We, humans, are a curious bunch—always fulfilling our inexplicable need to for classification, continuously angling to define inanimate objects in an effort that, ultimately, probably has more to do with easing our fickle anxieties than benefitting society. So, to quench the undeniable thirst of motorcycle taxonomy, that’s exactly what I’ll do in just a moment.
The 2019 Indian FTR 1200 and FTR 1200 S are standard motorcycles—a class that can be described as the champion of the two-wheeled world. Through its endless versatility, a standard machine carries the brunt of riding life on its shoulders with nary a protest in sight, readily donning the collective caps of commuting, sport riding, and travel in equal measure and equal success. It’s a tall order, as you’re now asking engineers to make something of a Swiss Army knife in motorcycle form.
Back in 2015, a few Indian Motorcycle employees astutely observed that they happened to be dominating American Flat Track racing with their FTR750 factory racer and thought, “We should sell a version of that to the public.” Well, that lightbulb must have been burning bright and illuminating the Indian offices into the wee hours of the night. In just two years, the FTR 1200 concept dropped, causing what I would describe as nothing short of a ruckus in the industry.
It kicked up quite the kerfuffle for reasons other than its bank-account draining good looks; a major American motorcycle manufacturer hasn’t produced a standard bike in some time. In the eyes of some, the American motorcycle market is pigeonholed in its desire for cruisers and baggers. Deviating outside those lines is tantamount to two-wheeled treason for discerning leather vested riders. But even then, this American standard seems to reach across the aisle, fulfilling the role well, while still being undeniably true to its roots.
To that end, the 2019 Indian FTR 1200 is offered in two options, which are most easily defined by price, as they share all other critical parts. The standard model is the bare-bones version with simplified rider aids that rely on wheel-speed sensors, a lack of selectable ride modes, and an analog dash, as well as a non-adjustable 43mm Sachs fork with a Sachs shock featuring spring-preload and compression-damping adjustment only. Still, the standard model receives non-adjustable traction control and ABS, as well as cruise control. Also, it’s only available in black, which is striking in its own right.
Raising the bar of exclusivity is the 2019 Indian FTR 1200 S. It boasts IMU-supported electronics in the form of TC, ABS, and wheelie control—all of which can be disabled. Plus, full adjustability of the Sachs suspension units is added to the S. Also, the S model receives other color options. Not only that, but it gets a fancy full-color TFT display.
And, so, I boarded a plane headed south of the border to San Jose del Cabo to the tip of the Baja California peninsula, where I spent two days traipsing around, experiencing Mexican cuisine that is identical to what I eat multiple times a week, just better. We often gallivant in European cities on press rides and Americans often ruminate in a ‘grass is greener’ fashion about the superiority of European life. However, the lack of chips and salsa is a severe cultural failing; an unforgivable one, actually.
Let’s begin with the cornerstone of any bike born under the stars and stripes – the 1203cc liquid-cooled DOHC 60-degree V-twin engine. Although the FTR’s motor shares the basic architecture as the Indian Scout—including an identical 73.6mm stroke—that’s about where the parallels between the powerplants end. Its pummeling mid-range power defines the FTR, with far, far more punch than its 1133cc little cousin.
To achieve their goals, Indian engineers went ahead and bestowed the new engine with a relatively high 12.5:1 compression ratio, high-flow cylinder heads and dual throttle bodies that are all integral parts of the personality puzzle. Interestingly, the airbox is plopped right on top of the motor because the fuel tank is in the subframe and under the seat. What you are left with is a V-twin that revs with urgency, straddling the divide between slow-revving, lumpy, American twin engines and the more aggressive motors coming out of Austria or Italy. Not as crude, not as refined— in the middle.
