I've been following flat track in the USA for decades, perhaps not really closely at first but in the last few years it's become somewhat of an obsession. And when Indian Motorcycle announced that they were planning to build a dedicated race machine to take the fight to Harley-Davidson this reached fever pitch. With the Indian brand resurrected by Polaris it wasn't just a pot of cash that became available but access to a resource and talent pool from outside of the rather closed walls of the regular flat track community which would prove crucial. Part of the fresh approach was utilising another company within the Polaris fold, GP engine manufacturer Swiss Auto. The 748cc v-twin they produced is a dedicated competition engine, free from the shackles of having to work around designs originally destined for use in real life, away from the track. Harley's water cooled XG needed to meet emissions regs, like EU4 in Europe, had to manage on lengthy service intervals and be capable of withsranding hamfisted owners. The engineers at the Swiss Auto HQ just north of Bern, Switzerland had no such concerns. Producing a bonefide racing machine to crush the competition and put the Indian name back on the racing pages their only goal. In the summer of 2016 Kevin Cameron from Cycle World magazine visited the Swiss Auto facility and his three part report on the powerplant is well worth a read. There's no point me trying to plagerise, Kevin's original features are better than mine would be anyway - so check them out here - part 1, part 2 & part 3 Images by Jeff Allen for Cycle World There's also a technical feature on the chassis too - click here. Images by Nikolaus Wogen But if you'd rather stay put here the synopsis is; 109hp @10,000 RPM with a 4 speed 'box, housed in a cromoly, TiG welded frame, carbon bodywork, 19" Roland Sands lightweight alloy wheels, Öhlins Retro 43 fork and remote reservoir rear shock.
Last year I was in Daytona (feature here) for the opening round of the American Flat Track championship and as soon as we were in the pits I made a b-line for the Indian Motorcycle factory race team to inspect their arsenal. And I wasn't disappointed. Everything about the FTR screams fit for purpose and although the bodywork is in the traditional flat track style its shape cuts a dash amongst a paddock full of off-the-shelf tanks and seat units. And the engine looks every part the prototype racer too, dripping with expensive looking machined components. The crank cases and heads are also considered, making for one of the most handsome water cooled engines I've seen.
I've been angling to sling a leg over an FTR for the last couple of years, but had given up hope as there was always someone more talented or more famous who'd do the thing justice from a commercial standpoint so when the call came in that the big cheeses in America had given the green light for me to have a spin I was kid at Christmas excited. I'd prepare properly and unseize my rusty technique to make sure I was in fine fettle for the dream opportunity. But, I also had to test my own prototype. The three year gestation period was over and my XSR700 framer needed a shakedown, the week before the scheduled FTR run. Priorities in order I lapped Greenfield very gently aboard the Yam and highlighted a few teething problems, one of which being a badly binding rear brake. Then Lady Luck stepped in and spoiled the day. The brake boiled, I ran out of pedal pressure and ran off the end of the track. A place I'd been before, but not recently! There was a new TT course in the way. I blipped, bumped and hopped over a few obstacles until I saw a drainage ditch looming. Full whiskey throttle in second gear launched me off a hump in an attempt to clear certain doom. 10 metres later my foot was wedged between the front tyre and the yoke, and the bike crashed down on top of me. "Fuck!!!! I don't fucking believe it, arrrgghhhh, my fucking leg is fucking broken....No!!! the FTR.. for fuck's sake!!!!" By the time helped arrived I'd calmed down. Slightly. I'm well versed in driving back from Greenfield with an arm or leg out of action, I know every junction that can be coasted to avoid a painful gear change and thanks to now having a van with cruise control I made it home without man tears. Self diagnosis and the lack of white stuff poking through my skin ruled out a breakage.
Painkillers and cycling to work stopped my ankle from completely seizing but stairs were a seated affair each morning. By Thursday I'd drafted the text to Steve from Indian to say thanks ever so much but Monday is out of the question. Another dream teetering on the edge. "But you could be dead next week, just go in a straight line if you have to" I told myself. Monday arrived and I awoke on a beach just down the road from Greenfield, feeling nervous but well up for sampling Indian's mile missile.
