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Common Tread

2022 Indian FTR S first ride

Apr 16, 2021

Years ago, I had the opportunity to ride Indian’s FTR750 flat-track race bike, as well as the FTR1200 prototype, on a short-track dirt oval.

The prototype was stiff and ornery, loud as hell, with a terrible seat and completely impractical features like air intakes pointed at the sky. As it should be, really. It was an unapologetic proof of concept and a damned good one. The factory 750 racer was the real surprise. Aside from having no front brake and the footpegs arranged differently on each side for racing, it was an absolute peach — perfectly smooth fueling, a power curve that would make any bike jealous, and a precision in the controls that mostly reminded me of Honda's ultra-exclusive RC213V-S. Once you used the separate, hand-held starter that plugged into the end of the crank, the FTR750 idled politely and never missed a beat. Up to that point, the only Indians I had ridden were touring boats or cruisers, all of which worked fine without being particularly impressive. The race bike was a bright signal to me that the “new” Indian wasn’t pissing around.

2022 Indian FTR on a suburban street at sunset
Five hundred and fifteen pounds of American muscle. Photo by Zack Courts.

Now, the company has delivered version 2.0 of the FTR street bike, still in a dirt-track shape but with a few key functional changes. The update on this 2022 model of FTR that’s sparked the most virtual water-cooler conversations is the adoption of 17-inch wheels, replacing the 19-inch front and 18-inch rear hoops of the outgoing model (not including the recently introduced “Rally” edition). It certainly takes the look away from flat-track replica and toward open-class naked, as does the handlebar being 1.5 inches narrower and the suspension losing 1.2 inches of travel. The smaller wheels and shorter suspension mean the seat is 1.4 inches lower. From a brand optics point of view, the last big change is the name, which no longer includes the number “1200” — it’s just FTR now. 

2022 Indian FTR left handlebar switchgear
Indian used the handlebar real estate well to place the three different joysticks far enough apart that they won’t get confused for each other. The dash being a touch screen makes the joystick at far right fairly redundant, except for adjustments made on the fly. Photo by Zack Courts.

Lance made the valid point in his first look article that Indian didn’t include any mention of flat-track roots in the 2022 bike’s initial press release. The only real remnants are the “FTR 1200” badging on the tank and the checkered-flag motif splashed across the color dash when the display first comes to life.

The FTR reminds me a bit of some of the marketing campaigns that American car companies have employed over the years, with talk of “European handling” or testing at the Nurburgring. Though Indian doesn’t appear to be intentionally pulling wool over anyone’s eyes, you just can’t help but get a Euro vibe from a steel-tube trellis chassis with Italian brakes, German suspension, and a muffler made in Slovenia.

2022 Indian FTR radiator shroud detail
Shrouds mounted on the sides of the radiator direct fresh air at the rider’s legs, pushing warm air away, with a small cost of making the front of the bike look a little wider. Photo by Zack Courts.

What’s not especially visible is the smattering of technology that this FTR S employs, namely three ride modes, traction control, cornering ABS, and Bluetooth connectivity, all controllable through a touch-screen display. The niftiest trick the FTR pulls, in my opinion, is a new cylinder deactivation function, where the rear cylinder shuts down at idle to mitigate engine heat. If the air temp is above 59 degrees, the coolant is above 176 degrees, and the bike is stopped, your FTR might start to sound like a KLR. 

Indian FTR riding at camera in a left turn
I never dragged the footpeg feelers, even on actual twisty roads. Note the flat spot on the exhaust breadbox to maintain cornering clearance. Photo by Spenser Robert.

Snazzy new tech and Euro componentry aside, there’s the engine and the style, both of which are unquestionably American. The FTR mill is essentially the same 1,203 cc, 60-degree, liquid-cooled V-twin as the previous version, which means plenty of torque on tap and a claimed peak-horsepower number of 120. Lovely as the engine is, with sharp veins of casting and monogrammed case covers, what’s liable to catch your eye is the overall shape of the thing. The top of the 3.4-gallon gas tank is low and flat, just about matching the seat’s angle jutting out over the rear wheel. That big ol’ handlebar completes the look of a flat-track race replica. That said, this new FTR feels anything but a race replica when you swing a leg over it. The top of the seat is 30.7 inches from the ground, and even though it weighs 515 pounds with a full tank, it’s fairly approachable.