Just above idle, the 1203cc begins to perk up, and its healthy 87 ft/lbs of claimed torque at 6000 rpm comes online. If I didn’t know better, I’d assume that maximum torque hits at a lower rpm, while peak horsepower is at a soaring 8250 rpm. That power truly comes into its own towards 5k and has more than enough slap to keep you grinning with your head in the wind. Meanwhile, smooth, predictable fueling serves as a tasty garnish. Even when dealing with the doldrums of city life, the motor is still quite amicable and doesn’t lurch at low rpm, as many of its large-displacement brethren will often do.
This isn’t a motor that wants to be pinned and see you knocking on the door of the rev-limiter like a persistent throttle-evangelist. No, this needs a different approach. Sign on the dotted line and take up residence in the stellar torque wave. Ideally, you’ll want to keep the rev counter in the space between 2500 and 6k, letting your throttle hand casually wander as you lean on some serious acceleration, causing trees, people, and police to turn into a blur in your periphery.
To exemplify the point, when traveling at freeway speeds the FTR is barely rumbling along at roughly 4k. When in top gear, head down and reaching triple-digit speeds, the engine speed is north of 6k. While peak horsepower might be climbing, torque feels as if it’s trailing off. So, I ask you, why get greedy with such a delectable mid-range meal in front of you?
The FTR’s powerplant is refined to a point, stopping short of European sensibilities just enough of so that an uncivilized nature is worn like a badge of honor, in the most American way imaginable. In truth, there is no benefit to gnashing your teeth and strangling the right grip like a cartoon chicken, as all those raw V-twin vibrations start to sour when diving deep in the revs.
Some of the quick-step acceleration owes to what I’d describe as a slick six-speed gearbox with tighter gear ratios in the first few gears. Paired with an assist-and-slipper clutch, these aspects of the engine are a far cry from what we know to be meat-and-potatoes loving V-twins. This motor starts poking its head into the sportier side of motorcycling with confident, but smooth, transitions up and down the gearbox.
The clutch pull is light, again, breaking from the tradition cruisers and the like. Curiously, the friction zone is quite narrow and begins right at the start of the lever stroke. Usually, that would be a massive gripe, if it were coupled with a snatchy throttle. Gladly, it isn’t, and it’s something that you can get used to. Although, for a bike that will spend most of its time in urban environments, it’s an aspect that the Indian FTR 1200 could do without.
As we were in Baja and cruising about in weather that edged into 90 degrees, one aspect of the engine did crop up—heat. When sitting in traffic or traveling at low speeds, it is something that will be felt as hot air begins pooling under the subframe, behind the rear cylinder. Depending on the direction of the wind, you might start to feel it when traveling at highway speeds, too. If you’ve ever ridden an older twin-cylinder powered European sportbike, you’ll know what I mean, although those are demonstrably hotter.
Indian is aware of the issue and working on getting more positive airflow through the chassis, with several solutions on the table, but nothing solidified yet. The FTR 1200s I rode were pre-production models, and perhaps this is something that will be alleviated soon.
My only other observation is that the expertly hidden 3.4-gallon fuel tank leaves something to be desired when it comes to range. It’s something to be aware of in the backroads, though not a deal breaker. Plan accordingly.
Finally, the 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust ties it all up in a happy little bow. The test units were the Race Replica S models, which come adorned with an Akrapovič slip-on muffler. No, there isn’t a performance gain of any kind, just a sound that you’ll love, and your neighbors will envy, naturally. Of course, the stock FTR 1200 cans aren’t so bad either.
The engine is a high point for me; it has loads of character and isn’t par-for-the-course when it comes to V-twin engines. What can change the personality of it is the three selectable ride modes found on the S model, only. Owners will discover Rain, Standard, and Sport, all of which simultaneously adjust the levels of intervention of its IMU supported electronics. You can’t change those parameters independently—it’s all or nothing—but you can shut off all nannies in one fell swoop.
Rain mode will see the horsepower cut to 93 with a slack throttle to match—perfect for those days when the asphalt is slicked over from the clouds above. I didn’t test the rain mode in its ideal habitat. Instead, I used its relaxed throttle to help control the tractable engine while riding off-road, with all the rider aids disengaged.
