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Jan 23, 2017

Magazine Feature: Indian FTR 750 Flat Tracker Test

Kyle Wyman on the FTR 750, a day after the AMA Pro Santa Rosa Mile Photo by Barry Hathaway/Courtesy Indian Motorcycle.

This featured article is brought to you by American Flat Track. American Flat Track is America's original extreme sport. At its core, it's a highly competitive, adrenaline-fueled American motorcycle sport featuring customized motorcycles reaching top speeds of up to 140mph, piloted by world-class athletes. 

With roots dating back to the first two-wheel speed demons in the 1920s, American Flat Track is widely regarded as the most prestigious and competitive form of dirt track motorcycle racing in the world. A lot has changed over the last 90 years, but the spirit of the sport remains as perhaps the truest, purest test of man and machine.

American Flat Track will kick off the 2017 season during Daytona's Bike Week festivities on Thursday, March 16 with the all-new DAYTONA TT, built inside the trioval at Daytona International Speedway. Following the season opener, the series heads north to Georgia to compete on the first Short Track circuit in 2017 at Dixie Speedway for the Atlanta Short Track on March 25. A week later, the series will revisit the famous red clay oval at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway for a fan-favorite, the Charlotte Half-Mile. For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit americanflattrack.com.


"Racebike Review: Indian FTR 750 Flat Tracker"

To read more articles like this January 2017 test ride please subscribe to Roadracing World.

By Kyle Wyman

"I get to ride what?" were my first words when I got the call to travel to Santa Rosa, California, to ride the new Indian FTR 750 flat tracker. It had been eight years since I last swung a leg over a proper AMA Pro Flat Track bike—at the Indy Mile in 2008, to be exact. I immediately called Lightshoe, based in Sturgis, South Dakota, to have them build me a brand-new custom steel skidshoe. 

The 1811cc V-Twin Indian Roadmaster touring bike in its natural habitat.

The 1811cc V-Twin Indian Roadmaster touring bike in its natural habitat.

Part of the deal was in the way I would travel to Santa Rosa—by Indian Motorcycle, of course. I had the opportunity to ride the Roadmaster model from Lake Elsinore up the California coast to Santa Rosa. I’ve logged many miles on Harley-Davidson streetbikes, from Sportsters to Ultra Classic "baggers," so it was interesting to ride Harley-Davidson's direct competitor and see what the Indian had to offer. 

I am not what you would call an avid street rider, but riding the Roadmaster had its perks. The riding position was comfortable and the fairing boasted a flashy and intuitive navigation system, making the ride stress-free as I always knew where my next turn would be. My only gripe was losing an hour or so when the bike wouldn’t start due to an issue with the electronics. Luckily we were in a group ride, had some tools handy and could pop the seat off to disconnect and reconnect the battery—re-booting the system. Regardless, the ride was relaxing and a nice escape from the typical airplane ride. 

The Roadmaster includes a GPS-based navigation system to make it hard to get lost, but the bike required re-booting once en route.

The Roadmaster includes a GPS-based navigation system to make it hard to get lost, but the bike required re-booting once en route.

As a former professional flat track racer, I have been keeping up on the Indian flat track project for some time. Harley-Davidson has dominated the sport for so many years with the XR750 platform, the same bike I rode throughout my career. In June 2016, Indian announced its plans to return to factory racing, to dethrone Harley-Davidson, and those plans revolve around the new FTR 750. 

With a modified engine based on the Indian Scout 750 powerplant, the FTR is as "factory" as racebikes get. With a full custom chassis, custom fuel tank, carbon-fiber bodywork and many other special, one-off parts, you’d be stretched to find much original equipment on the bike. It is a true racing machine in every way. 

Flat track racing is the original discipline of motorcycle racing in the U.S., and is widely known as a pure form of racing. Walking through the pit areas at flat track events can seem primitive to those who are fans of Superbike racing. The bikes are typically simple, carburated and fabricated from the ground up in garages across the country. Flat track teams typically consist of weekend warriors and rarely have well-funded, sponsor-­driven efforts. 

