Tar Baby

Tar 01

Now wearing a set of 17-inch wheels rather than flat track-oriented rubber, Indian’s FTR1200S is a sportier choice for the road.

It’s over a couple of years now since we first tested the Indian FTR1200. That first model was impressive with a raucous engine that 

was a thrill-a-minute. It was a bit of a beast and I loved it. The mildly longish suspension travel, 19/18-inch wheel combination, big brakes, big power and flat-track inspired tyres suited a variety of conditions that gelled well with the mix of riding the KR team does. It had fun factor.

TAR-SEAL FOCUS
Now Indian has narrowed the focus of the FTR. The model has been tweaked to suit the rider who embraces his or her inner tar baby. The handlebars are narrower, the ZF Sachs suspension travel has been shortened about 12mm each end and firmed a little. The steering head angle has been steepened a degree to 25.3 degrees. And probably the most obvious change is the move to 17-inch wheels and sports road tyres. The liquid-cooled, 1203cc, 60-degree V-twin makes 123hp at 7750rpm and 120Nm of torque at 6000rpm There is an improved electronics package that includes wheelie control, rear lift mitigation, cruise control and lean angle sensitive ABS. Happily, Sports mode still lets you embrace your inner wheelie hoon, but the ABS stays on. A sensible compromise. Power modes are Rain, Road and Sport.

SEAMLESS GRUNT
My first impression is that the power delivery is much smoother. Gone is the burst of grunt right from idle, replaced by a linear and seamless power curve throughout the rpm range. Honestly though, I found myself missing the rush of initial grunt from the previous model, but do understand the move to a more user-friendly and all-purpose power curve. Apart from a wee surge in the fuelling at a constant throttle just below 3000rpm, the fuelling is excellent. There is solid grunt available from even a modest twist of the right hand, the power snowballs readily with what feels like peak power arriving near maximum revs. It is an excellent engine with great torque that’s easy to manage and get the best from. There is no denying the wonderful V-twin pulse when riding the FTR, it’s a joyous thing! The S model comes standard with an Akrapovic exhaust and, while the excess noise is well muted, a lovely civilised burble is your riding soundtrack. The combined engine thrust, pulse and burble definitely create an engaged happy state of being and gave me lots of reason to ride.

 

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BETTER FOR THE ROAD
The chassis is a steel tube trellis design, in fact even the swingarm is tubular. There’s no question that the new wheels, tyres and chassis deliver for the keen Tarmac rider. If you are a track day rider the improvement should be immediate and have you dropping lap times readily, even though the FTR is not a sports bike. The turn-in is sharper than before, and the general agility is much improved. Grip levels are also well enhanced thanks to the Metzeler Sportec rubber. Sizes are 120/70-17 front and 180/55-17 rear. The suspension holds up well and is nicely controlled for spirited riding... as long as the surface is in good condition. On our poorer roads (more often than not now-a-days it seems) the reduction of suspension travel and the sharper steering is not always an asset. While handling and suspension is still pretty good, bigger bumps do find the suspension travel’s limits and the general feel is not as composed as the previous FTR model sporting the larger wheels. Both front and rear the suspension is fully adjustable. Up front the Sachs forks are 43mm USD items. The rear Sachs shock is mounted almost horizontally and fixed to the swingarm, there is no raising rate linkage. There is 120mm of travel each end and the shock has very little shaft travel. This, to my mind, is not the best way to get excellent damping control - because all the damping control is done through such short piston travel, the scope for control is quite small and I think this is exposed by our poor road conditions. Stopping the FTR has never been an issue. 320mm twin discs and Brembo four-pot calipers up front give rapid stopping with great control. While I never really pressed the brakes super hard during the test, stopping power was always consistently strong, the feel was great and ABS early invention was never an issue. Even the single rear 260mm disc, with twin piston Brembo caliper, did a solid job at the rear. It’s a great braking package.