Standard mode is a comfortable middle ground and a mode that seems to be the default of the base model FTR. Its traction control, ABS, and wheelie control are about as middle of the road as you can get. I never saw them step in prematurely for the spirited riding that’s incredibly fun to do on the FTR.
Sport does wick it all up and lets the rider aids drop their hair a bit, but only some. The throttle is decidedly more responsive, while never becoming abrupt or unsettling as an off-the-shelf sportbike can often be. If you’re a real hooligan and want to raise your wheel to the air, you’ll have to disable the rider aids as they aren’t keen on letting the front lift. Admittedly, I am not a true hooligan. I show up to things on time, thank you very much.
Another top score for the Indian FTR 1200 platform is its steel trellis chassis. As one of the physically largest motorcycles in class, its dimensions will deceive you. The stretched wheelbase of 60 inches and relaxed rake of 26.3 degrees do not result in slow, ambling handling. The FTR 1200 is anything but reluctant to get on the edge of the tire—it is balanced and predictable.
Indian has found a great balance between steadfast stability and gentle handling, making it an incredibly easy bike to hustle through the twisty stuff. With a claimed dry weight of 489 pounds, its curb wet weight will see it push toward the mid-500s, making this big girl quite the quick stepper. The FTR is composed on entry, mid-corner, and exit when cracking the whip and calling upon the torque gods. Indian seems to do well in this regard as its Chieftain lineup are some of the best in class.
With the paces clocking in at more reasonable speeds, the FTR remains just as amicable as it was with the wind in your hair, giving it one of the essential aspects in a standard bike—neutral handling.
Now, suspension and settings will modify that description a bit. When aboard the standard model running more casual damping and preload settings, the Sachs fork and shock are more suited to life in the big city and even bigger potholes. Once you have decided to run with the fast crowd, you might discover that there is a little more dive in the non-adjustable fork and more weight transfer when on the gas or brakes, but it’s still more than up for a rip in the mountains.
For those looking to run the hotter paces, the S model will be your steed. The test machines I rode—again pre-production—were cranked up to what I’d consider in shy of your average sportbike on the street, which is somewhat stiff. That does mean plenty of the road is transferred to the rider, and though the twinge of beat asphalt is felt more readily, it’s quickly forgotten when you begin whipping through the canyons. This about finding a set up that is applicable for you, your backyard, and uses. Make it Charmin soft and sacrifice some of that stability in the name of comfort, or get it set up to hunt down some sport machines.
Indian designers made the decision early on that they wanted this to be as authentic of a street tracker as possible or rather—as close as they can get to their FTR750 as possible. To that end, the 18-inch and 19-inch cast aluminum wheels are part of that overall look. They do have one downside, as their odd sizing makes replacement rubber hard to come by unless you’re looking at ADV tires. Also, the wheel size raises the bike physically. In testing, designers did try 17-inch wheels. The smaller wheels lowered the motorcycle, but didn’t reinforce the flat track aesthetic.
An unintended benefit of the wheels is off-road capability. First, this is not an off-road machine, but as far as 500+ pound street bikes go in the dirt, you can do worse—it faired quite well. Throughout my 40-mile off-road adventure through hard-packed dirt roads, miserable sand, and rocks, the taller wheels helped both me and the FTR come out unscathed.
Can it go for a quick romp in the dirt and slide around like Jared Mees? Well, its DNA doesn’t lie, and it’ll do okay in its ancestral homelands. Would I do this if I owned it? No. I wouldn’t be brave enough to put a blemish on that pretty face. So, there’s your answer.
Slapped onto those wheels are Dunlop DT3-R tires, which have been designed in collaboration with Indian and are exclusive to the FTR lineup. Mostly, they’re roughly the same tire found lapping the oval tracks in AFT, save for shallower tread depth, closer tread blocks, and more silica for better grip on the pavement.
