Earlier this month Indian Motorcycle brought moto-journalists from across the globe to Southern California and Baja, Mexico, to test ride the highly anticipated FTR 1200 S… but I wasn’t one of them.
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Them’s the breaks in the moto industry, I guess: if you can’t prove that lots and lots (and lots) of people read your articles, manufacturers aren’t always going to pony up the dough to fly you halfway around the world for the sake of tearing around on a £13,000 motorcycle and drinking free beer – regardless of how soul-achingly desperate you are to do so, regardless of how much you love the brand, regardless of the fact you’ve been dreaming about such a bike for several years. The resources of a marketing department are finite and they need to be spent in a way that delivers the best return on investment. It’s not personal.
But, Lord, it felt that way. I’m lucky enough to have friends in the moto-journalism industry, as well as a few pals in Indian’s PR and marketing teams, and was sick with jealousy when I found myself sitting thousands of miles away in wet and cold Wales, seeing their sun-drenched and happy faces filling up my Instagram and Facebook feeds. My not being there was easily TMO’s lowest point; I have rarely felt a greater sense of failure.
It was an experience that sparked a serious crisis of confidence. So, I did what any right-thinking white male in his 40s would do: I watched Beyonce’s “Homecoming.”
“I did not come to play with you hoes. I came to slay, bitch”– Beyonce
Inspired by Queen Bey’s observation that “a winner don’t quit on themselves,” I decided to pick myself up. TMO may not yet be at the point that Indian will spend literally thousands of dollars to wine and dine me every time there’s opportunity to do so, but, damn it, one day it will be.
Meanwhile, the FTR 1200 and FTR 1200 S are arriving this month in US dealerships, and UK/European dealerships… uh… some time after that. I feel the model is so important, especially to this site’s ethos, that TMO needs a review of the bike. To get around the fact I haven’t actually ridden it (yet), I’ve decided to collate, condense and analyze some 11 different reviews from around the world – every review I can find on the interwebs.
So, your reviewers for today are: John Burns of Motorcycle.com, Spurgeon Dunbar of Common Tread, Nic de Sena of Ultimate Motorcycling, Jensen Beeler of Asphalt & Rubber, Ross Sharp of Bike Shed, Wes Reyneke of BikeEXIF, Mikko Nieminen of More Bikes (and, by extension, Motorcycle Sport & Leisure), Greg Drevenstedt of Rider, Mark Hoyer of Cycle World, Michael Nieves of MCN, and Trevor Hedge of MCNews.com.au. Reviews from Spurgeon, Jensen, and Mark are probably the ones to pay the most attention to, since they spent more time with the bike. They were given pre-production models on which to play and clock up quite more miles in more scenarios.
Most reviewers found themselves struggling to place the bike into a larger category. It’s a naked sport but it’s not; it’s a scrambler but it’s not; it’s a retro, but it’s not. Comparisons included the BMW R nineT, Ducati Monster 1200 S, Ducati Scrambler 1100, Harley-Davidson XR1200, Husqvarna Svartpilen 701, Kawasaki Z900 RS, KTM 1290 Super Duke GT, Moto Guzzi Griso, Suzuki Katana (Really, Ross?) Triumph Bonneville T120, Triumph Scrambler 1200, Triumph Speed Triple, and Yamaha XSR900. Basically, every bike out there that looks good and goes fast. The general consensus is that the FTR 1200 S is, in fact, not directly comparable to any of these. Which is a clever move on the part of Indian; if you want the experience of an FTR 1200 S you need to buy an FTR 1200 S – there’s simply nothing else like it.
You probably know the history of the bike, so I won’t regurgitate it here, but if you need a refresher, check out the shedload of stories I’ve written about the FTR 1200 over the years.
