With its flat-track inspired good looks and real performance, the 2019 Indian FTR 1200 seems like an almost perfect machine on paper. The bike represents a radical departure not only for Indian, but for American motorcycle manufacturing as a whole.

See, here in the land of bald eagles and amber waves of grain, our large domestic motorcycle manufacturers (Harley-Davidson and Polaris, namely, the latter of which owns Indian) have historically been guilty of pandering to one demographic of motorcyclists: baby boomers. By keeping their eyes planted firmly on the past, the rest of the motorcycle world has passed them by, offering products geared toward the next generation of riders. Indian has finally taken a look at what these new, younger folks want, and the result is the FTR 1200.

The FTR 1200 is a motorcycle that takes massive inspiration from the Cinderella story that is American flat-track racing, and the Indian FTR 750 that runs in that series, as well as bikes like the Ducati Scrambler 1100BMW R Nine T and Triumph’s new Bonneville and Thruxton. Spoiler alert: It’s a ton of fun.

The FTR 1200 from Indian is a willing participant in all kinds of hooliganesque situations.

Sam Schneider/Indian Motorcycle

The FTR 1200 is based on a relatively simple recipe. First, take a big, character-filled engine, and bolt it into a stiff frame with upright rider ergonomics. Add quality suspension and brakes, make the handlebars wide and sprinkle some modern tech. Rinse and repeat.

This is a formula for basically all of my favorite motorcycles, but Indian does a few things differently to help it stand out from the Europeans. First, the FTR is available in two basic trim levels. The standard FTR 1200 is a decent value proposition at $13,499. It’s fairly stripped back compared to the higher spec version, featuring an analog gauge and fewer rider aids, but the power output is the same, and much of the hardware is too.

The higher-spec S version starts at a not-inconsiderable $15,499, but you’re getting an awful lot for that additional $2,000. First, you lose the basic gauges and get a super handsome, full-color TFT digital dash. You also get a full suite of lean-sensitive electronic rider aids, including ABS, traction control and more. You even get fully adjustable suspension on both the front forks and rear shock.

The S-spec suspension on our test bike is a delightful surprise. The folks who set it up clearly knew what they were doing, because this is no stiffened-up cruiser design. It’s compliant but firm and I can easily imagine it being all-day comfortable with a couple of minor adjustments for my height and weight.

If you decide to get the S and really have some cash to burn, for an additional $1,500 you can get the Race Replica version which comes with a gorgeous red steel trellis frame and rear tubular swing arm, and an Akrapovič exhaust (which sounds epic).

One of the more interesting design features of the FTR 1200 is the airbox for the V-twin engine, which looks like it might be the fuel tank. In actuality, bulk of the fuel tank lives under the rider’s butt, and that is great for two reasons. First, it allows Indian to give this big (and likely thirsty) bike an entirely respectable 3.4-gallon fuel capacity. Next, gasoline is heavy, and having heavy things lower in the bike is always good.

The FTR’s saddle is relatively wide and flat enough that a rider can move back and forth on it without feeling locked into one position. It’s not overly padded (this isn’t exactly Easy Rider), but it compares favorably to the other bikes in the category, some of which feel like a half-inch of couch foam nailed to cardboard (I’m looking at you, BMW R Nine T).

All FTR 1200s get the same liquid-cooled, 1,203-cc V-twin engine that produces a decidedly healthy 120 horsepower and 85 pound-feet of torque. The FTR’s transmission is a six-speed sequential unit with a wet multiplate clutch, and is slick and smooth to shift. The clutch pull at the lever is light, and the slipper clutch’s engagement is smooth and incredibly easy to modulate.

Our instructor, Jordan Graham, demonstrating the finer points of going fast on a dirt circle.

Sam Schneider/Indian Motorcycle

The ride

Indian organized the FTR test ride to coincide with the One Moto show in Portland, Oregon, as well as the 1Pro Super Hooligan race, which Indian sponsors. Thus, my ride takes place on a 0.1-mile dirt oval track — something with which I had no prior experience.

Indian brought along Super Hooligan rider Jordan Graham to give me a few pointers on how to hustle the big FTR around this meat grinder of a course. “Push the bike down with your arms! Don’t tuck your elbows in! Go easy on the throttle!” Even trickier, Indian turned off many of the FTR 1200’s rider assistance features for this test. Traction control? Nope. Antilock brakes? Gone.

That said, because it would be a colossal bummer if the front brakes locked up on the dirt, Indian removed the front brake lever on my test bike. The rear brake got a decent workout during my ride, and it’s (as most motorcycle rear brakes are) just fine. It doesn’t seem overly powerful and doesn’t want to lock up on me with ABS off. The pedal feels nice too. The FTR has a twin-ventilated disc setup in the front with radial-mounted Brembo calipers. It’s a solid, well-proven recipe, and I imagine it’ll feel just fine in use on the street.

The clay surface of the Salem Indoor Speedway had way more grip than seemed possible, and Jordan helped us exploit it.

Sam Schneider/Indian Motorcycle

It’s sort of shocking how reasonable and unassuming the power delivery is. I had assumed that the FTR would be finicky and grabby, uncouth and angry, but the experience of riding it couldn’t have been more impressive.

The vicious-looking clay surface that had terrified me a minute before proved to have incredible levels of grip. The big, powerful engine that just moments before I thought would break loose and send me sliding was unstressed and easy to manage. I turned in a few laps, each faster and more confident than the last, and came back looking for Jordan’s guidance on how I could improve my speed.

The bike is, at all times and all speeds, a willing participant in the exercise. Some bikes continuously feel like they’re goading you into going faster and like they hate you because you’re slow (see: Aprilia Tuono). That can be fun and all, but the FTR 1200 feels like the motorcycle equivalent of a post-McConaissance Matthew McConaughey: always looking for a good time but has your back when stuff goes pear-shaped. The FTR wants you to Just Keep Livin’.

Editors’ note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it’s far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow’s editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

Update, at 10:03 a.m.: Changed the list of motorcycles by which the FTR 1200 was inspired.

Source: https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/reviews/2019-indian-ftr-1200-preview/#ftag=CAD052d7fb