Overall, the DT3-R is more of a soft compound tire and, thanks to the softer carcass, you can feel a faint squirming sensation when giving the FTR some stick or trail braking aggressively—it’s a characteristic that I enjoy and comes through as positive feedback. In terms of grip, they’re great on the road.
Helping you keep the 2019 Indian FTR 1200 looking pristine are the dual 320mm floating rotors and Brembo M4.32 calipers up front, with a single dual-piston Brembo P24 and a 240mm rotor taking care of duties out back. The Brembo M4s were found on top-level Supersport and sport bikes just a few years ago, making them a welcome addition on the with their great feel, not to mention impressive stopping power.
With a seat height of 33.1 inches, the FTR platform is tall, if not the tallest in class. Though this is a V-twin platform, which is typically associated with having narrow chassis that help alleviate height, the FTR is on the bulkier side—not as bad as an inline-four motor, but still wider than twins usually are. I stand at 5’ 10” and have a 32-inch inseam that did bow slightly due to the motorcycle’s width.
I was still able to get the balls of my feet to the ground while wearing boots, but this will be a concern for shorter riders or those with shorter inseams. That said, this benefits those who are gifted when it comes to height. With a spacious cockpit, wide ProTaper handlebars, and plenty of room on the flat-track styled bench seat, the Indian FTR 1200 is one of the better options for taller riders. As of now, Indian doesn’t have a low seat option to combat this issue, but that’s something that seems likely in the future. If Indian doesn’t address it, aftermarket companies will.
The 2019 Indian FTR 1200 is a comfy affair once you’re moving, though my singular gripe regarding ergonomics is the kickstand. It’s positioned in a way that makes it incredibly challenging to get around the left footpeg. So much so, that I gave up trying and just started kicking down as hard as I could to flip it into position.
The niceties are rounded out by either an analog dash on the standard version that is far more fitting with the theme of the bike, or an incredibly intuitive full-color TFT touchscreen dash found on the S. The standard model’s dash is obvious enough, but the S’s dash is effortless to use. Either poke and swipe around with a gloved hand or use the switches at your thumbs to navigate; it’s one of the better interfaces on the market.
When looking at the selection of bikes in this class, the 2019 Indian FTR 1200 is a bit of an odd duck in a pond of odd ducks. Nothing is directly comparable in the way that your average supersport, superbike or motocross motorcycle has a direct competitor at every turn.
The BMW R nineT, Ducati Scrambler 1100, Triumph Bonneville Speed Twin, and even the Honda CB1000R, Kawasaki Z900RS, and Yamaha XSR900, all fit with a retro theme and could be related to one another, roughly, but they all have radically different personalities. Some of them are pure street machines, some have off-road chops, some are city dwellers—nothing is an undeniable direct comparison.
Think of it as a university with a well-fleshed out Philosophy department; every faculty member shares common ground, but their schools of thought and style separate them.
In a broader sense, what Indian has done is step out from behind the 8-ball of criticism in that an American brand is ready to break the chains of expectation, and then exceed those expectations. In taking that step, Indian has created a standard bike that is not just good for an American motorcycle, but good—simply.
Indian didn’t do this while under duress, either, which is reminiscent of how brands such as Ducati or Triumph have handled expanded their lineups without losing their core values. Indian saw the future rumbling towards the company and made efforts to sidestep the steamroller. The cruiser brand is no longer just the cruiser brand. Indian has turned the corner and, logically, it will take more steps from here on out.
In the case of Indian, those values are being represented in styling and character, while also bringing new flavors to the party. The fit and finish of the 2019 Indian FTR 1200 is beyond excellent, even on the more understated base model and living up to what fans of their heavyweight motorcycles have become accustomed to. The FTR 1200 isn’t a bike without faults, and those are outlined clearly in this review. Those shortcomings can, and hopefully will, be ironed out with minor updates. When it comes to going, stopping, turning and looking downright awesome—you know, the critical stuff—Indian got it right.
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