“[The FTR 1200 S] is a far cry from a cruiser or a bagger, but doesn’t sacrifice one iota of the brand’s heritage. Think of it as American muscle, with a European twist.”– Wes Reyneke
Back in the present, all 11 reviewers loved the looks of the FTR 1200 S. This is because they all have at least one functioning eyeball, and the bike’s lead designer, Rich Christoph, has a long history of creating bikes that make eyes happy. The naked bike draws heavily from the look of the American Flat Track-dominating FTR750 racing bike, but also shows certain Italian flavors in its aesthetic – not terribly surprising considering Christoph’s praise for the work of Massimo Tamburini. The Italian influence arguably extends beyond just looks, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
I’ve mentioned before that at Intermot and EICMA I spent a collective two hours or so idly sitting on the bike, making “vroom” sounds and imagining myself out on the open road, but such a thing only goes so far when it comes to getting the feel of a bike. Add speed, wind blast, and so on, and the bike that’s comfy on the convention hall floor may not be so on the road. In this case, however, it appears my experiences were representative.
All of the reviewers had good things to say about the bike’s ergonomics, with Spurgeon, who is taller than me, describing the seating as “impressively comfortable.” Jensen and I are about the same in terms of distance between hat brim and shoe sole, and he found things to be just right. Shorter riders, too, were happy with the set-up, though the bike’s 33.1-inch seat height and overall girth did create some issues for them. John described the bike’s side stand as a pain in the ass. Apparently being a little short of leg means that deploying it is difficult. Nic and Trevor voiced the same complaint.
Engine and Transmission
The FTR 1200 S is driven by a 1203cc liquid-cooled V-twin that Indian claims produces 120 horsepower and 85 pound-feet of torque. Cycle World threw it on a dyno and came up with 112 hp and 80 lb-ft – so, you know, pretty much there. Although the engine looks so much like the 1131cc V-twin that powers the Scout and Scout Bobber that I have in the past suggested they are one in the same, it is apparently an all-new animal. According to Jensen, the FTR 1200 engine shares “virtually no parts” with its Scout cousins.
Across the board, reviewers spoke highly of the powerplant, though Jensen and Spurgeon encountered some issues with their pre-production machines. Fuelling on those bikes was wonky, especially on Jensen’s bike. His FTR 1200 S kept dying, even when the engine was warm, whereas Spurgeon experienced a stuttering sort of response between 3100 and 4000 rpm. In both cases, it appears the throttle map was to blame. Indian was able to get Spurgeon on a remapped model and he reported that the issue was still just barely there, but really only noticeable because he was looking for it.
“The Indian FTR 1200 S is the make-no-excuses, American-made performance bike we’ve been waiting for.”– Greg Drevenstedt
None of the other reviewers reported major issues. But a few of the guys from the EMEA market (Ross, Michael and Wes) felt throttle response was a just little snatchier than they’d like. This may be a greater reflection of the differences in American and European preferences than anything else (Yes, I know Wes is South African, but I’ve ridden with him, and his style and tastes lean more to the European side). Though, Trevor offered an interesting theory for all this.
Although Australian, he, like the EMEA guys, rode in the Santa Monica hills of California rather than down in Baja. He said that as they climbed to higher elevations the bike’s throttling seemed to improve. He wondered if this had anything to do with the fact the bike had been developed largely in Minnesota, which, despite being pretty flat, is, in fact, 1,060 feet above sea level. That’s an interesting theory, even though it’s not entirely factually correct. Engine-wise, quite a bit of the development took place in Switzerland. So, Trevor’s theory may still hold water.
Meanwhile, Nic described the engine as “tastefully raw with a roughness and soul in it.” This was a sentiment echoed by a number of the other reviewers, with many praising the bike’s low-end grunt. But not all. Spurgeon pointed out that pull doesn’t happen as instantly as on a big cruiser and that, as a result the FTR 1200 S may not be to cruiser riders’ taste. But, since the FTR 1200 S isn’t a cruiser I don’t suppose that counts as a criticism.
Spurgeon observed that the bike performed better if you give it a good amount of time to warm up. He suggested running it for a solid five minutes, which I can’t imagine is actually necessary. If true, it would mean Indian was taking the Italian influence thing too far. No one else made this suggestion, though, so it may be that Spurgeon’s pre-production model just had some kinks.