On the road

For my longest day of testing, I hit the freeway in the heart of greater Los Angeles and cantered north on the slab. The FTR is pretty good at this — almost good enough to validate the absurd marketing photos of it covered in luggage with a windscreen on it. Not quite, though. Chief, you might say, among the problems with this particular Indian is that 3.4-gallon tank and fuel mileage in the high 30s. That’s a calculated range of about 130 miles, and a practical range much less than that. The fuel light typically came on just after the trip meter cleared 100 miles, which on its own is unfortunate but it especially makes the saddlebagged and windscreened photos in the brochure feel generous.

On the plus side, the cruise control is great, and considering the FTR doesn’t have any stock wind protection it’s pretty comfy at highway speeds, with enough room to lean into the wind and a little butt stop at the back of the seat. I’ve gathered that some folks think it’s odd, this street tracker having cruise, and I’ll grant you that on the face of it the option seems out of place. But, as Mitch Hedberg said about broken escalators simply becoming stairs, cruise control that isn’t being used is just a regular throttle. Sorry for the convenience.

The user experience with the controls is good in general on the FTR. The little joysticks to control the dash are tidy and laid out well, and the touch-screen dash is largely intuitive to use. I also like the seat — wide and surprisingly supportive for a mean, urban brawler like this.

2022 Indian FTR color dash screen options
The two display options for the FTR S’s 4.3-inch dash, one country and one rock 'n' roll. A USB charging port is accessible on the bottom left. Photo by Zack Courts.

After I got gas (obviously), I wandered along a favorite set of twisty roads, south through LA’s San Fernando Valley. This was my first hint that the new FTR truly is a bit more European. Once I started dancing from side to side, the 17-inch rims became more noticeable. Not that the previous model was ungainly or bad in a set of curves, but there’s a feel we as motorcyclists have come to expect from a sporting machine. The FTR swapping the faux-flat-track tires for smaller wheels and stickier buns has pushed it much farther in the direction of a naked sport bike.

2022 Indian FTR profile action left side right turn
In profile the swingarm looks long, especially because the rear fender is mounted to it instead of the seat. Photo by Spenser Robert.

As I wound my way deeper into the roller-coaster roads of Malibu, I started to lean on the Metzeler Sportec rubber and ask more of the brakes. Mmm, still good. Entering corners was my least favorite part, on account of brakes that don’t bite as hard as I like. There’s plenty of power on tap, it’s just the initial pull that’s soft. On the side of the tire, I rarely dragged my toes or felt any notable lack of compliance in the suspenders. And then there’s corner exit, arguably the best part, where the nearly 90 claimed foot-pounds of torque fire the FTR toward the next corner. A 60-inch wheelbase is fairly long, and the bike doesn’t really want to wheelie so much as it wants to pull on the ligaments in your shoulders. The FTR feels heavy, because it is, but the high-spec componentry makes it a totally worthy weapon for slaying a mountain road. 

2022 Indian FTR front wheel and brake
The 320 mm discs and high-spec Brembo calipers help with deceleration, while the rim stripes add aesthetic horsepower, as always. Photo by Zack Courts.

As an Angeleno, the price paid for burning the sides of our tires on the sun-kissed roads nearby is often slogging through an ocean of traffic to get home, and that was my sentence on this particular ride. I took surface streets to avoid the worst of the clogging on the highways, jumping from stoplight to stoplight past office parks and gas stations. I’ll admit the tractor-like grunt is more than you need when a traffic light goes green. Then again if you’ve got a whiff of interest in the FTR, something tells me the words “torque” and “overkill” in the same sentence is exactly what you want to hear. As much as traffic sucks and riding in a city can be monotonous, I never got tired of letting this engine do its thing between 2,000 and 5,000 rpm. It’s glorious.

Indian FTR seat detail
It seems to me that Indian applied what it knows about touring seats to the FTR’s saddle, which is unusually wide and supportive for this class of bike. Photo by Zack Courts.

Occasionally the rear cylinder would shut off at a red light, which is kind of alarming at first but a little icon on the dash always let me know the bike was doing it on purpose and not running out of gas or slowly dying. The exhaust headers snaking toward each other on the right side of the engine pushed off enough heat that I noticed it but never got uncomfortable. To be fair, it was also never more than 80 degrees when I rode the FTR.

I linked my phone so I could see my cell signal and control my music from the dash — a neat feature that I basically forgot about right away. Nothing against the engineering and forging ahead, I just haven’t yet tried a phone-linking system on a bike that is easy enough to be worth using every time. I doubt Indian or any other OEM is reading this but if you are, make it easier. That’s the key.

