American bike with a sporty twist
Indian FTR 1200S broadens its appeal beyond the traditional big cruiser motorcycle
When the Indian Motorcycle Company was resurrected in 2011 by Polaris Industries, it looked very much as if they would follow the traditional American heritage trail of large, V-twin-engined cruisers for their model line-up and so it transpired.
The big Chief and Chieftain and smaller Scout models conformed to the US motorcycle template, albeit wearing unashamedly retro styling.
No matter how traditional the outward appearance of Indian Motorcycles, at the heart of the resurrected brand was an acknowledgment that the company needed to broaden its appeal and reach a wider range of enthusiasts.
The first indication of this was a return to flat track racing with the FTR750. While that kind of racing is as American as apple pie, the flat track racing machine is the antithesis of the American motorcycle: it’s lean and purposeful, very fast and with a stark beauty all of its own. It says much for the demand, both in the US and globally, for the traditional American motorcycle, that no manufacturer was ever persuaded to produce a version of the flat track racer for the road.
With the introduction of the FTR1200, however, Indian has plugged this glaring gap and is set to take on the rest of the motorcycling nations at their own game.
Here is a motorcycle that is completely European or Japanese in its conception and execution, while still managing to retain an American flavour. The 1,203cc, DOHC V-twin engine sits in a steel trellis frame and uses top-of-the-range suspension and braking components from Sachs and Brembo.
The engine might have the traditional V configuration, but it has an urgency of performance that is more Italian than American. The 83kW and 106Nm propelling a wet weight of 234kg might sound slightly underwhelming but, once under way, you have to constantly look down at the name on the tank to remind yourself of the country of origin.
These are healthy and energetic horses, coupled with a chassis that is a match for the best that rivals can muster. You sit up, with arms splayed wide in a comfortable yet sporty riding position. Acceleration is arm-stretching but linear aided by perfect fuelling and a light clutch and gear change.
There are few bikes on which you can feel totally at home the instant you climb aboard, thumb the starter button, click in first gear and set off. The FTR feels so right straight away and nothing that you experience after those first few moments does anything to dispel that impression. Indian reportedly covered millions of testing miles and simulations on the FTR, and it shows.
The chassis and suspension give it a degree of handling prowess that, again, has you checking to see that you are actually on an American-built motorcycle. Turn-in is sharp, it holds its line through a corner perfectly and is brilliantly flickable but the quality of the suspension components mean the ride is never too stiff or harsh.
What also feels right is the quality, which is of a high standard. This should come as no surprise, given the quality of the rest of the Indian range, and it is clear that no corners have been cut with the FTR, which may account for the slightly heavy weight but which is a trade-off that many buyers will be happy to make.
Every component, particularly those that adorn the handlebars, has obviously been chosen because it looks and works well and not because it was cheap. Cruise control is a welcome addition.
If this is what Indian can do in this market segment, at first attempt, then the future of the American motorcycle is all but assured. For the first time in too long, Europe and Japan have a new rival, one that deserves to be taken seriously.
Indian Motorcycle is based at 5 The High Street, Melrose Arch, Johannesburg.
FTR1200S Race Replica (test bike) — R269,000
FTR1200S — R229,900
FTR1200 — R209,900