2020 Indian FTR 1200 Rally first ride review: From flat track to rat pack

Indian Motorcycle's sportiest offering ditches the dirt for the bright lights and big city.

The FTR Rally's matte gray paint and brown seat give it a more urban, upscale look that we dig.
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Indian Motorcycle's FTR 1200 has been a bit of a wake-up call for the American motorcycle industry. It takes the things that America is great at -- making big, awesome-sounding V-twins and building motorcycles of very high fit and finish -- and applies tons of cool flat-track racing style and modern tech. It's been a big hit for Indian, and now the company wants to make it appeal to a wider range of customers.

Indian started by hiring Ola Stenegärd, father of the BMW R NineT, to lead the design. The company then decided to bring its new bike in at a lower price. The result of this is the FTR 1200 Rally, which will cost around $13,500 when it goes on sale.

Because the Rally is based on the lowest-spec FTR 1200, it gets the back-to-basics analog speedometer instead of the touchscreen display found on more expensive models. The next significant change -- and perhaps my favorite one -- is the tires. Gone is the Dunlop flat-track-style rubber, and in its place, you get wire-spoked wheels and Pirelli Scorpion STR tires. The cool thing is that these tires may look like off-road knobbies, but they ride more like street tires with little of the vibration and squirmy feelings of real off-road rubber. There will likely be people whining about a lack of off-road capability, but that's not the point of this bike. 

The move from the standard bike's flat-track-inspired Dunlops to these Pirelli Scorpion STRs is a welcome one.

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Next, Indian made some aesthetic changes. The Rally gets a new matte-gray tank, a small flyscreen, a brown seat, a black trellis frame and taller handlebars -- still by Pro Taper, though. The result is less race bike and more urban scrambler. The Rally looks really, really cool, and you'd be hard-pressed to find something as stylish for the money.

Indian claims to have remapped the bike's fuel injection to fix a nagging cold start issue that has been a chief criticism from owners. I can't vouch for that since my test bike had just 2 miles on it and was very much a preproduction model. Other riders in our group claimed to notice a difference, but my bike kept conking out on me until it was good and hot.

On the cold, damp roads outside Portland, Oregon, the Rally rides almost identically to the standard FTR 1200 I already know and love, which makes sense, because the bike is mostly the same from a technical standpoint. The biggest benefit is the more competent set of tires.

Overall, the bike is totally unflappable. I had no qualms about grabbing a handful of brake even when leaned over a bit, or about using the most of the FTR's 120-ish horsepower, even on the wet, dirty and gravel-littered roads near Multnomah Falls

The FTR already presented a winning formula for buyers, with a truly great engine and competent riding dynamics, but now it's looking like BMW should be a little worried.

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 The Bosch-developed electronics all work flawlessly, and since this isn't a cheap bike, you're getting your money's worth in terms of safety tech. As with the standard FTR, you benefit from lean-sensitive ABS, but also as with the base FTR, you don't get traction control or ride modes. Basic isn't bad though and the bike is so easy to ride that I never missed the TC, even in the rain.

One thing that the FTR could use, as standard, is heated grips. Even though my hands were dry, thanks to a nice set of waterproof gloves from Rev'It, I found myself shoving the gloves in between the FTR's engine and radiator whenever I stopped. Sure, you can buy the heated grips separately from Indian and have the dealer install them, but for $13,500, you shouldn't have to.

The FTR's range is still a bummer, and gassing it up is still a chore, but that's to be expected, given the lack of technical changes to the tank design. The bike has a big, rev-happy engine and a 3-ish-gallon tank. You just kind of have to live with it.

Overall, the FTR Rally is still the same fantastic riding experience that I've been enjoying since the Race Replica model arrived for a long-term sting in the Roadshow garage, just in a slightly more basic and subdued package. It's still a friendly, approachable bike that inspires confidence while riding quickly. The Rally offers a credible alternative to the likes of the BMW R NineT Scrambler in terms of looks and comfort without asking a price premium for the privilege.

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