The clop, clop, clop of my steel shoe resonating through my helmet as I walked through the uncomfortable October heat at Perris Auto Speedway in my trusty NJK leathers as I headed toward the snarling motorcycle that was waiting for me.

Not just any motorcycle, mind you, but maybe the most amazing motorcycle I’ve ever been privileged to ride in my 25 years as a moto-scribe.

DirtBikes.com Editor-in-Chief and MO contributor Scott Rousseau rolls the Indian Scout FTR750 through a corner at the Perris Half Mile. Rousseau was one of a select few journalists to ride the bike, which won the American Flat Track Twins Championship with Jared Mees aboard in its debut season. Photo by Nick Stover.

And all I could think before I swung a leg over this gorgeous deep red, black and white Indian Scout FTR750 flat-tracker – something that only a handful of professional flat trackers, let alone aging motorcycle journalists, has ever done – was to blurt out a little sarcastic humor to my friend Bryan Bergen.

“Stand back,” I told Bergie, “I’m gonna throw this thing through the fence.”

It was nervous sarcasm to be sure, as the last thing I wanted to do was scratch anything besides the tires on what I believe is one of the coolest purpose-built, factory racing motorcycles ever. My mind was quickly rehashing the paperwork I’d signed in order to ride the damn thing in the first place. I couldn’t recall seeing a clause on the order of, “If you crash the hell out of this thing, you owe us 50 grand,” but it was probably in the fine print, and my eyes are too shot to read that tiny drivel anymore.

Besides, I would have signed my life away for the opportunity to ride an Indian model that has already made history. I mean, in 2017, Indian did something that no other manufacturer has ever done in the 64-year history of the American Flat Track Series, formerly known as the AMA Grand National Championship Series, when it not only won the premier AFT Twins championship but also claimed the top three spots in the title race with an all-new, ground-up motorcycle design in its debut season.

Going from drawing board to racetrack in just nine months, the Scout FTR750 may be the most compelling proof of parent company Polaris’ intention to bring the Indian brand back to its former glory days when it outran Harley-Davidson on the track and in dealer showrooms. Photo by Scott Rousseau.

Now, if you’re a regular MO reader, you’re probably well aware of Indian’s amazing Scout FTR750, a race-only version of the Scout… Ah, forget that. The two share practically nothing in common other than the fact that they both have V-Twin engines and round wheels. The Scout FTR750 went from drawing board to race-ready machine in just over nine months. Indian certainly stacked the 2017 title odds in its favor when it hired the three riders who have held the flat-track championship (among them) since 2012, including four-time champion Jared Mees, 2013 champion Brad Baker and 2016 champion Bryan Smith. What followed was as dominant a performance by a Harley-Davidson interloper as the series has ever seen.

And it isn’t like the Scout FTR750 was the product of some years-long development cycle. What began as an idea by Indian Motorcycle V.P. Gary Gray and Indian Motorcycle President Steve Menneto to get the Indian brand back to its roots and ultimately shocked the flat track world was little more than a pipe dream just three short years ago.

“We had to get our core business in shape before we could even think about this,” Gray told me at Perris. “Since we started on the first production [street] bikes, we had talked about going back to flat track. We launched 11 models in three years, developed our dealer network and had a pretty good base, so we started talking about what we could do to give back to the sport. I talked to Steve (Menneto, President of Indian Motorcycle) and said, ‘Here’s an idea of something that we could do in the next two to three years.’ Then in September of 2015, Steve made the announcement that Indian would be back in flat track in 2017 or 2018. That was way faster than I was thinking, but we started designing the bike in December of 2015, and were on the track testing by June of 2016.”

Indian Motorcycle Vice-President Gary Gray is living the dream. Along with Indian Motorcycle President Steve Menneto, Gray pushed for Indian’s return to flat-track racing, setting realistic goals in the first season. Safe to say that those goals were not only met but far exceeded. Photo by Scott Rousseau.

Engine design and construction was handled by Swissauto, a Polaris-owned company that already had a track record designing MotoGP engines. Chassis development was coordinated with aftermarket V-Twin parts supplier S&S. A few bits and pieces were sourced from companies with long-standing reputations for producing quality flat-track parts. In light of how well the bike performed when it made its debut at the Santa Rosa mile in California with former AMA Grand National Champion Joe Kopp, it seems like such a short amount of time, but then again maybe not. The bike Kopp rode was the product of extensive testing during much of the 2016 American Flat Track season.

“What we did was we would rent the track after every round so that we could test on good tracks, and we finally got it to where we felt we could make a main event by the last race of the season,” Gray said. “You can test all you want by yourself, but it’s not a real test until you’re in a race. So we got Joe to ride the bike at Santa Rosa, and he qualified in our first heat, won the Dash for Cash and ran really well in the main. That was a really good test!”

