All too often a prototype machine is dangled in front of the motorcycle public only to have the OEM produce a sub-par version that was over-hyped by marketing hacks. We all waited with baited breath to see if Indian Motorcycle's highly anticipated FTR 1200 would live up to the hyperbole train. The day finally came where we could throw a leg over one to judge for ourselves. Spoiler alert...it rips!

2019 Indian FTR 1200 First Ride Review 

Its predecessor, the dominating FTR750 race bike, burst onto the American Flat Track scene in late 2016  at the Santa Rosa Mile and raised eyebrows with flat track faithful when Joe Kopp grabbed the holeshot in the Twins main event  in the motorcycle's first-ever outing. After a dominating 2017 championship season (and 2018) at the hands of Jared Mees, the public outcry for Indian Motorcycle Company to build a street version of this machine was too much for the factory to ignore. The prototype hit the street and set motorcyclist's loins on fire with the possibilities of what could be. Fast forward a few months and Indian drops production model pics and to everyone's astonishment it's remarkably close to the prototype. We've all been patiently waiting for the bikes to reveal themselves in their magnificent physical form and to our delight Indian delivered a shiny new "S" model to our Black Hills location. I squealed with delight as I ran to get a helmet and descend upon this playground of roads with 1200cc of American Muscle.

I had been pouring over the spec sheet leading up to the release of the bike and was fixated on two things, the weight of the bike at 518 lbs. wet and the claimed power output of 120 hp (crankshaft). This was largely in part because I was trying to compare the bike to all kinds of machines that it is not, streetfighter-style Ducatis and Yamahas, adventure-touring KTMs and the like. I quickly found out this bike was none of these. The FTR 1200 S was a bit tall as the 33.1" seat height had my 5'6" frame on tip-toes, but I dropped the clutch, motored off, and quickly forgot about my feet's relationship with the ground. The bike seemed a little big standing next to it, but in the saddle it felt narrow at the front of the seat and the Pro Taper bars were in easy reach, giving it a very comfortable, almost dirt bike feel. I blazed into Vanocker Canyon immediately, a curvy favorite with Sturgis rally-goers, and the bike flicked fluidly left to right. Peeking at the dash, I was surprised at the speed I was carrying. Cresting the canyon I hooked a left onto a UTV trail. No time like the present to find out what the FTR was like in the dirt! The trail was wide, rocky and bumpy. Surprise, surprise, the bike did really well. You could feel a bit of the weight  in the uneasy terrain, but when I hit pure dirt sections with little or no rocks the bike absolutely hauled ass and felt like it was born for the dirt. Considering its flat trackin' forebear, it kind of was. I shot back out on the paved road and headed to one more long dirt and gravel road before switching back to pavement. The FTR's stability blasting through corners was admirable as I shot rooster tails in my wake. As expected, its Dunlop's DT3-R's were incredibly competent on dirt surfaces.

I popped back onto paved roads and jumped on the highway to head for some of the best roads in America. I was curious how highway speeds would feel with an 80+ mph wind blast in my face on the upright machine. I've been on streetfighter-style bikes in the past where anything over 70 mph felt like my arms were stretching out because of wind beating me in the chest. Maybe it's the tiny cowling, but wind blast was no issue. What was an issue was the grooved pavement on Interstate 90. On these grooved sections, the grippy, flat track-inspired tread pattern on the DT3-R's made the bike wallow around and feel like the beginnings of a tank slapper. I quickly became used to it, but if you're not ready, it could be a bit unsettling.

I took a left just before Mount Rushmore and hit Iron Mountain Road. By this time I was pretty comfortable on the bike. I had it in "Sport" mode and started exploring the FTR 1200's powerplant. My original concerns with its power -to-weight ratio vanished as the powerband is extremely linear and responded richly throughout. The exhaust note really begins to speak to you as the tach sweeps past 6000 rpm and rockets toward the 9000 rpm redline as it goes up an octave or two. The Brembo brakes are ridiculously responsive and inspire loads of confidence on corner entry. Corner exit is where the party is though as the 85 ft-lb of torque will loft a wheel at a whim on exit. The hit between 6ooo and 9000 rpm comes on suddenly so be ready to shift. The bike is sneaky fast and smooth and you'll find yourself carrying a much quicker pace than you think. I had stiffened up the adjustable suspension just a bit from the factory setting and the bike felt composed in a wide range of situations, experiencing no weird twitchiness or sponginess even when I started to push through Needles Highway.

After being on the bike for two solid days I still felt comfortable, which is a good thing because I'm about to take it on a 3,000 mile journey with the Biltwell crew for the El Diablo Run. That will be the true test of long-term comfort! The seat is narrow enough in the front to slide forward and grip with your knees yet wide enough in the back to slide back and cruise. And speaking of cruise, this bike has cruise control!  As a matter of fact, our "S" model had a rather interesting electronics package, three riding modes and a traction control/ABS feature that could be switched on-and-off. Another nice feature was a USB port for phone charging with the ability to pair your phone for easier control though the 4.5" screen. Click the video link for more details on those features.

What would I change? Not much, but there are a few things. Those mirrors gotta go. The license plate mount is a gargantuan arm that needs removed and relocated in a tidy spot under the seat. And as much as I liked the power, I still wouldn't mind seeing a few more ponies. A full system and a tune would not only add a more top end but it'd really let that American freedom machine sing its song of horsepower. Having said that, this bike is an absolute blast to ride, and the fun factor is off the chart. It is a bit of an enigma. I'm not sure what genre of motorcycle it fits into and, more importantly, I don't care, because Indian may have invented one new rad class of motorcycle.