2020 Indian FTR 1200 Long Term Review: A Land Of Contrasts

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 Good

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.

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