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Return of the Cafe Racers - Indian FTR 1200 Review

Indian FTR 1200 Review

The Indian FTR 1200 is almost spectacular. It handles perfectly, it’s astonishingly well put-together and its power delivery is aggressive, linear and full of v-twin nastiness. It’s incredibly good-looking, well-built and will be a benchmark of reliability in the years to come. But it’s still only almost spectacular. It’s not riddled with issues like your bipolar ex-girlfriend. But it’s got some flaws that you should be aware of before you sell your car, kidney or firstborn to blag the most interesting motorcycle released in the last ten years. Some are only minor niggles. Some you might consider deal-breakers.

Indian FTR 1200 S

INDIAN INTERNET DATING

Mouths dropped and wallets opened when the FTR 750 made its debut on the flat track circuit in 2016. It curb-stomped the competition, took trophies and won hearts across the world. But despite the caterwaul of v-twin faithful, Indian remained silent about a factory version. Until they announced the FTR 1200.

It looked great, but it lacked some of the lithe refinement of the competition model. It’d gained more than a few pounds and pushed out in a few directions that people didn’t expect, like a Tinder date who uses four-year-old photos. But the FTR 1200 still manages to be a plus-sized beauty. And it is plus-sized. It’s deceptive in the pictures and even as you approach the thing in person. But when you’re right up against the bike, drooling, you realize it’s a big American machine. Fat, long and wide.

Indian FTR 1200 ride review

THE COMFORT KING

That equals a bike that will fit many like a glove. But not me. I’m only 5’9 and while that’s handy if I’m ever being shot at, it left me unable to flat foot the Indian FTR 1200 around town. It’s no huge concern, but the thing weighs 230 kilograms dry. So if you’re short, slight of build or a peanut who routinely drops motorcycles at a standstill be forewarned; this Indian may not be the bike for you.

But when you’re perched on the FTR 1 200 everything is easy enough. The seating position is comfortable and upright with a slight forward bias. And while I’m just a little too underfed to feel really at ease on the FTR, if you’re 6 foot or above it’ll be perfect. Controls are fine, even if they’re not adjustable for reach. A full day in the saddle won’t be an issue.

The only problems I encountered were crammed cheap plastic controls on the handlebars. A crying shame, given the feel of the rest of the bike.

THE DEVIL IN THE DETAILS

Everything about the FTR 1200 oozes quality. The paint is deep and has a great amount of pearl in it. The headlight is gorgeous, the fit is consistent across panels and even the routing of the brake lines and cables is perfectly done. It’s just… neat. There’s very little lazy or half-assed about this motorcycle.

But there are a few styling faux pas. The tail unit is an elongated bit of scaffolding, the flashy electronic dash is jarring and somehow the bike, from the rear, stops looking gorgeous and starts looking like a maxi scooter. The Indian FTR 1200 is akin to a horse. It should never be approached from behind.

But that’s a shortlist of personal criticisms in a world dominated by ABS plastic, poor cabling, visible mold lines and plastic panels painted flat metallic silver. The FTR sits up there with the Kawasaki Z900RS as one of the nicest looking modern classics on the market. You’ll be constantly cleaning it, staring at it and copping all sorts of compliments when you’ve got it parked.

Indian FTR 1200 S

Our test bike was officially marked as the ‘1200S’. That ‘S’ gives you throttle modes, more interesting livery, and a huge, multicolored, all-singing, all-dancing iPad-esque dashboard. It’s beautifully bright and clear, but has too many menu options and could do with some tactile buttons for common functions rather than the touch screen. That being said, it worked with all types of gloves in all weather conditions. It’s a clever unit, even if it does dominate the bike visually.

What I don’t appreciate is a ridiculous warning that appears on the screen every time you start the bike. Every. Single. Time. A novella of a hundred words appears reminding you that motorcycling is dangerous. We all know that. I know that. I’ve had the broken bones, the threadbare bank balance and an aversion to taxis to prove it. But if you need a warning that 120 horsepower on two wheels can be detrimental to your health, you have it.

POWER AND THE PASSION

You will scare yourself on the Indian FTR 1200. Largely because of the glorious, 1203cc v-twin that kicks the Indian along. It’s not quite like the other donks in the Indian lineup. It has more power, revs more freely and it really, really hauls ass. The FTR 1200 S comes with three throttle modes. I only considered one to be useful — ‘Sport’. That’s because I found ‘Standard’ uninspiring, and ‘Rain’ makes it feel like you’re riding a gassed-out Sportster that’s done a big end bearing; I can only assume that makes it safer during a deluge. ABS is switchable, and there’s also a track mode where all electronic aids can be disabled.

