Indian has created the FTR1200, an American motorcycle for the global market. Is that oxymoronic, just plain moronic or a very clever move indeed? Mikko Nieminen rode one to find out…
American bikes are big, brash and bathed in bling, right? Not this one. The new FTR 1200 from Indian Motorcycle is sleek, stylish and, well, rather European-looking. Naturally, that’s no coincidence.
The FTR is a considered move from Indian. It’s an essential part of the company’s desire to transform itself from an American motorcycle manufacturer to a global player. For that to happen, the existing line-up of big cruisers and baggers needs spicing up with a bike that appeals to a global market – and that’s where the FTR comes in.
This bike, however, is just the sharp end of the wedge: Indian has confirmed that the same new 1200cc V-twin engine designed for the FTR will power a whole platform of new models in years to come. If everything goes to plan, we could be looking at a new major global manufacturer here.
But global aspirations are only one side of the story behind the FTR. The other is Indian’s FTR750 flat track racer that has dominated American race series for the last two years. The FTR 1200 is inspired by the racer and has similar looks, but shares virtually no components with its fire-breathing sibling (race engines are all about performance, not longevity, and most people like their street bikes to run longer than just the weekend). To what degree you want to see the new bike as a homage to Indian’s rich history of racing or a calculated business decision to secure a foothold in new markets depends on your personal level of cynicism. No doubt both motives are at play here.
Like many top-level bikes, the FTR 1200 comes in two different guises: the standard and the S. The engine, chassis and the majority of all components are shared between the bikes, but there are a few key differences.
The 1203cc 60° V-twin engine is brand new for this bike, and shares only a handful of parts with existing Indian powertrains. It boasts a 12.5:1 compression ratio, four valves per cylinder, high-flow cylinder heads, dual throttle bodies, magnesium engine covers and a low-inertia crankshaft. All that makes the engine powerful (121bhp), grunty (120Nm) and quick revving.
Drawing immediate comparisons with the Ducati Monster, the tubular steel trellis main frame and aluminium subframe have been designed as separate parts, giving the bike distinct looks and leaving the door open for further developments that could give the package a whole new appearance.
Brembo brakes provide high-quality stopping power front and rear, while the lightweight cast aluminium wheels (19in front/18in rear) and the Dunlop DT3-R tyres (exclusively designed for the FTR) keep the bike’s looks true to the FTR750 racer.
The first obvious difference you notice is the instruments. The stock bike has an analogue speedo with an LCD screen for tacho, fuel gauge and gear indicator. Meanwhile, on the S you are welcomed on board by a full-colour, touch-sensitive TFT dash, which also grants access to the bike’s Rain, Road and Sport modes (the standard bike has the Road mapping). Also selectable via the dash is lean-sensitive ABS and traction control, exclusive to the S model.
Suspension is fancier in the S variant too. Although the hardware and factory settings are the same in both models, the S allows full adjustment of preload, compression and rebound damping at both ends.
The final differences are colour schemes and prices. The standard bike is available only in black while the S comes in red over steel grey or titanium metallic over thunder black pearl, or in race replica colour scheme, which also includes an Akrapovic exhaust.
During factory testing, the FTR spent a fair bit of time on winding Spanish roads while the Indian team faced the challenge of creating a bike that not only looks the part, but handles on European roads too. For the international launch ride, however, Indian had planned an equally twisty route up and down the Californian canyons with a spot of the Pacific Coast Highway, just north of Santa Monica, on the West Coast of USA.
The first few metres on the FTR were somewhat tentative, and the riding position took a little while to get used to. Not because it’s not comfortable – it is. It was more to do with the feeling of sitting very close to the front, with your feet on fairly high pegs and your bum on a high seat (840mm). Once I realised I could shuffle an inch or two back in the seat, it all fell into place. After the first couple of hundred yards I was relaxed and happy.
What took no time at all to figure out was the sweet nature of the engine. This is not a muscle bike with crazy power figures, but the big V-twin has ample torque across the range, making it super-easy to ride regardless of whether you can be bothered to select the right gear or not. If you run a gear or two too high, the bike will still accelerate happily right from the bottom of the range, and if you hang onto the gears and let the revs build there’s no feeling of the engine running out of steam of getting breathless.
There’s very little vibration from the engine, and what you can feel is not by any means unpleasant. The fact that Indian hasn’t bothered putting rubber pads on the footpegs shows that they are happy with how low they have kept the vibes.
Entering the roads snaking up and down the canyons, it was time to judge whether the Spanish testing regime had done the trick and made this a bike for global tastes and requirements. With a wheelbase of 1524mm, rake of 26.3° and trail of 130mm the geometry of the bike is a bit more relaxed than its European counterparts (yes, I’m thinking about the Monster 1200 in particular, which has 1485mm wheelbase, 23.3° rake and 86.5mm trail). In order to keep the looks as close as possible to the FTR750 racer, the FTR also runs on 19in front and 18in rear wheel rather than a more common 17/17 setup.
In practice all this means that the bike needs a little bit more of a nudge to drop into corners, but once it’s there it keeps the line perfectly with very solid and planted feel through the bend. On straights you can enjoy a bit more stability than more aggressively shaped bikes, and looking over your shoulder doesn’t instantly cause a wobble.
Suspension is on the firm side, but not harsh. And in the case of the S, this could be easily altered. I would probably leave it as it is, given that the only time when it was an issue was when riding over rough surfaces in Sport mode. This made it difficult to keep the right wrist gentle enough so the sensitive throttle didn’t cause the bike to buck and bolt. Switching to Road mode was an instant cure for this problem, with a slightly more mellow throttle map being more forgiving to micro-movements of the right hand while still providing full power.
One bit of kit that I think the bike could do with is a quickshifter/auto-blipper. In fairness the test bikes we rode had only done a few miles before our ride, but the gearbox was fairly stiff. On our winding route where you work the box almost constantly a slick quickshifter would have made life much easier.
The intuitive TFT dash on the S was a joy to use. You could either make your selections using the switches or poke at the glove-friendly touchscreen. It only takes a moment to get your head around how everything works.
I spent most of the ride on the S model, but for the final stretch I jumped on the standard bike – and I was very positively surprised by the ride quality on it. On paper it should be exactly the same as the S on Road mode and factory suspension settings, but to me it felt a little more gentle, soft and relaxed both in terms of suspension and throttle action. If anything, it was even easier to ride than the S. And I must admit that I didn’t miss the fancy TFT dash – unless you want to hook up your phone to the bike, the analogue speedo is all you need.
The only thing I did miss was a bit of colour... I could even let the Akrapovic pipe go (the bike still sounded great), but I found myself uncharacteristically smitten with the race-replica colour scheme – even if you can’t tell the colour when you’re on the bike, the lack of it kept bothering me.
The ride through the canyons proved that the FTR is a very accomplished motorcycle. With its mixture of flat track heritage, American V-twin mellowness and Euro-poise, it provided an engaging ride.
It’s difficult to imagine many people not liking the The FTR 1200: it looks good, it has the heritage, and it’s great fun to ride.
The big question is whether the interest and admiration will translate into hard sales. The bike is priced very close to the competition, and it offers similar level of quality and equipment – it’s a close call! Whatever the success of this bike is, one thing is for sure: we can expect plenty more ’global’ bikes from Indian built around this platform. The next few months and years will be very interesting indeed.