The exception to that rule for many years has been Harley-Davidson’s factory flat track team. The company's "wrecking crew" has dominated flat track for years with name riders like Jay Springsteen, Scott Parker, Chris Carr and many others. The Harley-Davidson XR750 debuted in 1972 through dealers as a race-ready, complete motorcycle and eventually was offered only as an engine. So teams began building their own custom frames and chassis parts, eliminating the need for the complete unit. 

Now, Indian Motorcycles has brought out a complete, race-ready unit. Indian means business, and in the racing business, winning is everything.


The Bike

The FTR 750 is a fuel-injected, DOHC V-Twin with four valves per cylinder, built to beat the Harley-Davidson XR750, a carbureted, pushrod overhead-valve V-Twin with two valves per cylinder. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The FTR 750 is a fuel-injected, DOHC V-Twin with four valves per cylinder, built to beat the Harley-Davidson XR750, a carbureted, pushrod overhead-valve V-Twin with two valves per cylinder. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

My first impression of the Indian FTR 750 involved its unique ergonomics set-up. 

Typical full-chassis flat track machines have a teardrop-shaped fuel tank, but the tank on the FTR is located under a tank-shaped carbon-fiber cowling, and is flatter in profile which allows the rider to easily move forward and back on the seat. It felt like a cross between a full-chassis "framer" flat track bike and the DTX style motocross-based flat track bikes you see in the GNC Singles events today. The pegs are offset as they should be on a true flat track bike—the left footpeg is higher and further back than the right, allowing more ground clearance on the left hand side of the bike. 

The wide and strategically-bent handlebars give the rider good leverage and feel. Flat track is a physical sport, especially in changing conditions, and the wide bars give the rider an opportunity to make quick adjustments in the corners for precise bike placement. The bars have off-road woods-riding type hand guards, used at loose tracks like Santa Rosa to block flying roost and stones thrown up by the bikes in front. Broken fingers would be likely without them. 

The FTR 750 has a four-speed transmission, with the gearshifter on the right hand side of the motorcycle, above the rear (and only) brake lever. Pulling out onto the mile course and shifting through the gears, the shift pattern is reverse on the right side, just like on the rival Harley-Davidson XR750. In flat track, the bike is traditionally geared to use only top gear around the entire racetrack. After reaching fourth gear, it’s only the bike, rider, throttle and rear brake. 

The rear brake on the FTR is well-developed. Brake lever location, size and throw is crucial in achieving a certain level of feel and feedback, and Indian engineers seem to have gotten it right. The lever location allowed me to use it with the toe of my boot, without taking my heel off the peg. 

Weighting the outside footpeg in flat track is an important technique, and the layout allowed me to do that. The rear brake was not touchy but offered good power and consistent feedback, allowing linear load to be introduced through the rear tire and chassis. 

Superbike team owner and Superbike racer Kyle Wyman rides Joe Kopp’s Indian FTR 750 on the Santa Rosa Mile track. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Kyle Wyman on the FTR 750, a day after the AMA Pro Santa Rosa Mile. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Indian is being very secretive about the FTR 750 and didn't reveal much in the way of technical details or specifications, and some of the technical specs we were provided were clearly wrong—46-degree included valve angles went away a long time ago! The company does admit that the wet-sump DOHC V-Twin engine has four steel valves per cylinder, that the two cylinders are set at a 53-degree angle, that the engine has a bore and stroke of 88 mm x 61.5 mm, displaces 750cc and has a compression ratio of 14:1. And, when pressed, that the intake valves are 33.5 mm in diameter, the exhaust valves are 30 mm, and the included valve angle is actually 23 degrees, with the intake valve angle measuring 10.5 degrees and the exhaust valve angle measuring 12.5 degrees. And the cams are driven off the crank by a chain. 

Other specs released by the company include 38 mm throttle bodies and an oiled gauze air filter, plus a four-speed transmission and primary drive gearing of 32/60 for a ratio of 1.875:1. Published sources reveal that the company has selectively released additional information, including that rake is 25 degrees (+- 2 degrees), trail is 3.9 inches (99 mm) and wheelbase is 55 inches (1397 mm). 