With the announcement that Indian had hired Smith, Mees and Baker, everything seemed to fall into place, but the tremendous risk in that move is not lost on Gray. In racing, nothing is a given, and it was entirely possible that unforeseen failures could have made Indian look silly. Dream teams rarely experience the dream. Gray was well aware of that as he wrote down his expectations prior to the start of the 2017 season. If the Scout FTR750 could score three podium finishes, and if one of the Indian factory riders could manage a fifth-place finish in the season points standings, Indian would call it a successful year on which to build for the future.

But when Mees came out at the very first race of the year, a TT track at Daytona that no one had ever ridden before, and he led every lap of the race en route to the first national flat-track win by an Indian since the mid-1950s, the handwriting was on the wall. What followed was a 2017 season in which Mees, Smith and Baker mostly battled each other for race wins and podiums at every round of the series. When the dust settled on the 2017 season, Indian was not only back on top of the flat-track world, it broke records along the way. The 2017 AFT Twins Championship-winning Scout FTR750 tuned by legendary flat-track tuner Kenny Tolbert carried Mees to 17 podium finishes, surpassing the record shared by former series champions Scott Parker and Ricky Graham. Mees also landed 10 wins to tie all-time-winner Parker for second on the single-season winner’s list, two wins behind Graham. Smith added another four wins to give Indian 14 wins in 18 rounds.

Da man in American Flat Track racing right now, Jared Mees piloted his factory Indian Scout FTR750 to 10 wins and a record-breaking 17 podium finishes in the team’s debut season. So why isn’t he smiling? He’s probably bent that he didn’t break the single-season win record of 12 wins set by Ricky Graham. That’s just how competitive Mees is. Photo by Scott Rousseau.

Mees or Smith won the first eight races of season, and Baker joined them for six podium sweeps by Indian. As one final kick to the shins of its predominantly Harley-Davidson, Kawasaki and Yamaha competition, Johnny Lewis put the first of the 50 privateer Scout FTR750s slated to be built and sold to the public on the podium during the penultimate round of the series at Texas Motor Speedway, proving that there is no appreciable performance difference between what Indian sells and what its factory team races. How’s that for a debut season?

Talking to Tolbert about the Scout FTR750 was like old home week. During my years covering the series full-time from 1995 through 2006, I could always count on him to tell me the truth, good or bad. When talking about the Scout FTR750, a project that he became involved with from the drawing stage, the news is almost entirely good from his perspective.

“As soon as I heard about it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it,” Tolbert said. “We started looking at the drawings, and I told them, ‘We gotta have this, and we gotta have that,’ and, ‘This is where the engine needs to be in the chassis.’ We took the dimensions right off a Harley and went from there. Swissauto built such a great, compact engine. We spent a lot of time messing with crank inertia, flywheel mass and sizes. It’s a great bike. It’s everything you’d want in a dirt-track racing engine.”

I wanted to experience the Indian’s magic, but I was also a little more than scared at the same time. As a former Pro-Am flat-track racer, I have a reasonable amount of experience turning left on dirt ovals, but it had been over 15 years since I last slid into a curve on the super-sticky clay of the half-mile Perris Auto Speedway track and I didn’t want to look like a dumbass. I was fourth in line to ride the machine, a smart move I thought — unless one of the journalists ahead of me managed to toss the thing, which would probably have ended our day. Soon enough, it was my turn. No time to think about it or talk myself out of it. Before I knew it, I was letting out the clutch and pulling onto the track.

While Rousseau only got five laps aboard the Scout FTR750, they spoke volumes about just how advanced the Indian is compared to its competition. Its engine is rocketship-fast yet smooth as silk, and its chassis is amazingly well-sorted. Indian selected the best flat-track riders in the world to race the bike, but you don’t have to be one of them to appreciate just how cool the bike is. Photo by Nick Stover.

Each of us would only get five laps plus the cool off to gain a perspective on the Scout FTR750. Five laps. Just a taste. Drug dealer tactics. The first high is free and then you start paying.

That said, in those five laps I remembered quite a lot, and it was amazing to me how my stint brought me right back to the last 750cc flat-tracker I’d ridden on a half mile, 12 years ago, when I was granted the opportunity to ride series-champion Chris Carr’s Tolbert-tuned Harley-Davidson XR750. Boy, was Carr ever right when he proclaimed after testing the Scout FTR750 for us at Santa Rosa last year that this was the kind of bike Harley-Davidson should have built 15 years ago.

Related: Indian Scout FTR750 Ride Review

For starters, despite its aggressive, athletic exhaust note, the Scout FTR750 is sewing-machine smooth – I never felt a hint of vibration through the handlebars or its thinly padded carbon fiber seat. I couldn’t say the same about Carr’s XR all those years ago, and Tolbert confirmed in my mind what my hands, feet and butt had already told me.