But I wouldn't have the track to myself, I'd piggybacked someone else's shakedown day. Indian Motorcycle UK are title sponsor the UK Flat Track championship and Krazy Horse (an Indian dealer) prepare and run Lee Kirk-Patrick and Leah Tokelove's Hooligan Scouts which had undergone some winter upgrades that needed testing ahead of the first round in a couple of weeks. This talented duo are a joy to behold. Their skill and deft touch aboard lardy, quarter ton road bikes needs seeing to be believed. They chucked those things around like motocross bikes, compounding my nerves. Busted ankle and excuses aside the thing praying on my mind was that I didn't want to be one of the first people to stack the FTR. I've got a bit of a reputation and the last thing I need is that cementing with a high profile binning of a $50,000 motorcycle.
There was just 5 litres of high octane (115 RON) fuel to burn through and I needed to turn on a bit of style for the camera and GoPros. More pressure. Argghhh!! But then Steve poked the remote starter into the FTR's bowels and barked through a predetermined warm-up procedure. The stonking ear boner distracted me and nerves evaporated. My 10 year old brain remembered what it's like to be excited and my fingers tingled. It might seem like a slight exageration but to me this was the equivalent of getting to have a go on a GP bike.
I swung a leg over. The peg position being the first thing striking me as weird. The left is incredibly high, which allows the diminutive jockeys like Jared Mees to tuck on the long straights stateside. But the right felt ideal, with reassuring placement for covering the rear brake. I'd be riding that sucker til it glowed to make sure slides were kept in check. One clunk upward on the race pattern shifter and I was in business. The smooth clutch felt light as a city commuter and we were off, into turn one. Probably about as slow as I've ever been into turn one at Greenfield. I tested steel shoe on the polished blue groove and sure enough it felt like that scene from Stephen King's Misery.
Riding so gently it's tricky to give truly accurate feedback but if I'd been on my own, away from people and cameras, and with the 50 G price tag removed, I'd have spanked the FTR - hard. Straight away it felt right. Ergonomically it's made for my 5'10" frame. The pulled-back bar clamps didn't feel too close, the pegs actually seemed ideally placed - even the high left one. The narrow seat allowed me to slide forward into the turns and the side of the tank ended up being the perfect width for my right knee to apply pressure. And as you'll notice from these photos a full butt cheek (clenched) was kept on the right side of the saddle at all times. If the FTR thought about bucking it'd have 100kgs to shift first, I wasn't about to start hanging off the inside of the thing like I would on my own bikes.
With 4 speeds to play with and a relatively short track, compared to the FTR's natural mile and half mile habitat, 2nd gear seemed a bit leggy and I wasn't getting much of a flavour for the 100 + HP or 10,000 revs. 1st though was a bit short. But keeping the motor spinning between what felt like around 7,000 and the limiter made for more useable engine braking and predictable corner exit, with less sliding. Not ideal for glory shots for the YouTube vid but better that than blowing the groove, hitting the ice like dust and making a plonker of myself. That said, I'd expected ferocity from the v-twin but it was the exciting side of tame, and no more scary than laying black lines on my 75hp Yam. Although I'm sure the lads at Swiss Auto let a few ponies out of the corral on this actual bike, the AFT machines look like they spit flames. The long action Motion Pro throttle contributed to the smoothness and before long I was ticking off metronomic laps in complete control. I could have stayed out there all day, gradually building speed and listening to the v-twin's sonorous splendour. With the airbox sucking hard from just under one's chin and the S&S pipes bellowing behind the soundtrack is addictive. Somewhere between the off beat thump of a regular v-twin and a howl of V-4. Sort of. Have a listen to the vid below to see what I mean.
Again, I wasn't really going quick enough to trouble the Öhlins front end and despite the swept bars and large yoke offset feedback was pretty good and it didn't feel as lazy as expected. As you can see though, there's a fair bit of stanchion poking through so I'd wager the head angle was steeper than the stock 25 degrees. When the front tyre let go it was drama free and with a working left foot I'd have experimented. Perhaps not as radically as Johnny Lewis (below) who made this very bike dance at the MCN Festival last summer. Literally ridiculous. Ploughing the front like it was a minibike on the way in, and clipping the airfence, sandblasting the crowd with shale on the way out.
I was a million miles away from that and I'd impressed no-one. But I'd ridden a bike from my dream garage, and that's no mean feat. In a couple of weeks I'm heading to California to try the 750's road going cousin, the FTR1200 (pre-launch musings here). Please, nobody pinch me, I don't want to wake up just yet.