Road test – Indian FTR1200 flat tracker for the street: “hell yeah!”


Indian has gone to great measures to position themselves as a premium American brand, and so far they have achieved exactly that, showing growth in the USA last year despite overall motorcycle sales plummeting, and attracting the sort of customer with whom you wouldn’t mind sharing a drink, or even some inheritance. While they have already secured themselves a place in American cruiser, touring and bagger folklore, they are now finding their feet as an independent motorcycle creator, and they begin this journey with a bombshell – the FTR1200 flat tracker for the streets. Donovan Fourie went to Santa Monica in California to behold it for himself.

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The apt words when describing the Indian FTR1200 are “hell yeah!”. There are similar words (rhyming with “duck bear”) that are more befitting, but we would prefer not to upset anyone. “Hell yeah!” will do. 

When the first image of the Indian FTR1200 was released nearly three years ago, we were sitting in The Bike Show office and Harry, the most web-attentive of the group, turned his laptop around and said: “look at this!” The overwhelming reaction from the wide-eyed team was “hell yeah!”

At the EICMA Show in Milan last November, the FTR1200 was unveiled for the first time, and we saw it in the flesh. Often photography has a way of flattering subjects that are harsh on the eye, and yet our live reaction was an even bigger “hell yeah!”.

Now here it is, in the flesh again, with me sitting on it while the motor hums. “Hell! Bloody! Yeah!”

Indian FTR1200 the Californian way

This turn of phrase casts an even better image when this motor is humming in Los Angeles, the very place where that apt phrase was most likely coined. More precisely, we are in the glitzy Santa Monica, an area bordered by Beverley Hills and the Pacific Coastline, where the buildings are famous, the people are groovy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger occasionally pedals past on a bicycle.

Indian FTR1200 6a7859e523

And the FTR1200 fits in beautifully with everything; even, perhaps, Arnie. Indian Motorcycles are the stuff of legend, dating back to their street and racing successes from the early 1900s, and their modern incarnation couldn’t be in better hands. They are one of more than 30 brands within Polaris Industries, a company turning over $6.1 billion annually. Since the brand relaunched in 2014 they have grown steadily, now selling the same number of units in Europe as Triumph and, despite overall motorcycle sales in the USA tanking, they still showed a modest growth last year.

That was solely with cruisers, tourers and baggers, the traditional American way. Now Indian heads down the path of independent thinking, and at the same time throwing in a more global appeal.

Indian FTR1200 energy

The team behind Indian show the same character we have seen from all the passion-driven brands; an energy and enthusiasm for their models that is infectious. As we sat mingling at dinner, they approached their guests with an amiable grin and a gleam in their eye, asking excited questions all about our thoughts on the bike, the ride, the look and everything we can tell them, showing an eagerness for information and a willingness to improve the model however they can.

The design leader, Matt Fronk, even shared a story about them completing the first working test bike at three o’clock one morning, not because they were frantically trying to meet some deadline but because the team was so eager to see their design in the flesh.

Indian FTR1200 6a7859e523

And here it was, indeed in the flesh, idling excitedly in the parking lot of a Santa Monica hotel. Indian have dubbed this model “a flat tracker for the street”, something that started with them looking back to their flat track racing roots in the 1940s. The first thing they did is build a modern 750cc flat track racer and enter it in the AMA Flat Track Championship where, last year, they won 17 of 18 races, despite the brand having not competed for more than 50 years. Next, they built the street bike.

Indian FTR 1200 – Born on the dirt, built for the street.

Flat track racers have always had an appealingly mad energy about them, with that angry V-twin howl, the cheeky naked style and those semi-dirt tyres that are ready to fling gravel as their riders wrestle these machines around the ovals of America. And here was a line of them, in California, with number plates and LED lights. The initial hurdle beautifully overcome by Indian – these bikes look the part; they are gorgeous to behold and yet hint at that underlying insanity. The motor comes across as burly and intimidating, the trellis frame and swingarm look like veins wrapping around a muscle, the twin silencers of the exhaust slant upwards in a sting position and the plastics are kept to a minimum. 

The first part of our trip had us ascending the Pacific Coast Highway, a road that has been made famous by literally every single Hollywood movie ever made. As the name suggests, it follows the Pacific Coast, with the clutter of Los Angeles on one side and the vastness of the ocean on the other. The ride started at a chilled pace, giving us some time to look around the bike and play with its toys.

The seating feels surprisingly neutral, and we say this because bikes of this kin tend to be more laid back, even with their racing inspiration. The ProTaper bars are relatively close to the rider, and the footpegs are straight down. The tank has some stunning artwork, and fuel cap sits close enough to the rider’s, um, bits to ensure a dismount when refuelling for fear of violation. 

Indian FTR1200 seat 98fba9320f

The seat is excellent, and this is again down to the Indian staff paying attention to comments and opinions. Last year, they invited selected members of the world media to try out the pre-production model and give feedback, and this is not the first time a company has done this, as it makes perfect sense. Motorcycle journalists have experience with all sorts of models and all kinds of brands, so are possibly the best kind of development rider. One of the prevalent comments was the seat being was too hard, so the design team swung into action, redesigning the shape and replacing the cushioning. Now it is a seat that can happily accommodate your backside all day.

