2019 Indian FTR 1200: First Ride

This is an Indian unlike any other.

Indian FTR 1200 Cabo 2019
Barry Hathaway

The only way around the sand was through it. The handlebars whipped back and forth, my eyes wide and my heart hammering, keeping pace with the 2019 Indian FTR 1200’s V-Twin. "Don’t slow down! Keep going! Keep going!" I yelled inside my helmet, screaming at myself and the bike at the same time. As I struggled to find a balance between hanging on, maintaining control, and keeping momentum, the Indian danced beneath me, surprisingly graceful for 500 pounds of American motorcycle. Together, we would get through this. Mind over matter. Bike vs. Baja.

I spent two days in and around Los Cabos, Mexico aboard Indian’s new flat tracker for the street. While we’ve all seen the company’s race bike, the FTR 750, competing and winning in the American Flat Track series, I was not entirely prepared to take the new FTR 1200 off-road. But when your options are 40 miles of “graded truck roads” along the coast of Baja or a more inland street route, it’s hard to say no to the dirt.

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Indian Motorcycles

Indian offers the standard FTR 1200 starting at $13,499. This gives you one color option: Thunder Black. Standard equipment on the base model includes a round analog speedometer with a quick access USB port, ABS, and cruise control, but non-adjustable suspension. If you want more tech and adjustability, you’ll have to shell out an extra $2,000 to bump up to the 1200 S, which includes adjustable suspension front and rear, a touch-sensitive LCD infotainment screen, cornering ABS, traction control, and three ride modes (Sport, Standard, and Rain), as well as the option to disable both ABS and TC. The 1200 S is available in three color schemes: Indian Motorcycle Red over Steel Gray, Titanium Metallic over Thunder Black Pearl, and Race Replica (for yet another $1500).

Most of the bikes available for our test ride were 1200 S models, and the sportier variant looks like its racing baby brother, though a bit stretched and beefed up. I wasn’t sure how I would fit aboard FTR at 5’5” with a 30-inch inseam. The 33-inch seat height will be an adjustment for most of Indian’s dedicated cruiser clientele, even if they have longer legs than myself. As it was, I had to balance the bike at a standstill with no more than the ball of each foot planted tentatively on the ground. Pushing off the kickstand, the FTR carries its claimed 508-lb curb weight low, as the bike’s fuel tank is not where you’d think it is. The tank stretches out from the airbox, under the seat, and tapers off at the tail. This keeps that fuel weight spread out more evenly, and lower than most other comparable bikes.

As we pulled away from our hotel, the 1200’s dual Mikuni throttle bodies delivered power in a fairly predictable, linear fashion. The clutch uptake is near immediate, with a tiny friction zone. But with a light lever feel, the 1200 didn’t jump off the line like a startled cat; Take-off felt controlled in Standard mode. Even in Sport mode, which provides a more aggressive engine map and relaxed traction control, the FTR produces a manageable transfer of power from wrist to road. We navigated through Cabo’s downtown streets and quickly found ourselves on a two-lane strip of asphalt carving through the neighboring hills. We climbed out of the city streets and into Mexico’s desert landscape. The adventure was just beginning.

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Indian Motorcycles

Baja is the destination for those who love a Wild West experience. The rules of the road felt as relaxed as the people, as our line of FTRs pecked away at the cars and trucks, overtaking their comparatively sleepy pace one by one. The FTR 1200 shares its crankcase with the Scout, but not much else. Indian made over 150 new parts to build the new 1203cc engine. It sounds like overkill, but that much displacement pulls with a claimed 123 horsepower, 23 more than the most potent Scout. The powerband hits a sweet spot around 3500 rpm, where the 87 lb-ft of torque makes its itself known. Reaching freeway speeds took little effort, as the big v-twin felt happier opening up between 3500 and 6000 rpm.

It didn’t take long for the landscape to turn from stands of green palm trees lining white-sand beaches to khaki hills forested with giant cardón cacti and lacy palo verde trees. The buzz of tourist-thronged coastline gave way to the quiet Mexican desert, where we let the FTR 1200 rip. Indian offers a large line of accessories for the new flat tracker, packaged into four different collections: Sport, Tracker, Rally, and Tour. Aside from the standard model, each includes an Akrapovic slip-on exhaust, giving the engine a more commanding voice.

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Indian Motorcycles

Mexico is still a developing country. The roads aren’t always well maintained, meaning a rut or pothole could surprise you at any point, and animals are surprisingly abundant. I was leaned into a corner, enjoying the reasonable grip of the Dunlop DT3-R tires, when I saw a goat grazing on the side of the road, then a second, then a third. I grabbed a handful of brake, and was immediately grateful for the cornering ABS on the FTR 1200 S. Those dual front four-piston Brembo calipers bit hard enough to slow the FTR down in a hurry, without making me feel as though I’d catapult myself over the handlebars.

With a 26.3-degree rake, the steering felt well-balanced and responsive. This is a major change from the rest of Indian’s lineup, and the adjustable suspension felt taught and sporty. Those aforementioned potholes and ruts transferred to the handlebars more than the seat, as the rear shock felt more softly sprung than the fork. The standard model feels softer overall, but not by much. When we got to the off-road portion of the ride, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the suspension on the 1200 S managed washboards and sand, though Indian is by no means touting the FTR 1200 as a dirtbike.

Indian FTR 1200 Cabo 2019
Barry Hathaway

We managed to make it through the dirt without injury to bikes or riders, despite a few pucker moments. When we stopped at a grass-roof shack overlooking the beach for pre-lunch refreshments, all of us were worn out, sweaty, and ready for a break. It gave us a perfect opportunity to admire the cluster of FTRs parked oceanside. Indian has done a solid job bringing its flat tracker to life for use on public roads. Though so many of us have pined for an actual street version of the FTR 750 race bike, the 1200 and 1200 S are a fantastic first step.

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