By Michael Gougis
Power cruisers started hitting the market right about the time I started riding motorcycles,. At first, they were standard-style Inline-4s with higher bars and a lot more power out of the box than traditional V-Twin cruisers. Then came a wave of V-4s, with even more power. They all followed a similar theme: Street style and reasonable handling, with big chunks of tire-shredding torque. Lap times weren’t the goal. The idea was to make the rider feel like they were launching off the line at the drag strip–and to look totally badass while doing it.
Indian lists its 2023 FTR R Carbon in its Standards lineup, but riding it reminded me of those days when it was all about the kick in the butt caused by a twist of the wrist. To be sure, it handles, brakes, and generally behaves way better than those beasts of yesteryear. But get on the gas on the Indian, pretty much in any gear, at any rpm, and fun stuff starts to happen. The fact that the FTR successfully blends retro and modern styling, that it makes all the right sounds, and that it comes with advanced electronic rider aids that make riding the bike more fun is all great, to be sure. But an Indian FTR is really all about a surge of speed, accelerating with enough grunt to make the rider grin.
Indian engineers didn’t dumb it down when it came to the FTR. The engine is a liquid-cooled, four-valves-per-cylinder 1,203cc V-Twin with a bore and stroke of 102mm x 73.6mm, dual overhead cams, and a compression ratio of 12.5:1. A pair of 60mm throttle bodies handle intake chores, while a 2-1 exhaust with a catalytic converter routes the exhaust gasses to the rear. Indian marketeers claim the engine makes 120 horsepower, which with typical losses to the rear wheel on the dyno is right in the ballpark with the 112.07 bhp we found at 7,870 rpm on the dyno at Mickey Cohen Motorsports (1961 E Miraloma Ave Unit B, Anaheim Hills, CA 92870, (714) 993-5000, www.cohenmotorsports.com). Of more importance is the torque, which peaks at 82.16 lbs.-ft. at 6,000 rpm and comes on strong from the very bottom of the rpm range.
Indian routes that power through a six-speed transmission with an assisted/slipper clutch, and helps the rider manage it with a comprehensive suite of electronic rider aids. The machine comes with three ride modes (Rain, Standard, Sport), and Lean Angle Sensitive anti-lock brakes and stability control are standard. Traction control is standard, as is front lift (or wheelie) control plus rear wheel lift control and cruise control. The styling may be traditional, but the electronics are modern-spec for a street bike. For those who want a little more retro in their riding experience, the TC and the “wheelie mitigation” systems can be switched off.
Speaking of retro, the chassis is about as retro as it comes among modern motorcycles. It’s a steel-tube trellis frame with a steel swingarm as well. In the tradition of the power cruiser, the wheelbase is long, at 60 inches (1,524mm). And the seat height is a moderate 30.7 inches, not cruiser-low, but comfortably low among modern machines.
Braking is top-shelf, with 320mm (12.6-inch) dual discs in the front and a single 260mm (10.2-inch) rotor in the rear. Brembo four-piston calipers are mounted up front, with a twin-piston Brembo caliper operating on the back wheel.
Suspension is a high specification as well. Up front, the 43mm inverted Öhlins cartridge forks are adjustable for spring preload plus compression and rebound damping. In the back, a single Öhlins shock with a piggyback reservoir is equally adjustable. Wheel travel is 120mm (4.7 inches) front and rear.
The ancillaries are all thoroughly modern, including the four-inch touchscreen display screen, the Bluetooth compatibility, the LED lighting all the way around. And the carbon-fiber components are stylish and set the FTR apart from other machines in its class, if, really, there are any. There are big V-Twins and sport-naked machines, but none really combine these elements the way the FTR does.
The Riding Experience
Fire it up, and the FTR is remarkably civil at idle. The exhaust note is distinctive and speaks the language of power, but it is not obnoxious. It’s easy to throw a leg over the reasonable seat height. The riding position, Indian says, is derived from its FTR750 flat track racer. I call it Modern Hooligan; the bars are low but not clip-ons; the pegs far enough back that the rider is canted a bit forward, as though prepared for the wheelie that they know is coming!
While its looks may be derived from the flat track world, it’s clear that Indian’s engineers have done their job on making the FTR rideable in the real world. The vibration is what you’d expect and want from a big V-Twin, more a rumble rather than a buzz. It’s actually a pleasant part of the riding experience, and the mirrors remain clear and usable. The clutch pull is reasonable, the brakes effective without being touchy. There’s no excessive heat, and little in the way of mechanical noise. It’s a pretty civil place to operate from around town and in traffic.
Twist the throttle hard, and the FTR remains civil–but stuff is hurtling back at you, fast. It’s like everyone else on the road suddenly slowed! The response from the torquey engine is immediate, ample, and satisfying. And the electronic rider aids work as intended, keeping the party from going out of bounds unless you decide that’s what you want to happen.
Metzeler Sportec M9 RR tires provide plenty of traction for anything reasonably responsible on the street, and the Öhlins suspension performs as expected. The tubular bars provide good leverage, but the bike isn’t overly heavy to begin with, so flicking it from side to side is relatively easy and precise. If I had any complaint, it’s that the seating position sort of crouched me into the wind blast, and the combination of wind and seating position wore on me more quickly than I’d have liked on a longer ride.
But let’s face it: Nobody will buy this thing to cover continents. It’s for short bursts of motorcycling madness, and it absolutely delivers thrills when you get, shall we say–enthusiastic!. Whether it’s firing off the line at an intersection or whipping through a twisty road, the bike accelerates hard, handles well, and brakes with alacrity. The best part, though, is that the bike tells the rider, loudly and clearly, that it is doing all of these things. The rider feels the riding experience on the FTR, and for the type of riding most FTR owners will be doing, that is exactly what they want.
To the non-motorcyclist, the FTR looks retro. To the informed eye, the FTR screams up-to-date. Indian has done a remarkable job in hitting both targets and, of bringing new life into the power cruiser category. How could that possibly be anything other than awesome?
P.S. For some, Indian’s decision to hang the license plate off the end of the swingarm is aesthetically unpleasant. For those customers, Indian offers a kit for $299.99 that, along with the $99.99 accessory mounting kit, allows the owner to relocate the license plate and rear turn signals under the seat. It’s nice when a manufacturer offers that kind of styling flexibility…
Suggested retail is $17,249.