Experiencing the Indian Motorcycle FTR750 Flat Track Bike

We take Indian’s new heavy-hitter out for quite the amusing spin.

Indian Media Experience 2017
Indian Factory rider Brad Baker (#6) holds off Jared Mees (#9) while fighting for the pole position at the Oklahoma Mile.Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Flat-track motorcycle racing is fundamentally American, there's no two ways about it. Equally so, Minneapolis-based Indian Motorcycle established themselves as a true performance-oriented American brand, their own company's co-founder setting the world-speed record in 1903. Bent on domination and fueled by an age-old rivalry with Harley-Davidson that's remained dormant until recently, to say they've taken the 2017 AFT series by storm is the understatement of the century.

Indian Motorcycle recently gave Motorcyclist an offer to experience a mile-long oval flat-track race in Oklahoma City, made even sweeter by the promise of giving us a shot at riding the FTR750 after the racing was over. With just six of these bikes in existence currently, their offer was equal parts invigorating and frightening. As I boarded the plane to Oklahoma, my emotions teetered between feeling like a rock star boarding a private jet on the way to play a sold-out stadium, and the nervous apprehension of binning Indian's purebred race bike, and having the whole team to answer to (or run from).

Indian Media Experience 2017
Bryan Smith, in a foot-on-the-peg slide, takes the third position in front of a rowdy Oklahoma City crowd.Photo: Indian Motorcycle

You’re never quite prepared for the pure immensity of a mile-long course. Short-track racing is one thing, but it’s entirely different to watch riders blast down a dusty straightaway at 140 mph, tucked in to minimize the drag. It’s a game of chicken as they approach the same corners over and over again, pitching the bike sideways and sliding the motorcycle along the darkened groove of the track in a seemingly inhuman feat of skill and determination.

Indian Media Experience 2017
Fans and spectators alike lined the Indian Motorcycle pits, just adjacent to the stadium itself. The fan walk allows the general public to get face to face with the factory team riders and mechanics.Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Indian’s race-proven FTR750 Flat Track racebike is a dichotomous blend of raw fury and an intriguing elegance. There’s something about the brand’s purpose-built racing machine that’s marvelously mythical, and seeing it in person is almost like having a close encounter with a long-extinct animal.

After a podium sweep signaling another successful night for Indian Motorcycle, the time had come for us to finally throw a leg over the factory FTR. Unfortunately, the Oklahoma weather wasn’t about to cooperate, and proceeded to dump tons of unscheduled rain overnight. This made the aptly named Red Dirt Raceway look more like a giant, banked bowl of chili than anything else, which was not good news for us.

Despite the bad weather, the Indian Motorcycle reps decided to go ahead and start with the press rides on the FTR, which made us (the journalists) rather nervous.

Indian Media Experience 2017
I’m not kidding—this red sludge was the worst. I have no idea how it managed to be so slippery yet so sticky at the same time. Definitely not what you’d typically prefer for flat track!Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Once I found my courage, I made my way over to the FTR750, ready to give it a spin around the track. I climbed aboard while the crew chief inserted the external starter, making a note that the seat height was taller than I expected, and noticing that the upswept exhaust had not been designed with the comfort of your left leg in mind. The FTR750’s 53-degree liquid-cooled V-Twin engine growled to life, and settled into a notably smooth idle.

The FTR750 is unabashedly happiest flat out, its Ohlins suspension working in unison with the endlessly adjustable frame geometry. I’m not the one to tell you this based on personal experience, however, as I gingerly willed myself to slowly ease the bike up to a jogging-pace as the sticky red soup I was riding on stuck to the wheels like glue. I can tell you, however, that cracking open the throttle body (which has been specially designed to inhale deep, unobstructed gulps of air, feeding the massively torquey engine) stirs up a deep guttural growl that terminates in a set of twin mufflers that bleat out one hell of a wicked symphony.

Indian Media Experience 2017
It took some guts, but chugging slowly around the small, banked track was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever known. Every corner was a balancing act, and attempting to persuade the bike to alter its direction in the deep red muck was a true trial.Photo: Indian Motorcycle

Taking some time to get acquainted with the bike, I began to notice a few things. The bars were wide, but they swept back towards you. The seat (if you can call it that) was nothing more than a thin, foam pad on top of a carbon fiber tail section, which creaked as I rode along. The throttle was smooth and consistent, but being overly greedy would instinctively cause you to go for the brakes—and you’d be in trouble, because the rear brake locks up faster than a speeding ticket, and front brakes literally don’t exist on these purpose-built race machines.

I had to glance back briefly to assure myself that the FTR actually had the Ohlins rear suspension Indian had said it did, because it sure as hell didn’t feel there was any movement. That being said, you could have blindfolded me and sent me around the track, and I would have been able to sketch a perfectly accurate drawing of the track’s surface on nothing more than feel alone—no wonder the pros can pick up on subtle tuning adjustments so easily. Again, purpose-built.

Indian Media Experience 2017
Feeling the whole while like I was atop a rambunctious steer in a china shop, an inquisitive twist of the throttle would return a neck-snapping lunge forward.Photo: Indian Motorcycles

After about 10 minutes of testing the bike’s eagerness to toss me out of the saddle onto the track’s slimy surface, I decided to bring my mild ride on this wild beast ride to an end.

Back on the sidelines, I was inspecting Indian’s Scout Hooligan bike (which they brought out as a sort of “learner bike” for us), when Indian Factory Team rider Bryan Smith walked over and proceeded to lean on the Hooligan bike, easily compressing the soft suspension and looking rather bothered at his ability to do so. “See that?” he asked, motioning towards the bike’s rear-end. “That’s too soft. This thing will be all over the place coming out of the corners. There’s no way you’d be able to put any power down coming out of a corner with the damn thing bouncing all over the place like that, even on a properly groomed track.”

I asked the National Champ and “Mile Expert” himself what it was that made the FTR750 such an imposing force in the Flat Track world, to which the reply was, “It’s just a solid bike, you know? We can tweak everything, and we can set it up well for the different tracks we run. It’s just a really rideable bike.”

Indian Media Experience 2017
Factory riders Brad “The Bullet” Baker (far left) and “Flyin’” Bryan Smith (far right) were two of the most genuinely kind and thoroughly talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking with. Luckily they took my ineptness in stride, and joked at the fact that my suit was still bright white.Photo: Indian Motorcycles

The FTR750 is a motorcycle that was designed to do one thing, and one thing alone—go as fast as possible consistently while making left turns on a dirt oval track. It’s loud, powerful, torquey and crass—and wonderfully so. From an engineering standpoint, it’s a masterpiece, and from a non-pro’s standpoint, completely ridiculous. I’d liken the FTR750 to the wall of guitar amplifiers at a rock concert—just as intimidating to look at as it is to fully experience—and the Indian FTR750’s volume knob is stuck on 11.