 

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ERGONOMICS AND ELECTRONICS
Shorter riders will find a happy home on the FTR as it’s not a tall bike. Ergonomically, the Indian has a fairly upright riding position with a generally comfortable layout. The tall will find the seat-to-footpeg relationship a little cramped and some may even find the seat a whisker boney, but, overall, it’s a pretty nice place to be for a day’s ride. A bit of a stretch at gas stops and you should be good to go for another few hours. The dash is great if a little small by today’s standards at 4.3-inches (a bit over 100mm). Information on the TFT home screen is clear and quite varied. I like the compass, particularly for when in a new area... handy to know what direction you’re heading in. The fuel gauge has the range in the centre rather than having to scroll for it like some brands. In general, the screen is great because you get the overview and the detail in one glance. It’s also intuitive to follow when making mode changes. Good work Indian. There are two colour choices, White Smoke and our test bike’s maroon Metallic. Overall, the Indian FTR1200S is a fun machine. The engine is an engaging, characterful V-twin while still being smooth. The handling is sharp and nimble, but the FTR still has the long and low, cool looks of the flat tracker. Ergonomically it’s tight for the tall, but for everyone else – happy days. The suspension struggles a little on poor, bumpy roads, but, in all fairness, most of the issues can be traced back to the road conditions. With this model the Indian FTR is now a more road-focused machine, which is where most people will ride it.

 

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SECOND OPINION
The FTR is undoubtedly a handsome machine, and not all that much has changed and yet everything is changed from the version I enjoyed a couple of years back. Back then, I found the 1200cc V-twin delivered one of the most willing and friendly twistgrips of fun you could have - it was a hoon machine with a pedigree and personality. Kitted with the Dunlop DT3 tyres, in their signature Indian pattern, it made for a ride that raised your heart rate, spirits, and grin quotient. Those tyres got a bit squirmy with a bit of pressure, and you got a real taste of the flat tracker experience. At the time I found the steering angle quite steep and the back hung out in corners, bringing a ‘real dirt track’ feeling of pleasure to energetic riding. It was not a small bike, sporting a 60-inch (1524mm) wheelbase, with 19-inch front and 18-inch rear rims, but very well balanced and weight where you wanted it – low.

The ‘22 is a more polished machine, it has the same heart - the specs state 123 horses – and certainly I had no complaints about the engine, it’s a free revving powerplant that is a joy to run, particularly in Sport mode. They’ve tweaked it and it’s definitely smoother in the early rev range. However, there are other changes that make it different. There’s lower suspension travel with a direct connection at the rear, made visible by the bright rear spring located under the right thigh (no linkage) and, occasionally, on B road holes and bumps, that could be quite firm to the spine. But this is a bike engineered for sport riding fun, and to my mind they’ve got it right, but it took a moment or two to get there. 

 

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Both wheels have been reduced to 17-inch rims and that makes quite a difference, and they’ve fitted the bike with meaty Metzeler Sportec tyres and the grip and cornering is superb. The new ‘22 feels quite different at first, and it’s not immediately clear that it is the rim diameters. I think it’s the massive change they’ve made to the steering angle, already short at 26.3 degrees they’ve taken a full degree out of it to 25.3. That has the effect of making the front even snubbier and reinforces that flat track feel dramatically, and the head of the bike almost completely disappears from view when riding. The wheelbase however remains the same at 60-inches (1524mm) and I wondered if they’d changed the rake angle to keep it the same after the new rims were added. Whatever they’ve done, it takes a bit to get used to the faster drop in, and the feeling that you’re going to tuck the front, its so steep it almost felt like a trials bike. But there is no mistake here, the bike offers a great ride in twisty stuff, and with its lowered height and seat position the view is clear and unhunched. My only concern is the angle of the leg caused by footpeg placement which has definitely moved rearward. On a trip of any distance this would cause me hip cramps, but fine when snaking around the back roads, where it is a willing, powerful, agile beast with a healthy Indian roar, turning gas into noise and happiness.

 

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The twin Akrapovics look good, but like all single-sided exhaust systems, I still got a hot leg from the pipe cover. The bars seem a little narrower than the old ones and I liked the originals which felt a bit more dirt-like in width, but that’s a personal preference. The 4.3-inch TFT colour display is clear, small and unobtrusive, and the menus easy to negotiate and set up. There’s some electrickery aboard as well, with IMU traction control, lean angle sensors, riding modes, and it adds to the more sophisticated nature of the ‘22 version. There’s also a USB charge port, something that every modern motorcycle should have. The changes are more than cosmetic, they have taken a rabid, fun machine with some rough edges and given it a city-dweller’s slickness. The character has not been lost, but it has been refined. It’s smoother, smarter, nimbler, and grips like a tiger, and is still a handful of hooning fun. It looks terrific, has real presence, rides like the very devil, sounds great and is well finished. It’s a welcome addition to the sport bike option. 

 

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Article kindly brought to you by Kiwirider
www.kiwirider.co.nz

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