Still secret? Connecting rod length and material. Engine redline. Valve stem diameters. Valve timing and lift. The type and number of clutch springs used. The number of clutch plates. The internal gear ratios. The type of ignition system used. Oil capacity. Seat height, peg height, fork tube diameter. Rim width. Claimed dry weight. And the ultra-top-secret— overall length, width and height!


Frame and Chassis

The FTR 750 features a full custom frame, designed with input from successful flat track teams and based on their bike designs. Many teams have entered flat track with new chassis and frames built around a variety of different engine brands and platforms. Many try, many fail, and very few have been able to consistently compete with the Harley-Davidson XR750. 

Indian's first attempt at creating a flat track chassis seems to be extremely well-planned, with an incredible amount of research. The tube frame is designed to cradle the Scout motor snugly, removing any thought that the engine born to take cruiser riders down the road was just thrown into the frame. 

Right side of the Indian FTR 750, a modern flat-track racebike. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Right side of the Indian FTR 750, a modern flat-track racebike. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

The Indian racer rolls on custom, 19-inch cast-aluminum-alloy wheels, with the rear wheel built using extra material, making it heavier than a conventional wheel. 

That's because flat track rules specify a maximum weight for rear wheels, as heavier wheels can produce more traction and driving grip. Indian has clearly taken this into consideration and designed a wheel for its specific application. 

The Indian FTR 750's triple clamps are custom designed and machined from aluminum alloy using computer controlled equipment; they only hold the fork tubes, handlebars and controls, with no front fender or braking components. The rear shock is directly mounted to the custom swingarm with no linkage system. Suspension adjustments are limited to spring rate, compression damping and rebound damping.


Innovation

As basic and primitive as a flat track bike can appear, the Indian FTR 750 has features never before been seen in the sport. 

One detail that really stands out is the location and design of the air intake. The carbon bodywork that covers the aluminum-alloy fuel cell has a mesh-covered intake duct that runs behind the tank. It is a design made possible by the Scout fuel injection, and the intake location virtually eliminates the possibility of dirt clogging the air filter. The absence of two large and clunky external air filters that are typically found on the right side of the carbureted Harley-Davidson XR750 is a major improvement in function and ergonomics. 

One very unique characteristic of flat track is the wide range of different venues that are raced on. They are broken down into four general categories—short track, TT, half-mile and mile. For 2017, pro flat track rules will now force riders to race their twin cylinder machines in all four flat-track disciplines for the first time in decades. Up until and through 2016, TT and short tracks were raced on single-­cylinder, motocross-based machines. The TT tracks that feature a jump and allow front brakes on the bikes will pose a major challenge to teams, which have previously only built twin-cylinder racebikes to compete in half-mile and mile oval flat track events. 

The Scout engine works with many CNC bits and parts, including a shift linkage and system that allows the shifter to be changed to the left side of the bike if needed.Riders prefer that the shifter be located on the left side of the bike for TT events, because the tracks require gear changes and rear brake use throughout the lap. Indian has taken note and is ahead of the game in this regard.

Because this particular bike was prepared specifically for the mile event, we don't know what the front brake set-up will look like for TT races. Likely it will feature a single-disc system, and beefier front forks that can take the load of a single jump per lap.


The Mile

I rode the bike on the Santa Rosa Mile, located at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the day after the AMA Pro Flat Track national race where the FTR made its debut in the series. Joe Kopp had ridden the bike to a Dash for Cash victory, as well as seventh place in the 25-lap main event. After such an impressive showing for the new bike, I figured I would be in for a treat. 

Joe Kopp (3) on an Indian FTR 750 leads Jake Johnson (5) and his Harley-Davidson XR750 in the Dash For Cash during the AMA Pro Racing finale, held on the Santa Rosa Mile track at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. Kopp won the Dash for Cash. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

Joe Kopp (3) on an Indian FTR 750 leads Jake Johnson (5) and his Harley-Davidson XR750 in the Dash For Cash during the AMA Pro Racing finale, held on the Santa Rosa Mile track at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, California. Kopp won the Dash for Cash. Photo by Barry Hathaway.

