Buckets
Gear Ratio (1st)
2.769 : 1
Gear Ratio (2nd)
1.882 : 1
Gear Ratio (3rd)
1.500 : 1
Gear Ratio (4th)
1.273 : 1
Gear Ratio (5th)
1.125 : 1
Gear Ratio (6th)
1.036 : 1
123 HP (91.7 KW)
87 ft-lb (117.9 Nm)
Peak Torque RPM
2.882 : 1
Gear Drive Wet Clutch
3.4 gal (12.9 L)
7.2 in (183 mm)
948 lb (430 kg)
51.1 in (1297 mm)
90 in (2,286 mm)
33.5 in (850 mm)
26.3° / 5.1 in (130 mm)
33.1 in (840 mm)
Weight (Empty Tank / Full of Fuel)
497 lbs / 518 lbs (226 kg / 235 kg)
60 in (1,524 mm)
Dual 320mm x t5 Rotor with 4-Piston Calipers
Single 265mm x t5 Rotor with 2-Piston Calipers
Tires / Wheels
Dunlop® DT3-R Radial, 120/70R19 60V
Cast 19 in x 3 in
Dunlop® DT3-R Radial, 150/70R18
Cast 18 in x 4.25 in
Front Fork Tube Diameter
Fully Adjustable Inverted Telescopic Cartridge Fork
5.9 in (150 mm)
Fully Adjustable Piggyback IFP
5.9 in (150 mm)
Color / Graphics
Indian Motorcycle® Red over Steel Gray, Titanium Metallic over Thunder Black Pearl, Race Replica
2 Years, Unlimited Miles
4.3” Ride Command LCD Touchscreen w/ Bluetooth
LED Headlight, Taillight, Turn Signals
3 Ride Modes (Sport, Standard Rain), Lean Angle Sensitive ABS, Stability, Traction and Wheelie Mitigation Control, USB Fast-Charge Port, ABS, Cruise Control