LEFT MAKES RIGHT
Riding Indian’s Scout FTR1200 street tracker
RROI is the killer of dreams, the murderer of glory. “Return on Investment,” management’s typical test for so many things, when expressed to its fullest results in vehicles like the Toyota Camry, the car equivalent of the killer of dreams and murderer of glory. Not that it isn’t a decent way to get around.
But “getting around” is not what we came for. “Decent” can go pound it.
We came for dreams and glory. Which is clearly why Indian lit the fuse on the Scout FTR1200 Custom, this hand-made street-tracker a mashup of the Scout FTR750 racebike and the Scout cruiser that has served as the volume leader for the company’s on-road sales and is a much-loved laid-back American motorcycle.
But as much love as we have for the laid-back American motorcycle, the collective streetbike consciousness is searching for something more laidforward but so essentially American it can be born in no other land.
“The flat-track bike so ingrained in our brains because we’ve seen it for so long,” says Rich Christoph, the designer in charge of turning the notion of an FTR1200 into carbon-fiber, metal, and rubber. “And it’s kind of this American spirit, this fighting spirit of competition and simplicity and magic proportion of this motorcycle with 19-inch wheels and no front brake, like a chopper that’s dangerous. All these wonderful things, dangerous things, coming together to make this beautiful, perfect motorcycle.”
If you can’t tell, Christoph is one of the more-firedup people in the motorcycle business. He’s also the guy who worked on the original Scout streetbike and the clay models of the Scout FTR750 with Jared Mees, getting the look, riding position, and the rest right for what’s become the most dominant current flat-track racebike with a championship in its first year.
That familiarity helped with the ridiculously short build timeline. Indian started the project in September,
2017, and made the Milan Show debut in November. After sending it to a stunting-and-jumping video shoot in the Los Angeles River, “I was like, guys, this is one of one; we have no more! We don’t even have time to fix chipped paint,” Christoph says with a laugh. But it all worked out.
And what’s this “custom” business? There’s been a bit of head-scratching about a bike like this being called a custom, for is it not really a “concept” when the factory builds something like this? “We didn’t do the normal design studies,” says Greg Brew, head of Indian’s industrial design. “I think part of it also is a lot of times concept bikes, whether you mean to or not, they wind up being, I won’t say overdone, but done to death. Part of doing this was to try to keep a little bit of that raw race edge to it.”
Adds Ben Lindaman, international motorcycle product manager, “Yeah, it just wasn’t quite as formal as what we would typically call a concept, in my opinion, so we decided to call it the custom because it was a little bit more underground.” OK, call it what you will. We will call it loud! I must admit I felt slightly guilty about firing up the
bike one early weekday morning at my house. There is really no muffling going on in those giant stacked S&S pipes, but any guilt melted away because the engine sounded so good.
The standard Scout 60-degree 1,133cc V-twin is pressed into duty here with no internal mods. Intake is pretty much wide-open, with air inlets in the top of the carbon-fiber “fuel tank” bodywork, and the exhaust is— ahem—less restrictive than stock. Output on our dyno was 99 horsepower and 77 pound-feet of torque, with the same broad spread of the stock Scout but with a lot more urgency. It also sounds amazing on throttle.
The bigger surprise was the overall civility of this handmade bike. Most “customs” don’t see much engineering, but the engine mapping and Öhlins suspension and fundamental geometry of this bike have clearly been worked on by people who build and engineer motorcycles for a living.
So aside from a bit of nervousness when I did my customary “shake the handlebars” test at various speeds (if something is prone to headshake, I want to know early), this was a polished and wonderful all-around naked motorcycle. I commuted on it. I rode it on winding backroads, sat in traffic, and lanesplit. It’s just a great-feeling bike.
Roll the throttle open wide, and the sound and speed are richly rewarding, the narrow, light chassis and chunky dirt-track tires giving it a fun and forgiving feel. The chrome-moly steel tube frame and swingarm echo those of the dirt-tracker, and it shows dynamically.
Even better, we sent it out to a dry lakebed with a
“The bigger surprise was the overall civility of this handmade bike.”
former AMA Superbike racer and his steel shoe. Within minutes, he had it pitched sideways down to the footpeg and was laying huge arcs. We also sent it to Perris Raceway’s half-mile oval to ride alongside a Scout FTR750, where it did exactly what you’d want a 19-inch-wheel flat-track-inspired street bike to do: rip!
But it is clearly a custom or a concept and not a production bike. The seat foam is laughably thin and, in fact, thinner than that of the FTR750 race bike. Those great-looking pipes burned the right leg of every person who rode the FTR1200. So, what’s it all mean?
Indian is coy about what this bike represents, but as much as we love this sport for its passion, Indian is in
the motorcycle business. It doesn’t seem to us that there is much ROI in making a custom for no reason at all except that it’s awesome.
“There are a couple of things going on,” says Reid Wilson, senior director of marketing and product planning. “We have a commitment to compete globally, not only in North America, but all over the world. And that requires different types of motorcycles a lot of the time. We also have a commitment to live up to the legacy of our founders, who were highly innovative and pushed the category forward when the Indian Motorcycle Company first started. And that’s what we want to do— push forward.”
Christoph elaborates: “Indian is tied to history and heritage, but we’re never handcuffed. It’s our natural benefit of being small and hungry. We’ve ruled out absolutely nothing. Indian Motorcycle is about exploration and delivering a lot of satisfaction to our customers, whoever they are.”
Why do we love the Scout FTR1200? It think it’s because the flat-tracker reminds us of ourselves at our best, the lean athleticism of our sportiest self. And if it doesn’t remind us of ourselves at our best, it gives us something to strive for, like seeing a picture of a world-class athlete moving with intent in their prime.
That is our attraction to the FTR1200. Even if this bike wasn’t built for racing and it’s assembled around a “cruiser” engine, the beautiful powerplant is strong visually and mechanically, and is only augmented by the lean nature of the rest of the bike.
And, as far as ROI goes, I’d say Indian’s already got that. I know I have felt the return on the investment in this product. But like any other passionate motorcycle business, the company needs build bikes people will buy.
OK, that’s what you’ve done. Hurry up and tell the accountants, then get with it.
LEFT: The easy part on this custom street-tracker? Billet machined 19-inch wheels. RIGHT: Scout speedo gives a view we’d like to see more of. OPPOSITE: Mile eater: playing the part on a desert road between stints on the dry lakebed.