“The FTR 1200 S is as easy to ride as a 125, looks pretty darn good, has loads of poke, and possesses perhaps the most important thing in a motorcycle: soul.”– Ross Sharp
One quibble that was observed by a few of the reviewers (John, Nic, and Greg) was the fact that you can feel a little bit of vibration when pushing the bike toward peak revs of 9000 rpm. Even then, however, reviewers didn’t find it annoying.
Reviewers’ nationality again seemed to cause a split when it came to the bike’s transmission. Americans thought it was great, with Nic pointing out that “you enjoy snickity-slick shifting that is more refined than your typical American V-twin,” but for the EMEA guys it wasn’t something that earned huge accolades. No big complaints. But also no accolades.
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Folks keen to lament evermore stringent emissions regulations pointed out that although the FTR 1200 S exhaust sounds awesome, it doesn’t sound as awesome as they’d like. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be a deal killer for me. We’re all going to be riding electrics soon enough anyway.
What it’s Like to Ride
The FTR 1200 S’ adjustable Sachs suspension is unique in that it’s a little taller than what you might expect from a standard street bike, but not as tall as you might expect from an adventure bike. The front fork and rear shock each offer up some 150mm of travel, which is about what you’ll get on a Ducati Scrambler 1100 and considerably more than what was found on the old 865cc Triumph Bonneville Scrambler (not to be confused with the Scrambler 1200).
“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.”– Mikko Nieminen
It doesn’t appear this has any particularly negative affect when it comes to street riding, with Spurgeon describing it as “plush on the highway, yet simultaneously planted in the twisty stuff.” But it seems that the more-than-usual nature of things confuses some who are predisposed to want to ride everything off road; the consensus is that the bike might not be the best choice for the TransAmerica Trail, but that it will perform well on groomed dirt roads and hard-packed trails – you know, conditions not unlike those found on a flat track. It’s a bike, in other words, that could easily get you to my friend Dan’s house.
In addition to praising the bike’s suspension all the reviewers had incredibly positive things to say about the bike’s Brembo brake set-up. Even the way the brakes are fit to the bike was praised, with Trevor noting that “thought has been put into the minor details, with the cable routing being very tidy. The way the rear brake cabling is routed is a particularly nice touch that impressed me in regards to its fit and finish.”
Jensen felt the bike was a little heavier than it needed to be, I think because he was hoping the bike could serve as a genuine flat-tracking weapon. Well, actually, it is a flat-tracing weapon, but you need to be good. I’ve had a taste of flat tracking and I’m not sure I’d want to race flat track on a bike this powerful (or, admittedly, heavy). Jensen’s a better rider than me and even taking into account criticisms of weight he was pleased.
A few others rode it in dirt that wasn’t shaped into an oval track (ie, the dirt of which the planet primarily consists) and also seemed to be pretty happy. Spurgeon noted that the ‘bars weren’t really set up for a person to ride around in a standing adventure-style position. This is probably because the FTR 1200 S is not an adventure bike. You’ll have to wait until 2021 for that one. (Indian has said the FTR 1200 platform will extend to other models; leaked documents suggest we’ll be seeing an even more street-focused, 17-inch-wheel-equipped model in 2020, and an adventure tourer in 2021).
“This street-tracker pulls the slack where the superbike segment has trailed off, offering enthusiasts a motorcycle that can go from street to track with relative ease.”– Jensen Beeler
But, of course, the FTR 1200 S is really a street bike. Indian is quick to point that out at any opportunity, even engraving that message onto the weird paperweight thing they gave me at Intermot: “Born in the dirt, built for the street.” And in that latter environment the bike seems to perform well, moving through corners with relative ease and agility.
That said, some of the reviewers who were inclined to ride the ever-loving hell out of the thing expressed a little disappointment in the bike’s standard Dunlop DT3R tires. Michael of MCN – a publication that’s sometimes accused of being trapped in the 1990s both for its attitude toward the internet and its tendency to assess every motorcycle by the metrics used to evaluate sportbikes – was particularly harsh on the FTR 1200 S’ shoes, saying they simply weren’t equipped to handle the bike’s power output. Wes and Trevor also expressed scepticism. And, come to think of it, most others simply said the tires were better than they had expected, which may be a case of damning with faint praise.
