The fear was primal, like knowing something was about to jump out at you from behind the bushes and not being able to do a thing about it. The time was nigh. It was time to ride.

My stomach had been burning with a ball of nervous energy since I woke up that morning. When the first thing I heard as I pulled into Salem’s fairgrounds was the howl of a caged banshee bellowing from the bowels of the speedway, the ball ballooned. Whoever was lapping on the preproduction Indian FTR 1200 as I walked up was wringing it out pretty good. It’s the first time I’ve heard the FTR sing, and admittedly I was already entranced by its note.

Indian FTR 1200 in the dirt
The Indian FTR 1200 doesn’t feel or handle like a 500-pound V-twin, and I mean that in the most complementary way.Indian Motorcycle Co.

Seeing three near-production FTRs sitting at the mouth to Salem's hallowed eighth-mile clay oval brought my heartbeat into my throat. Indian's resident Super Hooligan, Jordan Graham, was hammering the track, the scraping of his steel-toed boot over the hard-packed clay like a measure on a metronome. Graham was in town to compete in the first round of RSD's Super Hooligan National Championship Series on his own custom FTR 1200 and kindly lent his knowledge of going fast and turning left to a wide-eyed bunch of media types. Graham's enthusiasm for both his sport and new racebike is contagious, and his eagerness to openly impart some of his two-wheeled wisdom on newbies helped quell the jitters.

Jordan Grahams RSD racebike
Top: Jordan Graham's RSD racebike shows that it doesn't take much to take a stock Indian FTR 1200 and turn it into a full-fledged hooligan flat-tracker.
Left: Bryan Harley does his best to channel his inner hooligan aboard the preproduction Indian FTR 1200.
Right: Graham was the perfect guy to teach a bunch of journalists a little Flat Track 101. His enthusiasm and love of flat-track racing is contagious!
Indian Motorcycle Co.

Climbing on board, I thought Indian’s prototype FTR bike felt nice and compact. Graham introduced himself and gave us the rundown on the track. He pointed out the line he’d been laying down and assured us the track was plenty sticky, even with the stock tires we’d be riding. Somehow the two things I remember most about the conversation were the words “stock tires” and the inside line he warned us about that could be a little slippery. Is mental target fixation a thing?

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We clicked the key to the “On” position to bring up its 4.3-inch Ride Command touchscreen. Graham said he was setting the bikes on Rain mode, which drops 20 hp from its 120-hp Sport setting. Seeing how it’s only an eighth-mile track where we’d never see second gear, this seemed like sage advice. Graham says the bike at full power is ridiculous and pulls power wheelies at will. To give us the true flat-track experience (and to keep us from throwing ourselves off the highside) the front brake lever had been removed. We also turned off the bike’s traction control and ABS. Graham swiped up and down and demonstrated how you can customize the screen, and overall the Ride Command felt familiar and easy to use.

Pro skateboarder Elliot Sloan on Indian FTR 1200
Pro skateboarder Elliot Sloan traded in the X Games’ Big Air ramp for an Indian FTR 1200 motorcycle and a tacky clay oval in Salem, Oregon.Indian Motorcycle Co.

Formalities over, it was time to rock and roll. That first spark of the FTR 1200 engine rumbling beneath me made nerve endings in my shoulders tingle as electricity shot down my back and arms. Even though it's a V-twin, the engine is well balanced and idles smoothly. Graham said the throttle was ultra responsive and, even at the muted power output setting, it doesn't take much to spool up the back tire, a fact I confirmed a few times over the course of the day when exiting corners. The first time I rolled it back though, launch control was in the forefront of my mind.

Super Hooligan Graham on Indian FTR 1200
Top: The look says it all.
Left: Turn-in is light, the motorcycle's agile and well balanced, and even in Rain mode the FTR 1200 I rode had notable power.
Right: RSD's resident Super Hooligan Graham is the personification of speed and style aboard his Indian FTR 1200 racebike.
Indian Motorcycle Co.

My Cheshire grin grew as fast as the bike sped up. The hit off idle is impressive, even with a modest twist of the throttle. The bike pulls hard and even throughout first gear’s powerband, and its Rain mode setting makes it easy to manage. It took a few laps to get introduced to the bike, from turn-in to traction levels, and building trust in those tires is a relationship I didn’t want to rush. Initially the hardest part was fighting the natural urge to bend the inside elbow and lean down and instead of weighting the outside edge of the seat with your butt, simultaneously pushing down in turns with your left arm while keeping your right elbow up. But the motorcycle’s easy to ride and it doesn’t take long before I’m putting full faith in its special-made Dunlops on their edges. The front end is point-and-shoot and sticks like honey to the prescribed line and turns in with the finesse of a featherweight fighter. With a few more laps under my belt, my line began to tighten up.

Sloan riding the flat track
Left: Sloan either has some moto riding in his background or he's the fastest learner I've ever seen!
Right: Elbows up, elbows up!
Indian Motorcycle Co.

Second time out, the nervous energy had turned into eagerness. I’m winding first gear out a little further and carrying more speed into turns. It definitely doesn’t feel like I’m on a 500-pound V-twin. I focus on the principles Graham touted, from leveraging the handlebar to weighting the bike’s axis in turns to hitting the apex. And while the majority of laps were spent in that awkward dance of overthinking and unfamiliarity, on rare occasion there’s that magic moment when your left arm is pointing down, your right elbow is kicked out, and the front end is on rails as you flow like water through a turn. It’s moments like these that I feel the addictive nature of flat-track racing. It makes your senses burn as adrenaline courses through your veins and the only fix is to spin another lap.

Graham teaching flat track 101
Graham graciously took a bunch of wide-eyed journalists under his wing to teach us a few flat-track basics on the FTR.Indian Motorcycle Co.

After three sessions and about 45 laps on the preproduction FTR 1200, I’m impressed with how sharp its steering is, how generous of a lean angle it has (at least turning left!), and by the punch its engine packs. Days later I’m still buzzing from the experience, and I never even got out of first gear. If it can leave such a lasting impression after only a little taste, I can’t wait to switch it into Sport mode and explore the next five gears. After my time in its saddle, intuition tells me Indian’s going to have its hands full trying to meet demand for these things. Who knew the resurrection of the American sportbike might manifest in the form of a V-twin?

Technical Specifications

PRICE $13,499 / FTR 1200 S $15,499
ENGINE 1203cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC V-twin
TRANSMISSION/FINAL DRIVE 6-speed/Chain
CLAIMED HORSEPOWER 120 hp @ 8,250 rpm
CLAIMED TORQUE 85 lb.-ft. @ 6,000 rpm
FRAME Tubular steel trellis
FRONT SUSPENSION 43mm inverted cartridge-type, fully adjustable (FTR 1200 S); 5.9-in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Monoshock IFP, adjustable preload and rebound (FTR 1200); / Piggyback monoshock IFP, fully adjustable (FTR 1200 S) ; 5.9-in. Travel
FRONT BRAKE Brembo M4.32 Monobloc four-piston calipers, dual 320mm floating discs w/ ABS
REAR BRAKE Brembo P34 two-piston caliper, 260mm floating disc w/ ABS
RAKE/TRAIL 26.3°/5.1 in.
WHEELBASE 60 in.
SEAT HEIGHT 33.1 in.
FUEL CAPACITY 3.4 gal.
CLAIMED DRY WEIGHT 488 lb. (FTR 1200) / 489 lb. (FTR 1200 S)