Indian FTR1200  – look, dirt and now technology

Indian is releasing two base versions – the FTR1200 and the FTR1200S. The significant difference, apart from paint schemes and adjustable suspension on the S, is the electronics with both featuring cornering ABS and cruise control, while the FTR1200S has the addition of lean-sensitive traction control, stability control, four rider modes and the ability to turn off the ABS.

The big break-through for motorcycling found on the FTR1200S is the LCD dash. It has two rather fetching themes, it is simple enough to understand, and it has Bluetooth connectivity with a USB charger. These functions are somewhat hum-drum in the modern motorcycling era, but what makes it unique is the three methods of navigating through these functions – you can push the buttons on the side of the dash, you can toggle the handlebar joystick or, get this, you can use the touch screen. It works both with gloves and without, and it saves having to fumble switches.

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Indian FTR1200 growl

As we settle into the ride, the pace hotted up, something that is a mercy; often American launches tend to be a delicate affair, with the launch hosts wary of the American tradition of throwing lawyers at every situation, and they dare not stray into anything risky thus participants follow the leader in an agonising procession of law-abiding uniformity. 

Our hosts on this occasion were British, and within ten minutes of turning onto the Pacific Coast Highway, thoughts of bloodsucking lawyers were cast aside, and we were blasting away from each traffic light in a delightfully Hollywood fashion.

The motor is a traditional 60º V-twin hosting 1203cc, with a radiator, that pushes 123hp and 120Nm of torque. These figures might not be the stuff of nightmares, but Indian has joined the likes of Triumph by somehow making spec numbers dance far more in real life than they do on paper. The motor feels peppy and just a bit angry, lifting the front wheel in first gear and roaring to a redline of 9,000rpm. Indian also has a knack of building motorcycles that are somehow sublimely smooth and yet, at the same time, dripping with character, two traits that are usually mutually exclusive. 

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Indian FTR1200 in Paradise

Los Angeles is annoying in an enviable way because they have the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, exciting and friendly citizens, a beautiful coastline, and the Santa Monica mountains a mere click north of the city. As the buildings end and the roadside turns into a cliff, you can take any turn-off and be greeted with some of the most magnificent roads anywhere in the world. There is a veritable race track in Los Angeles’ backyard, and yet for some daft reason, Hollywood keeps focusing on a bunch of muscle tractors blasting down straight desert roads.

We took one of said turn-offs, and a paradise beyond any stupid desert greeted us. Choosing these kinds of roads in itself is a bold move by Indian because, while the FTR1200 does flirt with the idea of racing, it does still give off an aura of cruiser-ness. It has a dry weight of 222kg, some 60kg heavier than the likes of a Ducati Panigale V4R. The aluminium wheels have been adopted from a flat tracker, with an 18-inch in the rear and a 19-inch in the front, a configuration that would suggest handling that tracks beautifully, but it not too keen on changing direction.

While I subconsciously braced my upper arms for the strain, we dipped into the first series of turns and it, well, turned. Yes, it tipped into the corner and went through it, easy as can be. Even as we delved into the depths of the mountain passes where such dangers as flick-flacks and nasty blind hairpins, it took it all in its stride, turning on a dime and glueing itself to the line like a freight train, it’s not going to break any lap records around Kyalami, but the lap will be an outright giggle.

Indian FTR1200 98ed89e6ab

More so, the torque of the motor meant gear changes were optional with no hint of snatching. The FTR1200 is fitted with specially-developed Dunlop tyres that are based on those of a flat tracker and resembled an old-school rain tyre. They gripped remarkably well for tyres intended to take on the dirt oval, however, the torque of the motor did occasionally overcome the rear, but this just meant that it stepped out slightly and a mild adjustment of the throttle set it straight again. And that was only while the traction control was off. It was kinda fun.

This uncharacteristic handling is an enigma until you begin uprooting the inner workings of the chassis and motor. Indian has concentrated on the mass, keeping it as low and as centralised as possible. The fuel tank has been placed under the seat, like on a MotoGP bike, a feature that allows a better air-induction directly above the motor, and a far better mass distribution. The wheels are lightweight, and there is a very little mass in the outer extremities to upset the handling.

The suspension is from Sachs (fully-adjustable on the FTR1200S) with 43mm forks and an offset monoshock both offering 150mm of travel further adding to the all-day comfort. The brakes are by Brembo, meaning there is not only stopping power but great feel for the more daring trail-braker. 

Indian FTR1200 for the win

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The FTR1200 is undoubtedly a new deviation for Indian. Until now, they have produced sedate motorcycles that oozed charm, sophistication and class. A hooligan machine seemed a distant notion, and yet here it is. You’d be forgiven for thinking this might detract from its previous demeanour but, if anything, it has done nothing but add a fresh, youthful bundle of joy, like a new baby born into a royal family.

When you meet the people behind the project, you find a group of keen bikers who will surreptitiously check the practice results from that weekend’s racing in-between their design work. With this lot at the helm, you have wonder why the FTR1200 didn’t come sooner.

Hell yeah!


The Indian FTR1200 also will be available in four other stylistic versions, including  Tracker, Sport, Rally and Tour, all with their own parts from the custom catalogue and paint schemes. There is also a Race Replica with its race-inspired paint scheme and an Akrapovic exhaust. They are estimated to arrive in July 2019.

Pricing (subject to currency fluctuations):
Indian FTR1200 – R209,900
Indian FTR1200S – R229,900
Indian FTR1200S Race Replica – R259,900


Indian FTR1200 Gallery – click to enlarge: