I'm not mad, I'm disappointed.
On the last Friday of September, 2020, I pulled our long-term Indian Motorcycle review bike out of my garage for one final ride. This wasn't going to be some long-haul freeway run or another furious flog through the twisties in the Irish Hills, though. Nothing that spectacular. No, it was just another day of parts running and grocery-getting around Detroit. It was in the upper 60s on Fahrenheit's thermometer and sunny; the day had a lot of potential.
The bike started with a light touch on the starter but stalled out within 30 seconds. Typical. I started it again, it idled for less than a minute, then stalled out again. Disgusted, finally fed up with it, I pushed it back into the garage, pulled out my trusty, 40-year-old Yamaha triple (which started with the merest brush on the starter button and idled like a champ), and rode off.
That, right there, sums up my experience with Indian's factory hot rod—pleasant anticipation, frustration, and finally disgust. I spent all year struggling with the FTR 1200's various quirks—especially its awful fuel delivery system, but more on that later—and this was the last straw. I knew that once the guys came to pick the bike up, I wouldn't miss it. How could this have happened? How could a bike I was so excited about end up being so disappointing? How could a relationship (for lack of a better word) that started off with so much potential fail so miserably? Well, let's talk about it.
The FTR 1200 is, hands down, the best bike Indian makes. That's both a compliment and damning with faint praise. I'm sure you all remember how disappointed I was in the 2019 Scout I reviewed last year. Many of you had, well, opinions about my opinions on that bike, but I'm sticking to them.
The FTR is such a departure from the derivative, anodyne Scout that it may as well have been built by a different company. Whenever anyone asked me how I liked it, I always told them that it was the best bike (aside from my personal bikes) that I'd ridden all year. It was, too.
What's so good about it? Well, for starters, the bike's water-cooled, 1,200cc, overhead-cam V-twin is phenomenal. Power and torque are on tap the instant you touch the throttle, and there's gobs of both. I couldn't believe that the FTR's engine was the same basic mill fitted to the Scouts. Its tuning and performance are that different. Indian deserves kudos for that.
One of the best examples of the FTR's surprising performance is when I first got the bike in November of 2019 and took it for a rip up and down 8 Mile Road to get a feel for it. Once out of my neighborhood, I got hard into the throttle in third or fourth gear and the front end came right off the ground while crossing a bridge over I-75. It didn't lift very high, maybe a couple of inches, but an involuntary surprise wheelie on a bike you've never ridden before is, shall we say, bracing. That was the first, but definitely not the last, spate of insane helmet giggling I experienced with the FTR.
The bike's power delivery is so satisfying. Roll on the throttle—for various metrics of "roll" at least, since the bike's ride-by-wire throttle is more like a light switch than an actual throttle—and the FTR leaps at the opportunity to move. There's a joy in its power, an eagerness to just go that I've rarely experienced in other bikes. The six-speed trans is just right, and the bike pulls like a freight train in any gear. In fact, the FTR's strong acceleration nearly pulled me out of the saddle on more than one occasion. It comes on strong and doesn't let up until you're at your desired speed, which you'll reach sooner than you think. It's extremely good and incredibly cool.
Now, lest you think that the FTR is only fast in a straight line, let me assure you that it likes going around corners, too. It likes it a lot, in fact. With a short wheelbase and a favorable center of gravity, the FTR loves digging into an aggressive corner. I actually never pushed it to its limit because it's really hard to outride this bike if you know what I mean. I'm not the most aggressive rider, but I like a spirited dash through the twisties and I never felt like I'd run out of cornering ability or lean angle.
The FTR begs to be pushed. It wants to lean over and go as fast around a corner as possible, and I'm here for that kind of dedication. The stock suspension is surprisingly capable, and the stiff frame provides all the rigidity you need without compromising rideability. That leads me to another thing I really dug about the FTR: its surprising comfort.
At first glance, the FTR has a weird hybrid sportbike/standard riding position that looks like it'd be hell on your back. I can assure you that's far from the case. I'm not a small guy and the FTR fit me like a glove. I found it remarkably comfortable even with the thin seat and stiff suspension.
I regularly did two or three hours in the saddle and was never achy or tired afterward. In fact, the only reason I ever stopped was to take pictures, grab coffee, or fuel up; never because I was too sore or just couldn't sit on the bike anymore. I did notice that I put too much of my weight forward when I first got the bike, which killed my wrists (this also happened if I hadn't ridden the bike in a while). That wore off quickly enough with experience, though. I don't know how Indian managed to make such an aggressive bike so comfortable, but it did, and both my lower back and my butt are thankful for it.
The FTR 1200 is kind of a handful, but a good handful. It's also fun as hell. It's like a fast, spirited horse or a powerfully-built, mildly-intimidating-but-is-actually-a-big-softie dog. A huge pitbull who thinks he's a lapdog and loves cuddles, for example. It's very good in a lot of ways, but not everything was sunshine, cotton candy, and fast, tight, decreasing-radius, left-hand turns during my time with it. Unfortunately, there's some bad, and there's some really really bad we need to talk about.
There isn't a lot of middle ground when it comes to my FTR opinions—I either loved something or loathed it. To be fair, that's as much a reflection on the way I'm wired (LOLSlavs, amirite?) as it is on the bike. That said, there were a few things that really stood out to me that should have gotten a second editing pass before the bike was released, as it were—the tires, the fuel economy, and some very questionable design and packaging choices.
The chonky Dunlop DT3-R tires look fantastic on the bike. They have an aggressive, retro-ish tread pattern that refers to the bike's flat track DNA without being serious business knobbies, but they're definitely a form-over-function decision. I found them a little hard and not as sticky as I'd prefer, but they are (which is very on-brand for Indian) fine enough, I guess. My real problem with the tires is their highway performance, specifically on grooved pavement.
A few years ago, grooved concrete paving got real popular here in the Detroit metro area, and now vast stretches of I-94, I-96, I-75, and their various bypasses and feeders look like slot car tracks. Riding the FTR on grooved pavement at any appreciable speed is terrifying. The tires refuse to stick and the rear end wanders all over the place like a hound searching for a scent. That's in a straight line, too. God forbid you try to take even a mild corner or sweeping curve— that's when it gets really hairy. It's not a behavior that engenders a lot of confidence in one's ride. Seriously, Indian, ditch these tires. They may look okay but they're really not, and a bike's rubber is one place where function definitely trumps form.
Along with the questionable rubber, this bike is thirsty. Like, horny on main thirsty. On our loaner, the fuel economy was in the low double digits. I found that pretty strange for a bike that's tuned so hilariously lean (again, more on this in a bit). Combine the engine's seemingly unquenchable thirst with the tiny fuel tank, and you spend as much time pumping gas as you do burning it. Look, I know the FTR isn't a long-legged touring bike. I respect that. I would like a little extra range, though. Time spent standing next to the bike at a petrol station is time that could be better spent flogging it through twisties.
Regarding what I consider to be questionable styling, I have two objections—the foot pegs and the turn signals. In what I imagine was an effort to invoke the unstoppable Wrecking Crew and its countless American Flat Track wins, the FTR's pegs are these harsh, uninviting, bear trap-style pegs in bare aluminum. Aside from looking cheap and being too short for me, all their little spikes loved to grab at my cuffs when getting on or off the bike. Most of the time it was an annoyance, but a couple of times I almost dropped the bike due to a combination of a hard snag, being off-balance, and questionable footing. Maybe next time don't try to make the bike something it's not and put pegs on it that normal humans would like, eh Indian?
As for the turn signals, yeesh. On the base model FTR that I tested, all four turn signals are small LED units in flimsy plastic "flexible" housings. I put flexible in quotes there because each one is reinforced by an L-shaped metal bar that runs through the stalk and attaches them to the bike. This makes them neither flexible enough to stand up to serious shocks nor strong enough to withstand regular wear and tear.
That's fine for the front units because they're high up on the triple trees. The rear units, though? They're mounted really low (too low, in my opinion) on the bike's atrocious subframe/plate mount/fender thingie They're just the right height for someone walking by to snag one with their shin or knee. It's probably the dumbest design decision I've seen on a bike and I work on old British stuff.
Within probably a month of regular riding, both the rear turn signals on my loaner were broken. One was damaged in a grocery store parking lot and ended up with a good 45-degree bend in the support. I broke the other one simply by brushing past it in the garage. In fact, the light brush I gave it popped the entire LED assembly out, which snapped off the flimsy tab that held it in the assembly.
That's also when I discovered that the turn signal light itself is a sealed LED connected to the housing with a single, thin plastic tab and two tiny beads of solder flux. It's an embarrassingly cheap setup. I've seen better construction in no-name, aftermarket, eBay special turn signals. There's just no excuse for these turn signals. Nothing this cheap and shoddy should be on a bike that costs as much as the FTR does.
There are some questionable packaging decisions, too. I'm talking little things like the battery being directly behind the front wheel and protected by a thin layer of plastic, or the voltage regulator hanging on the side of the battery box, totally exposed to the elements. These aren't real dealbreakers like the tires (or the entirety of the next section of this review), but they're definitely head-scratchers.
Overall, the bike feels a bit, I don't know, rushed in places. Like I said earlier, it definitely could have used another editing pass in the design stage. I know that all vehicle design is an exercise in compromise, but maybe there's a little too much compromise in the FTR. I dunno, your mileage may vary.
The Real, Real Ugly
In a word, the FTR 1200's fuel delivery system sucks. It stinks on ice. Now, I'm sure the individual components are perfectly fine, but once fitted to the FTR and tuned to Indian's specifications, they cause the bike to behave in ways that no modern, $12,000 bike should behave.
I first noticed the issue within minutes of taking possession of the bike. Fresh off the truck, I tried to fire the FTR up and found it extremely difficult to start. When it finally did start—after at least a minute of cranking, resting, cranking, checking for fuel, cranking, etc.—it ran like, well, dogshit. It barely idled and absolutely refused to take any throttle without stalling. Not a real good first impression, you know? Initially, I chalked it up to bad gas, but the bike had fewer than 1,000 miles on it, so the gas couldn't be that old. This was an issue that would never go away.
Over the next few months of temporary ownership, a startling pattern developed. Whenever I started the bike, in any kind of weather, I typically had to start it once or twice before it would reliably idle and then had to let it sit before it was rideable. If I ever tried to ride it without a proper, minutes-long warmup, the bike would stall and buck and generally react poorly to any throttle input. Read that again; I had to let a brand-new, modern, fuel-injected motorcycle warm up before I could ride it. You know what else I have to let warm up before riding? My 50-year-old, carbureted Japanese bikes. They have an excuse, at least. The FTR does not.
It got to the point where I was genuinely alarmed by the bike's behavior. I thought maybe there was something wrong with it, or it had some kind of special SoCal tune that didn't take kindly to Michigan's fuel mixes (Indian's press fleet is based in Los Angeles, CA). So, because I'm a responsible mojo and I feel bad for machines that are suffering, I made some official inquiries about the bike's tune.
Come to find out, that's just how it is! Apparently, Indian had to tune the bike super lean to pass emissions. That's what I was told, and you know what? That's some BS right there. You know who doesn't have to hobble their bikes to pass emissions? Harley-Davidson. Harley and Honda and every other company that makes road-going V-twin motorcycles. They figured out how to tune engines that don't run like something from the 70s. Why can't Polaris/Indian? It's not like the company doesn't have the know-how. Hell, Polaris made various flavors of Victory for almost 20 years, so it's not like the company doesn't know how to build and tune an engine.
It's absolutely shameful that the FTR is tuned the way it is. There's no excuse for it. I'm mad just thinking about it; I can't imagine how angry I'd be if I'd bought one and found out that I had to treat it like an old, carbureted bike. In TYooL 2020, bike companies understand how to tune engines that meet EPA regs and still perform really well. I don't understand why Polaris/Indian couldn't do that with the FTR. I don't buy the fact that the bike's poor performance is due to emissions standards.
Once again, Indian delivers a bike that is less than the sum of its parts. Much like the Scout, I started off loving the FTR 1200 but the shine wore off real quick once I had to live with it. There's a lot to love about the bike, but for me, the bad outweighs the good. I expect more from a bike at this price point and with the claimed heritage that Indian has. For a bike as hyped as the FTR, it should be better. It has to be better. There's no excuse for shoddy engine tuning and cheap fit and finish for bikes that are this expensive and that are supposed to be taking Harley on at its own game.
I'm seriously conflicted about Indian and its bikes, as you can tell. Like, I really enjoyed the FTR but it was so flawed in so many different ways that I could never justify owning one. Yeah, sure, some of the stuff in this review might strike you as nit-picky, but when you live with stuff like grabby foot pegs and crappy fuel injection day in and day out it takes its toll on you. Oh, I'm sure that all of my problems with the FTR could have been fixed by the aftermarket and a few afternoons of wrenching. Hell, I started half the conversations I had with this bike with, "If it were mine I'd...". You know what, though? I shouldn't have to do that and neither should you. No one should have to spend hundreds or thousands of extra dollars on top of the purchase price just to get a bike to work properly.
When I spend money for something I expect a quality commensurate with the price I paid. If the FTR were four or five grand cheaper I'd be more forgiving of its factory standard quirks. At its current price point, though? Absolutely not. If you're going to sell a bike at $12K it better be a $12K bike. Are my standards too high? Maybe. Could I, in good faith, recommend you pay that much money for an FTR 1200? Nope. Maybe I got a lemon, or maybe I would have liked the loaner better if I'd been able to wrench on it. As it stands now, though, I'd spend my money on something else, something that can actually idle in my driveway without stalling.
Look, If you have an FTR and love it, more power to you. Far be it from me to yuck another rider's yum. Just, you know, leave yourself a little extra time in the morning to let that engine warm up.