I’ll be honest that the tires remain the biggest question mark for me. That wouldn’t stop me from getting an FTR 1200 S, though, since it can take a number of dual-sport tires. I personally don’t ride hard enough on public roads that I’d feel the need to wait a year or so for the 17-inch-wheel version that is rumored to be coming.
Meanwhile, the comfort of the riding position (and the fact Indian sells a touring pack) led a number of reviewers to suggest long-haul trips would be enjoyable on the FTR 1200 S, especially since cruise control comes standard on both it and the less-expensive, lower-spec FTR 1200. (Unfortunately, you have to pay extra for heated grips.) The cruise control, with its buttons correctly located on the left grip – where cruise control buttons are supposed to be – earned kudos from a number of riders.
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Look for the aforementioned 2021 adventure tourer for a better long-distance version of this platform, but personally I’d be happy to stop the every 100-120 miles, as required by the FTR 1200 S’ somewhat tiny 13-liter fuel tank. I’ll point out that the Harley-Davidson Street Bob has a 13.2-liter tank and that certainly didn’t stop me from riding to Prague and back on the thing. I don’t tend to be in the saddle for more than 100 miles in a stretch, anyway. A fella gets sleepy.
Bells and Whistles
Quite a few words were expended by all 11 reviewers on the subject of the FTR 1200 S being a leap forward for American motorcycling. The FTR 1200 S is a European motorcycle in this sense, equipped with all the latest technowhizbangery, which, along with the previously mentioned cruise control, includes: three riding modes (Sport, Standard, and Rain), traction control, wheelie mitigation control, cornering ABS, and slip-and-assist clutch.
The item that stands out – garishly so in the eyes of some – is the bike’s fancy touchscreen TFT screen, which runs a scaled-down version of Indian’s commendable Ride Command system. By “scaled down” I mean it doesn’t have a built-in GPS, nor does it control the bike’s audio system (because the bike doesn’t have an audio system). But it does offer up a wealth of information, including diagnostics, and you can operate it with gloved fingers. The gloved fingers aspect is a key selling point as far as Indian is concerned and I will confirm that they are telling the truth; or at least they were when it came to the Ride Command systems I used on both the Roadmaster and Chieftain.
“Commute on it, escape the city on it, crack the throttle open and have some fun on it. It won’t disappoint.”– Spurgeon Dunbar
That said, I’d be slightly concerned about something I experienced on the Roadmaster happening here: very heavy rain can confuse the system into thinking you are tapping the screen. The FTR 1200 S screen is more exposed than the ones buried into the fairing of Indian’s big touring bikes, but it may also be the case that Indian has tweaked the system to avoid this problem. Meanwhile, riders can also click through the menu using switches on the grips.
Lastly, the FTR 1200 S connects to the Indian Ride Command app, which can help you plot out trips, keep track of rides and… uh… do some other stuff. I am still hoping that this thing of having every damned bike connect to an app is a passing fad. It probably isn’t, so I realize I sound like an old man but it’s just not my thing. I’ll concede that there may be scope for the possibility that apps may enhance the riding experience at some point in the future, but right now it feels gimmicky.
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There were a few old men amongst the reviewers, as well, saying they preferred the more traditional-looking clock and LCD dash of the lower-spec FTR 1200. Indeed, a number of the reviewers found the low-spec version to be so highly enjoyable that some buyers may consider skipping out on the bells and whistles of the FTR 1200 S for the FTR 1200’s lower price.
Things to Look Out For
No one complained about the indicator switch. The FTR 1200/S uses the same switch for indicators and hazard lights. To activate the latter you apparently hold the switch in for a while. I had thought for sure that this would create frustrating situations where riders kept turning on their hazards while trying to cancel a turn. But apparently not. Or, none of the reviewers bothered to use the indicators and it’s something we’ll all lament further down the road.