The Santa Rosa track was originally designed for horse racing, with a very loose and sandy track surface. 

The AMA Pro race had left the track in treacherous condition, and the surface was inconsistent. In some areas it was very rough, while other areas were hard-packed with a rubber-covered groove, and other areas were loose—what you would call the "cushion." It was in exactly the shape you would expect it to be after a full day of hard racing, and a 25-lap championship-deciding main event. But the varied track surfaces allowed for a very in-depth evaluation of the Indian FTR 750 and its handling characteristics.


Riding the FTR 750

Around the bottom of the corners, the bike's handling was initially very unstable. The rubber groove that had formed after the big race had grip, but spotty grip. The bike felt light, twitchy and stiff as it searched for balance. My first impression of the handling wasn’t the best. However, as I grew more confident and pushed harder, the bike settled down. The more I pushed the chassis, the better it felt. The more force I was able to put through the rear shock, the more grip I had, and the more predictable that grip was. 

Around the top of the corners, on the cushion part of the track, the dirt was choppy but loose—much different than the hard-packed bottom where the groove had begun to form. One lap through the cushion was all that was needed for the FTR and myself to find some real common ground, and the versatile handling characteristics made running "high, wide and handsome" feel as natural as ever. As inconsistent and bumpy as the Santa Rosa race surface was, the Indian was at its home in all areas, lap after lap. There was grip when I needed grip, spin when I needed spin, and plenty of power to boot. 

Opening up onto the long straightaways gave me an opportunity to see what kind of power the bike really had. With more force into the chassis and plenty of driving grip out of the corners, getting to wide-open throttle seemed more and more natural the longer I rode. Muscle memory from my flat track days brought me into the classic "mile tuck" on the straightaways, taking my left hand off the handlebar grip and grabbing the fork tube for better aerodynamics. 

I was impressed with the way the power delivery was smooth in the mid-range, then ramped up toward the exit of the corner. The Scout engine seems to be a great baseline for racing. A common mistake when building a flat track machine is to have too much mid-range, making it impossible to control wheel spin on the exits. The FTR has a true balance of rideability and top speed that should make it a real weapon at racetracks around the country. 

The sights, sounds and feeling you get from riding a proper twin-cylinder flat-track bike are incredible at the very least. Riding the FTR 750 felt natural to me as a flat tracker, and it had a classic feel and classic characteristics, similar to the Harley-Davidson XR750 I rode in the past, but with world-class technology. The sound of the V-Twin firing through the custom S&S exhaust whistled through the empty grandstands. The view of the long front straightaway from the exit of Turn Four made me wish I had a competitor to fight over the draft and set up to pass in the run to the line. 

Superbike team owner and Superbike racer Kyle Wyman rides Joe Kopp’s Indian FTR 750 on the Santa Rosa Mile track. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

Superbike team owner and Superbike racer Kyle Wyman rides Joe Kopp’s Indian FTR 750 on the Santa Rosa Mile track. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

With professional flat track racing coming back into the spotlight around the world, it's encouraging to see a manufacturer step in with a large commitment to the sport. Indian Motorcycles has not only designed the racebike of the future for flat track, but has signed three world-class riders to pilot the new bike. Indian's own wrecking crew will consist of 3-time AMA Grand National Champion Jared Mees, 2013 AMA Grand National Champion Brad Baker, and the newly-crowned 2016 AMA Grand National Champion, Bryan Smith. 

With these three riders signed, there's no doubt that Indian has plans to win with the FTR 750. In a sport that has been dominated by Harley-Davidson for decades, it's apparent that the old-school Indian/Harley-Davidson rivalry is on its way back in full force. Will the Harley-Davidson flat-track empire respond? Only time will tell. Indian seems to be on its way to greatness with the FTR 750, and the next chapter of American flat track racing should be more exciting than ever.


To read more articles like this January 2017 test ride please subscribe to Roadracing World.

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