It seemed simple enough to me. I wanted an epic photo of the Indian FTR 1200 S in a lurid slide, the rider’s left leg outstretched and a dust cloud billowing up behind, partly obscuring the mountains in the distant background.
We had the perfect setting for it, a dusty, desert spot in Southern California, and I asked Editor Mark to rip me a few donuts while I grabbed the dream shot I envisioned.
Read all the specs for the 2020 Indian FTR1200S here
Agreeable sort that he is, Mark hopped on the Indian and started doing some circles in the smelly, gritty Salton Sea sand. It wasn’t epic. It wasn’t even a donut. It was a guy on a cool-looking bike bouncing around in sand that was too deep and sticky to do much of anything, and resulting in little more than a moderately impressive rooster tail.
Ah well, at least we tried, and any chance to snap another photo of the great-looking FTR was time well-spent, as far as I was concerned. A large part of the ownership enjoyment experience of this Indian must surely be looking over one’s shoulder at it, while walking away.
FTR stands for Flat Track Racer and Indian has styled this bike after its competition-only FTR750. For a company better known for making more flamboyant Harley competitors, this (comparatively) lithe, naked bike is an enticing gateway to a brand that hadn’t otherwise grabbed my interest.
And I’m not alone. Friends who ride Ducati Monsters and Triumph Street Triples commented excitedly on my Instagram photos, wanting to know more about the FTR.
The first thing they should know is that it’s expensive. The FTR1200 S you see here rings in at $19,000. Opt for the Race Replica livery with its red frame (as you should do), and you’re at $20,000. Indian isn’t the only game in town selling sexy, naked bikes, and my friends’ Ducatis and Triumphs can be had for the low side of $15,000.
There’s a less expensive FTR1200 with an MSRP of $16,000 that’s just as powerful, but this is the bike you want, with fancy suspension, traction control and a TFT display screen.
The FTR has a 1200 cc V-twin just like the Indian Scout, but this mill has been bored out a bit more to 102 mm and has a higher compression ratio, resulting in 23 more horsepower than Indian’s entry-level bike. With 123 hp total, and 87 lb-ft of torque, the 500-lb FTR is properly quick.
Despite that peak torque coming at 6,000 rpms, the V-twin pulls smoothly from much lower rpms and makes for a really fun bike to zip through traffic. The tach swings around to 9,000 rpms before hitting redline, and the FTR’s power delivery is pretty linear all the way up, making highway passing a snap. Nobody will ever confuse the FTR’s engine for an inline-4 or even a triple, but for a twin, it revs up pretty freely, playing into its sporty nature.
The FTR1200 S has three drive modes including Sport, Standard and Rain that affect the traction control and throttle sensitivity. Power is also reduced to 97 hp in Rain mode. The TCS and ABS can be switched off entirely, better facilitating those epic desert photos, but for on-road riding, the lean angle sensitive ABS, stability and traction control, plus wheelie mitigation control, are all welcome in those moments when a rider might get a little over-excited.
The ride-by-wire throttle feel is good without the snappy on-off nature of some systems (Ducati, we’re looking at you) and the power is processed through a six-speed gearbox with solid-feeling shifts, before reaching the back wheel via chain drive.
Most manufacturers are using assist clutches that feel surprisingly light these days and by comparison, the FTR’s multi-plate, slipper clutch requires moderate hand strength which only became noticeable when slogging around LA traffic.
The FTR’s riding position was neutral for my average-sized frame, with the ProTaper bar being wide enough to give plenty of leverage, and high enough to keep the pressure off my wrists. That upright riding position also means charging head-first into serious wind-blast at highway speeds, but then that’s what full-face helmets are for.
In the interest of cornering clearance, the pegs are tucked up so after an hour or so of riding, the legs need a good stretch. The 33-inch seat height is tall for me, so stretch is what I did every time I had to put a foot down at a stop light. The 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust throws a lot of heat at the rider around town, too.
Fortunately, the FTR1200 S is narrow and reasonably light at 226 kg (497 lbs) dry, and even when topped up with fuel, the weight is kept low since the fuel tank resides mostly under the seat (what looks like the fuel tank is predominantly airbox). Filling the tank is a bit of a pain with the filler neck bisected by a piece of plastic that prevented the nozzle from going in very far. This meant having to physically hold back the splash-guard that’s on all California gas pumps, resulting in a few fill-ups with both the bike and my hands covered in gasoline. FTR riders will get lots of practice filling up, thanks to the 12.9 L tank emptying in less than 200 kms with mixed city and highway riding.
Despite looking like a dirt-track slider, the FTR1200 S is meant to be a street bike, not a scrambler, but the Indian managed to zip around the dusty packed-mud roads and atop the berm that once helped keep the Salton Sea from flooding Bombay Beach without feeling out of its depth. The 19-inch front and 18-inch rear wheel size helped the FTR roll over bumps and ruts more easily than a smaller set would have done.
On pavement, the FTR1200 S is happy to flick back and forth from curve to curve, tipping into a lean with ease. True to form, Indian has fitted a pair of Dunlop DT3-R tires that look an awful lot like proper flat-track race rubber. While they look the part, they were a little squirmy when carrying speed through some of the corners we experienced riding over the mountains. With only 120-width up front and 150-width in the rear, initiating the lean was easy, but the predominant shoulder ridge prevented me from finding the nerve to press the bike as much as I would have with sportier street tires.
The FTR1200S has a fully adjustable suspension front and back. The 43 mm upside-down front fork almost seems like overkill on this bike, but looks big and beefy (and painted gold) and means that if a rider wanted to swap out the DT3-R rubber for something more aggressive, it could turn the Indian into a formidable canyon carver. The Brembo brakes are surely up to the task too, offering great bite and strong, progressive stopping power.
The FTR1200 S is still capable enough to have plenty of fun in the corners, and the gobs of torque mean it’ll pull forcefully once the curves open up. Around town, it’s nimble enough to pull off commuter duties as well.
With such a classically-cool design, the 4.3-inch LCD touchscreen display seems a strange choice over traditional-looking gauges. Past experiences with some of these lit-up screens has left me skeptical, but Indian absolutely nailed it with the FTR’s set up. Two different gauge formats are available – one with a pair of digitally-created round gauges, and an alternate with a huge speed read-out, and a sweeping graph tachometer. It’ll also connect via Bluetooth to a rider’s phone to facilitate calls and music through a headset.
The graphics are bright and legible, day or night, and the system can be worked via the touch screen or a simple joystick-like button near the left grip. Well done, Indian.
Fancy screen systems and fully-adjustable suspensions, not to mention the standard cruise control, are all components expected on premium motorcycles, and they add to the considerable cost of the FTR1200 S. Whether or not the Indian is worth thousands more than competitors like the Ducati Scrambler 1100, BMW RnineT and Triumph Speed Twin will depend on how much importance the buyer places on having a bike with both a racing pedigree and the cachet of a legendary American brand.
Indian’s FTR1200 S is sure to attract new and likely younger buyers who would’ve never set foot in an Indian dealership before. It looks great, sounds great and is seriously fun to ride, making it a fine choice for an affluent rider seeking something different.
And if you manage to snap that epic shot of one, I’d love to see it.
It looks WAYYY better with the S&S exhaust, but would likely burn the snot outta your right leg.
Sorry Indian , while I love the look of the 750 this one just doesn’t do anything for me. The low exhaust changes the lines in my humble opinion.
One more thing Indian before you go , might you consider a different engine configuration ( gasp! sacrilege!! ) than the v twin?
I would love to see a new version of your iconic straight 4 .
That might make some headlines wouldn’t you agree?