Indian FTR riding through a city
Somehow the FTR’s seat is low, legroom is decent (even for a six footer), and yet the pegs are not too low. It’s not the world’s most comfortable motorcycle, but there’s a bit of black magic in the FTR’s ergonomics. Photo by Spenser Robert.

Luckily, the important stuff is done well. It works well and looks good, in the same way a Triumph Speed Twin makes me giggle when I twist the grip or a BMW R nineT always amazes me with how well it handles. When you look at where the FTR sits in Indian’s lineup, it can feel like high performance was paramount, but I think that’s just a context thing. It’s meant to look good, distracting from the fact that it has a little more poise and power than people expect. That’s good company to be in, from where I’m sitting, and Indian even went so far as to have three different specs: A base bike for $13,000 with no color dash, this S model for $15,000, and an R Carbon version for $17,000. And if you simply must have the 18/19-inch wheel combination, there’s the FTR Rally, which also keeps the longer-stroke suspension. I haven’t ridden the Rally, but it seems like it’s probably more legit than BMW’s R nineT Scrambler and not as legit as Triumph’s Scrambler. Again, good company.

An FTR in the modern world

It’s a good bike, this FTR, and a decade ago it might have been a shocker. But not now. Indian has proven itself. I’m not amazed that the dash UX is good or that the fueling is smooth or that it handles well. Ever since I wobbled around that dirt track on the FTR750 racer, I haven’t been surprised when Indian does something right, and anyone who’s been paying attention has seen Indian execute again and again with sleek design and solid engineering. The real trick that parent company Polaris pulled off doesn't have to do with making the bike good. It was presenting the FTR in a way that made it easy to like.

Indian FTR head on wheelie
The FTR isn’t super wheelie-prone, but 87 claimed foot-pounds of torque is going to do its thing eventually. Photo by Spenser Robert.

If Indian had introduced this bike with the clear intention of taking on Ducati, Triumph, and BMW in the neo-classic or retro-naked category, it would have been building on a foundation not fit for the structure. Someone else’s foundation. Expectations would have been different, and all of the FTR’s attributes would have been weighed against a class of bikes that has had decades to evolve. Instead, Indian leaned on its own heritage — the flat-track wrecking crew, fairground-Americana racing culture, maroon-and-cream paint. The dirt-inspired tires and oddball wheel sizes helped us all buy into the FTR’s mantra and pedigree. For 2022, Indian stopped mentioning flat track and made the wheels smaller, arguably completing the transition into a standard bike for the road with a sprinkle of On-Any-Sunday style more than any kind of street tracker.

2022 Indian FTR with Los Angeles in the background
I've always thought it's odd that the black paint on the fuel tank doesn’t follow the contour along the back side of the tank. Point being, if that’s all I can find to complain about I know I like the way it looks. Photo by Zack Courts.

Basically, if we all loved American Flat Track racing as much as we said we do, the bleachers would be packed at every round. Indian is betting that there are people who might not be flag-waving fans of racing but have an appreciation for the aesthetic and history of the series, and wouldn’t mind riding around on something that reminds them of all of it. Or, they rode their friend’s Ducati Monster 1200 and secretly loved it, but they just can’t rationalize buying something Eye-talian. In either case, Indian has backed its way into making the motorcycle so many of us have wanted America to build. Just as good to ride as it is to look at, without cribbing anyone else’s style.

2022 Indian FTR S
Price (MSRP) $14,999
Engine 1,203 cc, liquid-cooled, 8-valve, V-twin
Transmission,
final drive
Six-speed, chain
Claimed horsepower 120
Claimed torque 87 foot-pounds @ 6,000 rpm
Frame Steel-tube trellis
Front suspension Sachs 43 mm fork, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7 inches of travel
Rear suspension Sachs shock, adjustable for spring preload, compression and rebound damping; 4.7 inches of travel
Front brake Brembo four-piston calipers, 320 mm discs with cornering ABS
Rear brake Brembo two-piston caliper, 260 mm disc with cornering ABS
Rake, trail 25.3 degrees, 3.9 inches
Wheelbase 60 inches
Seat height 30.7 inches
Fuel capacity 3.4 gallons
Tires Metzeler Sportec M9 RR; 120/70ZR17 front, 180/55ZR17 rear
Measured weight 515 pounds
Available Now
Warranty 24 months, unlimited miles
More info indianmotorcycle.com