From a standing start, the acceleration is hilariously brutal. It’s not a free-spinning v-twin like a Ducati or even a peaky unit like an SV650. It’s this bizarrely American, steroid-riddled, vibrating v-twin. It rumbles, pulses and feels like you’re on top of something with personality. Laying on the throttle between 4,000 and 6500RPM is halfway between opening up a big-bore S&S and kicking a Clydesdale in the ribs. It’s hilarious in a uniquely, excessive American way. It’s got more in line with a muscle car than any motorcycle currently on the market. It’s bombastic. And that would be fine, but it’s how it’s tamed that makes the Indian FTR 1200 a real joy to ride.

YOUR BEST BEHAVIOUR

If you came unstuck at full noise on the FTR 1200 the paramedics wouldn’t need bandages, they’d need a pressure-washer. Thankfully, the team at Indian has done an exceptional job of keeping all that power under control. The suspension, fully adjustable at both ends, keeps the bike in hand no matter the conditions. Poor road surfaces, tram tracks, hard-packed dirt, and gravel did nothing to upset the bike at any speed. It handled fine when the road surface trailed off to loose dirt, but I’d loathe taking a motorcycle worth this much money off-road.

The bike is always predictable and manages to behave beautifully. It is, however, a bike that you muscle through corners. It requires plenty of input in the bars to heave the bike through a set of twisties. It does an admirable job of it, but if you’ve come from something smaller, or prefer something lighter you will notice the weight.

The Dunlop DT3-R tires that the FTR is equipped with standard were specially developed for the FTR by Dunlop and Indian in the USA to resemble the tread blocks of the DT3 flat track race tires. If it were my bike I’d be looking to move onto some more conventional rubber. And that’s what the owners are all saying on the FTR 1200-focused forums too. It’s not the worst thing they’re saying though.

Indian FTR 1200 S

INDIAN FTR 1200 ISSUES

There’s no use sugar-coating it. The fuelling on the FTR 1200 is the most appalling of any motorcycle I’ve ever ridden. That’s compared to the Ducati Scrambler’s snatchiness, the binary early MT09 Yamahas, and the clunkiness of the Royal Enfield Bullet. And the problems I encountered weren’t limited to surging, jerky throttle response and hunting at steady RPM’s.

The FTR 1200 is more cold-blooded than Himmler. It requires at least five minutes to warm up before it can be properly ridden. If you take off too early the bike will stall. A few minutes later and the bike will lag, buck, jump and wobble you until it’s warm. Regardless of this, sometimes, idling in traffic, the bike also cut out completely. It only happened twice during my two weeks with the Indian FTR 1200. But that’s two times more than I’m willing to accept. And through my research, this experience isn’t limited to me or my test bike. The fledgling FTR 1200 forums show pages of discussions on this very issue.

In the immediate term, the only way around it is a beta Power Commander tune. In my opinion, you shouldn’t have to do that with a brand new motorcycle. The official word from Indian is that the FTR 1200 is going to have a factory reflash at some stage in the near future. It couldn’t come soon enough. Hopefully, when you’re ready to pull the trigger on an FTR 1200 purchase Indian have this sorted.

SHORT RANGE MISSILE

The next issue is also fuel related and probably says more about me as a pedant than the FTR 1200 itself. Topping the thing up with petrol is agony. The fuel tank is actually under the seat, keeping the weight low, but that means the fuel has to travel down a long tube to reach the ‘true’ tank. From my experience, there doesn’t seem to be a breather tube. So I had to give the bowser a squirt, wait for it to settle, give it a squirt, wait for it to settle… All that trigger action has you feeling like a postal worker with an AR15 every time you fill the bike. It’s something people tend to gloss over. But it turns every fuel stop into a drawn-out experience and opens you up for more banal conversations with boomer motorcyclists than you’d ever want.

And you’ll be filling up often, too. I couldn’t get more than a hundred miles out of a tank. That’s not enough for me and the riding I do. But I’m sure the seasoned American cruiser riders will already have their routes planned. Adjust accordingly.

INDIAN FTR 1200 ALL TOLD

But maybe this doesn’t matter to you. Maybe you’ve come from a Sportster with a peanut tank with barely enough fuel to get you to the end of your street. But for me, that’s a bit of a deal-breaker. As is a bike stalling in traffic or needing a 5-minute warm-up.

If none of that bothers you, you’ll find the Indian FTR 1200 well worth it. It’s a gloriously unique bike that seems to capture some very American lightning in a bottle. It will turn heads. It will make you giggle. And when Indian have those easily remedied fueling issues sorted (as they assured us they will) it’ll be like nothing else on the road.

INDIAN MOTORCYCLES

Story by Marlon Slack

Indian FTR 1200 S

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