Billed as the US’s first motorcycle manufacturer, Indian Motorcycles was founded as Hendee Manufacturing Company by George M Hendee — initially as a bicycle production company — in 1897 and started producing motorcycles in 1901. In the period since, it has gone through some tumultuous times, particularly between 1953 and 2010, with operations having been shut down and relaunched multiple times. In the last decade or so, operations have stabilised, although in SA, its presence remained erratic until late 2022. Times are a-changing, it seems.
Despite its history in flat track and endurance racing, Indian, in my mind, has always been synonymous with cruisers and, by extension, bobbers and baggers. That is why I was taken aback when I walked out of Linex Sandton, where the Indian dealership is located. I haven’t really kept up with Indian’s revival and, when discussing which motorcycle to test ride first, asked the Indian people to recommend one.
The FTR 1200 looks nothing like what I imagined an Indian to be, probably because I haven’t kept up with their motorcycles since their revival. I had asked that the people at Linex Sandton, where their main dealership is located, recommend a motorcycle for me to ride and boy was I in for a treat.
Still retaining the signature Indian logo on the tank, the FTR 1200 is a muscular, subtly menacing and, dare I say, intimidating stripped-down streetfighter. They have drawn from their flat track roots and designed a motorcycle that is beautiful to look when parked. I must have spent at least 10 minutes gazing at it before sitting on it and starting it up.
And it wasn’t just me. I met a friend for coffee and parked the FTR next to the pavement table we were sitting. A fellow rode over on his bicycle for a closer look and left muttering about what a good-looking motorcycle it is.
It has a 1203cc V-Twin engine, fully adjustable front and rear Öhlins, LED headlight, tail light and turn signals and twin exhaust pipes that curl up the side of the motorcycle, Brembo brakes and Metzeler Sportec tyres on a rim with the signature red Indian pinstripe. It also has a four-inch color touchscreen, which is both easy to navigate.
There are five models of the FTR, namely the standard FTR, FTR Sport, FTR Rally, FTR 100% Carbon, and the FTR R Carbon, which is the one I rode and came with an Akrapovic exhaust system. The sweet, guttural grunt from the exhaust system on starting brought a smile to my face, which broadened as I pulled out to head home. The rain that started not long after did nothing to dampen my mood, even when I switched to rain mode, the motorcycle growling wonderfully as I navigated Joburg traffic in the drizzle. Other riding modes are Standard and Sport, which I spent of my time in for the days I had the bike.
While exciting to ride, with 120Nm peak torque, the FTR’s handling is solid, whether on highways or byways, and I thoroughly enjoyed flicking it left and right, navigating Joburg traffic. It has lean angle sensitive ABS, stability control, traction control, and wheelie control with rear lift mitigation, with the back brakes as reliable and effective as the front brake.
Despite the streamlined design, the saddle and tank are both wide, which both set it apart from other naked and streetfighter-styled motorcycles, making it extremely comfortable without taking away from the nimble handling.
I spent the days on the FTR trying, not always successfully, to be restrained with the throttle, generally taking the longer route to whatever my destination was. A motorcycle with true character. And fun to ride, to boot.
The recommended retail price for the FTR 1200 R Carbon is R405 000.