Indian Scout FTR750 First Ride Review

Riding Indian’s FTR750 flat track racer at the Santa Rosa Mile.

After its latest resurrection a few years ago, Indian has been looking like it's ready to go head-to-head with Harley-Davidson—not just in the big V-twin streetbike marketplace but on the race track where the two companies waged fierce battles for supremacy in the first half of the 20th century. After years of waning interest, it appears that flat track racing is on the verge of a boom, generated in large part by Indian getting back in the game.

In fact, getting back into racing was one of the early company goals, though it probably came about quicker than expected. From the decision to build a dedicated dirt-track racer in October 2015 to its first race in September 2016 (click here for the FTR750 Racing Debut), the Indian Scout FTR750 project moved with incredible speed. Indian studied the proposed equipment rules for 2017 before designing this FTR750, the goal being to create a machine that could beat not only Harley's venerable XR750 (whose design is rooted in the '70s) but the newer H-D XG750R as well as the very popular (after much modification) Kawasaki Ninja 650 plus other brands. In addition, the new Indian needed to carry an aesthetic link to its past racebikes.

Scout FTR750 ride
Indian is counting on the brand-new Scout FTR750 to re-establish the brand in American dirt track racing. After seeing it in action and getting to ride it on Santa Rosa’s mile, we believe it will successfully reach that goal and likely generate renewed interest in the sport as well.Photo: Barry Hathaway

When Indian unveiled it to the public on August 8 at the 76th Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally (see the Sturgis Rally debut here), it sparked a sudden surge of interest. Here was something that just looked competitive sitting there, from its high-tech fuel-injected engine developed in conjunction with the renowned SwissAuto to the extensive use of carbon-fiber bodywork to the adjustable chassis. But looks only count for so much. The only question that counted: What's it like on a track? Only a few select riders could provide the answer, but their identities were often shrouded in secrecy in order to preserve their existing contracts.

Joe Kopp racing Indian
Attracted by the opportunity, Joe Kopp (3) agreed to come out of retirement in order to give the FTR750 its public racing debut at the season-finale Ramspur Winery Santa Rosa Mile. There, he won the Dash for Cash and followed that by leading the early going in the GNC1 main, ultimately finishing a remarkable seventh.Photo: Barry Hathaway

Somehow, though, Indian press relations convinced the bosses that it’d be a veritable PR coup to let a few journalists take the new baby for a spin after it had made its public race debut at the final round of the 2016 Harley-Davidson GNC1 Championship, Presented by Vance & Hines: the Ramspur Winery Santa Rosa (California) Mile. For a dirt track aficionado, this is akin to riding a few laps aboard a MotoGP racer at, say, Phillip Island or Mugello. It is the holy grail.

Scout FTR750 side view
Designed from a clean sheet of paper in accordance to AMA rules for dedicated 750cc race bikes, the FTR750 is a thoroughly modern machine with the vaunted Swissauto company collaborating on engine development. Could it be the basis for a future street bike? Indian officials aren’t saying yet.Photo: Barry Hathaway

We spent Sunday watching the Mile National with Joe Kopp coming out of retirement to give the FTR750 a fantastic race debut, winning the Dash for Cash and leading the early laps in the GNC1 main event before settling for seventh. From what the crowd witnessed, the FTR will be formidable in 2017's American Flat Track series (click here to read more about the new America Flat Track series). Our turn on the backup FTR750 came on Monday morning: two sedate dedicated photo/video laps while following a pickup truck with the cameramen hanging out the back, followed by two separate four-lap sessions.

Indian Scout Hooligan race at Santa Rosa
Kariya (10) and the other journalists got warmed up by participating in the SuperHooligan Relay Race at the Saturday night short track, all of the competitors aboard Roland Sands Designs-prepared, lightly modified Indian Scout Sixty-based bikes.Photo: Brian J. Nelson
FTR750 ride
The first journalist sessions aboard Indian’s new racer were behind a camera truck in order to get both stills and video while getting a feel for the bike at a more controlled, sedate pace.Photo: Barry Hathaway

Between sessions, I strolled over to the Indian pits where the technicians prepared Kopp’s race bike for Bryan Smith, who’d clinched the championship the afternoon before on his Kawasaki. (Smith, championship runner-up Jared Mees and Brad Baker will comprise the official 2017 factory Indian Wrecking Crew.) After putting so much effort into the project, Indian’s engineers remain very tight-lipped and politely declined to discuss many of the technical details of the FTR750 like V angle, bore and stroke, duration/lift of the dual overhead cams, etc. (We were also requested to not publish photos of anything proprietary when they were working on it.) Could it be the basis for a future street tracker or other hot rod? That might take some doing but Indian will likely make a limited run of these to sell to qualified racers first. Homologating a modified version to be street license-legal would be a stretch, though some of the technologies could cross over.

Mark Kariya on FTR750
Kariya bends it gently and carefully into turn one on Santa Rosa’s mile the day after the National finale. Despite pushing it nowhere close to its limits, he deemed it a worthy tool and believes it will not only be a regular winner next year but could also inject heightened interest in the sport reminiscent of the Harley vs. Indian battles in the early 20th century.Photo: Brian J. Nelson

They did offer that the FTR750 we rode had a one-inch-longer swingarm than Kopp’s race bike, though with the rear axle placement, wheelbase ended up being about the same. As a liquid-cooled dedicated race engine, it’s limited to 750cc and runs best over 8000 RPM, though it seemed to build power in a fairly linear manner below that. The rules limit the 750cc race engine to a 38mm throttle body and though a six-speed gearbox is allowed, the FTR750 runs a four-speed in a GP-style up-for-first/down-for-the-rest pattern with the shifter on the right side perched fairly high above the brake pedal. It’s likely very close to the minimum weight requirement of 300 pounds. The FTR sounds quite a bit different than most twins I’m accustomed to, with small-diameter dual S&S mufflers projecting a sort of raspy note while meeting the AMA’s 105 dB maximum sound level.

FTR750 in the pit
From the moment Indian team members rolled it into the pits at Santa Rosa, the FTR750 became the center of attention.Photo: Barry Hathaway

Swinging a leg over the FTR I immediately noticed the Indian’s slim profile. The seat, by the way, is little more than a firm, long foam rubber pad that’s easily exchanged for ones with different profiles. Lever pull for the wet clutch was surprisingly light despite it being a regular cable setup and not hydraulic; it didn’t feel significantly stiffer than your average 450 motocrosser. Shifting seemed a bit clunky, possibly due to the linkage employed. The good thing is that once you’re in top gear, you simply leave it there until you return to the pits, though a TT would probably demand a few shifts per lap. It was next to impossible to find neutral with the engine running so everyone took to shutting the engine off. Racebikes!

Indian Wrecking Crew
Bill Tuman (left), 95, was one of the members of the original Indian Wrecking Crew alongside the late Ernie Beckman and Bobby Hill. The last man to win an AMA National aboard an Indian (which he did in 1953), Tuman is joined here by fellow AMA Hall of Famer Dick “Bugsy” Mann. We’re willing to bet at least one of the three 21st century Indian Wrecking Crew members puts the FTR750 on top of the box in 2017.Photo: Barry Hathaway

Gradually, the FTR750 became more familiar. It was easy to turn in and seemed to follow whatever line I wanted. The Brembo rear brake didn’t feel as strong as I’d expected, though I made sure to allow plenty of room to set up for the turns. Both times the four laps ended quicker than expected. As I coasted to hand the bike to the Indian mechanics and the next writer/rider, I quickly made a mental rundown of the experience and both times came to the same conclusion: Though frightening, it was fun! One thing seems clear: The 2017 factory Indian Wrecking Crew has nothing to worry about because I certainly won’t be stealing a seat on the FTR750 from any of them.