Few manufacturers carry such legacy as the Indian Motor Company. This well-known American brand, which started making motorcycles back in 1901, has survived to this day despite many stumbles during it’s rich history that saw the name being bought and sold more times over the years, than anyone cares to remember. Since Polaris took over the reigns circa 2011 though, they have not only revived and updated a few of their classic models, but also brought us some brand new toys to play with. Their latest release for 2019 is the Indian FTR 1200.
The idea was simple. Take the already hugely successful FTR 750, which had been absolutely conquering flat track racing since it’s inception in 2016, and turn it into a road bike with more than a few added modern conveniences. (A street-tracker if you will). And mission well and truly accomplished — the result is a machine as fun to ride, as it is to look at. Everything from the aggressive stance, the tubular open frame hugging the liquid cooled 1,200cc V-twin, high-swept double exhaust cans, exposed suspension parts and Scrambler-esque knobby tyres gives the impression that this thing means business. (Fun fact: the unique tyres were specially developed by Dunlop exclusively for this bike.) Final drive happens via chain, unusual to see instead of the belts all other Indian models are fitted with. Fuel containment is under the seat, and what looks like the traditional tank is actually the air intake. Supposedly moved there to improve airflow but it cleans up the side quite nicely where your knee would usually be obstructed. Fit and finish is superb throughout, with LED lighting up front and in the rear completing a nice package.
What about ergonomics then? First off, it’s quite tall so seat height is a little higher than expected. On my six foot frame (32in leg), although both feet touch the floor I cannot flat foot it at all. Once on-board, the pro-taper handlebars with a slight rise and mid-mounted pegs do a great job of keeping the actual riding position pretty comfortable. Front brake lever reach is adjustable, which helps to find a sweet spot around the rather thin grips. Add to that a surprisingly supportive seat and long stem mirrors that lets you see more than just your elbows, and it’s a great place to spend some time.
So what’s it like to ride? For those who don’t know about flat track racing — it all happens on a dirt oval, so these bikes were designed to do only two things — go straight very, very fast for a short distance, and then turn left. Repeat over and over, until somebody waves a chequered flag and you get to go home and wash the mud off your face. So with that in mind, roadside manners on the street model had to be refined somewhat, and Indian has done a great job here. It’s still a fairly light frame fitted with a monster engine, so power arrives to the rear wheel in what feels almost immediately after twisting the throttle. Torque is unbelievably abundant and comes in even at very low RPM without lugging, it pulls hard and keeps on pulling regardless of what gear you happen to be in.
Hands down this has to be one of the strongest motorcycles we’ve seen, especially still in stock form and that alone makes it a very rewarding ride already. Connecting it to the unusually slick six speed gearbox is what’s called a ‘slipper clutch’, another element usually found mainly on serious race machines. Basically, it allows gradual matching of engine and wheel speeds during aggressive downshifts in the higher RPM range. One thing I did notice is that transitions from left to right turns seem rather slow. Not in a disturbing way, but enough to notice the extra effort required to flick over from side to side, and here I found it happiest in slow to medium sweepers. Heat buildup is moderate, and can be felt under the seat at lower speeds or when the cooling fans kick in, but not unbearably so. The overall ride is super smooth, with just enough vibrations and feedback to remind you of it’s American roots.
Suspension is equal or better to anything encountered on modern superbikes. Up front we have two upside down fully adjustable cartridge forks and the rear also gets a single piggyback shock with manual compression and preload setting. I didn’t spend too much time fine tuning any of it and still found it very smooth and compliant over bumps, yet reassuringly firm when you need it to be. Can’t fault it on such and zero complaints at all. Brakes are taken care of by Brembo twin discs up front and single rear, needless to say it is beyond great and has all the stopping power you need, even without using the supplemented A.B.S which seems to be standard nowadays.
On the topic of electronics, an impressive assortment of tech can be found. Starting with the big 4.3in customizable Ride Command LCD instrument panel — which is a touchscreen device, and works even while wearing gloves but also via the grip switchgear, if you so prefer. Bluetooth compatible, it’s easy to pair with your phone or headset for music and calls, and two very different digital gauge layouts are available to choose from. All essential info are easy to read, even in bright sunshine. As far as nannies go, there are some safety nets such as three ride modes (Sport, Standard, Rain) with unique throttle response and traction control intervention levels, an ABS on/off switch and also Track mode. For me the star of the show is the electronic cruise control, which isn’t exactly expected on a tracker-style machine but works exceptionally well.
If I had to pick a downside, it would be from a safety perspective. The LED headlights are not very bright in daytime (unless viewed from directly ahead) and together with the quiet stock exhaust and dark paint scheme, it presents some visibility issues. The strangely low placement of the rear indicators doesn’t help, and defensive riding in traffic is most certainly recommended. Luckily the horn is nice and loud! Worth a mention, that Indian themselves offer the more ‘audibly correct’ Akrapovic exhaust as well as various accessory collections in Tracker, Rally, Sport, and Tour themes that would address most, if not all of these concerns.
It’s not enough to detract from what is in my opinion one of the most fun motorcycle designs we’ve had in the last few years. If you’re looking for a fast, yet easy to ride bike with bags of character, which is just as comfortable on the twisties as it is nipping down to the shops - it might be time to try the FTR 1200.