Beyond the issue of the bike’s tires and limited fuel range, a number of reviewers complained that the FTR 1200 S puts out more heat than they were expecting. Perhaps this is again a case of Indian copying Ducati. Or, it could be that, as a number of reviewers pointed out, the nature of evermore stringent environmental regulations seems to be making a lot of bikes expel more heat these days. I suppose in this case it’s important to remember the old Lemmy observation that when riding a motorcycle you’re sitting on top of “a bunch of metal and fire; of course it’s gonna be hot.”
“If you weren’t paid to find fault like I am, you’d probably ride this [motorcycle] around for 15 minutes and say ‘Holy S#*t what a great bike!'”– John Burns
As a person who lives in a country that rarely sees temperatures exceed 25°C (77°F) this wouldn’t bother me anyway. But if you live in St. George, Utah, or some such place you may want to consider getting an electric motorcycle instead.
Neither Jensen nor Ross were fans of the bike’s switchgear, feeling it looked a bit cheap for the premium brand that Indian positions itself to be. Somewhat related to this, Spurgeon disliked the fact that the bike’s clutch lever is not adjustable. I can’t help wondering if these issues are borne of the same sort of thinking that appears to affect my Bonneville T120: it seems the manufacturer assumes I’m going to replace/upgrade certain bits and hasn’t put the usual effort into those parts.
One of the big selling points of the FTR 1200 S is the fact that although it’s a hefty machine on the scales much of that weight is kept as low to the ground as possible. This means Indian’s made some interesting decisions in terms of where it’s placed things. The gas tank is not where the gas tank appears to be, for example. Of concern to Spurgeon and Mark, however, is the fact the battery is positioned pretty low and potentially subject to damage if the bike is ridden on aggressive off-road terrain. It’s not supposed to be ridden in such terrain, but I’m sure that if Indian doesn’t soon offer a skid plate, someone else will.
Most moto-journalists don’t ride like you or me, especially the European ones. When Michael Nieves complains that the bike’s power is too much for its rear wheel it’s because he rides like a person who has been told he only has a few hours to live. So I wouldn’t get too hung up on the fact that reviewers – especially the European ones – didn’t report back with swooping prose about a bike so intensely crazy that they suffered an involuntary evacuation of the bowels.
The fact that they all reported having a good time on the bike means that mere mortals (ie, people who will be paying for the bike with their own hard-earned money and therefore unlikely to ride the bike as if trying to make it explode) will almost certainly have a blast. Indeed, more than one reviewer suggested the bike is one that possesses a certain amount of batshit crazy in its soul.
“[The qualities of the FTR 1200] result in a motorcycle that clearly comes from the heartland, hints at distant cruiser genes in nearly all good ways, and results in riding experience that is purely good-time oriented.”– Mark Hoyer
That’s not to say the FTR 1200 S can’t be ridden like a normal person. Spurgeon and John both dew attention to the fact that the FTR 1200 S would not be a terrible option for touring, assuming, as stated above, that you’re content to stop every 100 miles or so to refuel. I suppose that folks wanting to explore more faraway stretches of their particular part of the world could carry a jerrycan. Or, again, wait until 2021 when Indian comes out with an adventure bike.
If you do wait, though, you’ll be missing out on a motorcycle that seems to be pretty special. Many reviewers got lost in asides about what this bike means for Indian and, more broadly, the state of American motorcycling. I tend to eschew these discussions because I sometimes worry the compliments are backhanded, as if what you’re saying is: “Yeah, it’s OK… for an American bike.”
“It’s the type of bike that requires a bit of time in the garage sitting on ye ol’ flipped-over bucket to appreciate all of the detail put into it.”– Nic de Sena
But that’s not the sentiment here. Instead, it’s a valid observation: this is big not just for Indian but American motorcycling. Only time will tell if it will have the historical significance of, say, Honda’s CB750, but American motorcycling feels to be on the cusp of something exciting – a renaissance feels nigh – and if it pans out we’ll almost be certainly be looking back at the FTR 1200 as the bike that kicked everything off.
And the people who buy the FTR 1200 now will be able to say they were there on the ground floor.