“It has counterbalancers, the way they did it, and it’s so electric,” he said. “It doesn’t shake at all.”

Immediately trying to get a feel for the Scout FTR750’s power delivery, I went ahead and whacked the throttle as much as I dared, and its fuel-injected V-Twin responded with the most linear yet forceful pull I’ve ever experienced on flat-track machine. Harleys I’ve ridden have a lot more flywheel effect, so they tend to be a little slower to regain lost revs, but at the same time that stored energy will grab traction and suck you into a corner if you back off the gas, which can be a harrowing sensation if you’re not ready for it. The fast Harley guys very quickly learn to manage that power delivery and keep the XR’s tractor-able engine singing in a happy place that allows them to convert that flywheel mass into drive. Here again, Tolbert backed up that feeling after the fact.

So why is this man smiling? Kenny Tolbert was already a legendary tuner with nine AMA Flat Track titles under his belt before he signed on to help Indian with the Scout FTR750 project. Now Tolbert has 10 titles in the bank, and he is confident that he and Mees can partner up to win some more. Photo by Scott Rousseau.

“You can feed it the gas, and it just picks up its feet and goes,” Tolbert said. “With the Harleys, even when you pick up the gas, they don’t really go.”

On top of that, the pushrod, two-valve XRs have always paid a penalty for their perfect power delivery by running out of rpm up top. In an effort to stay competitive, XR750R teams have stretched that upper rpm limit far beyond what the factory ever intended, drastically shortening engine life, which has only added to maintenance costs in the latter years of the XR’s amazing run at the top of the sport.

Where the Indian Scout FTR750 trumps the Harley is in its ability to spin at higher rpm while also being super-tractable. In fact, the bike I rode at Perris, which Indian officials told me wasn’t detuned in any way, had one of the most linear-feeling racing engines I’ve ever experienced. When you gas it, it hauls ass, but when you let off, it doesn’t keep trucking into the corner, which made it extremely easy to ride and not at all as intimidating as I thought it would be.

The chassis is equally impressive. American Flat Track rules mandate a minimum weight of 310 lbs. for Twins, but the Scout FTR doesn’t feel that heavy at all. Indian obviously got the chassis right. Really right. It steers with surprising precision without feeling top heavy or otherwise cumbersome.

Journalists weren’t the only ones to sample the Scout FTR750 at Perris Auto Speedway. Motorcycle industry icon Tom White strapped on his skid shoe and hopped aboard his own personal Scout FTR750 to make a few laps. White was the first customer to take delivery of one of the 50 copies being sold to the public. Photo by Nick Stover.

Unfortunately, the combination of a sticky racetrack and my own ring rust didn’t allow me to really put the bike into a race-pace slide to see just how far the chassis can be pushed. On the precious few occasions that I did feel it start to back into Turn 1, the bike didn’t impart a sketchy feel at all, and it would easily fall right back into line as I applied a heavy dose of throttle through the apex and off the corner. This last part was the fun part, as the Scout FTR750 builds revs so quickly and willingly that it felt like a rocket down the straightaways. I’d place the pucker factor squarely in the 10 column.

Related: 10 Best Motorcycles at Tom White’s Early Years Of Motocross Museum

Are there any weak points in the design? Well, there were, but as Tolbert points out, Indian was really responsive to input by him and Mees during the testing phase. Coming into the season, both men were confident that they had what they needed to win.

“There were some weak spots, but I don’t want to tell you what they were, and we did overcome them,” Tolbert said. “I mean, it’s no secret that the thing spit Jared off and broke his shoulder when we first got started. After that, those first five engines became dyno engines only. We were given strict orders not to ride them, and Indian went right back to the drawing boards and fixed the problems. The next thing you know, here we are and it’s all good.”

I had already traveled at a pace that was better than I’d expected, and I was looking forward to more when the checkered flag flew, ending my all-too-brief introduction to what, in my mind, is perhaps Indian’s greatest success since Polaris revived the brand. The Scout FTR750 is an amazing motorcycle, and while it would be a disservice to downplay the tremendous effort put in by the Indian Wrecking Crew and its talented band of mechanics and crew who helped make the machine a champion in its debut season, they clearly had a great motorcycle to start with.

Rousseau waves to the camera while backing it down after five of the coolest laps he’s ever spun on any track in the world. Afterward, he muttered something about checking to see if Indian has a Scout FTR750 in its loan pool…

All that remains to be seen now is how Harley-Davidson will respond. It’s no secret that the Vance & Hines-led factory effort has clearly struggled while continuing to develop the still-new XG750R into a consistently competitive machine. It’s to Harley’s credit that it went all-in on the project, abandoning the venerable XR750R, which is a known quantity. It makes me wonder just how much more fun the sport will be to watch if and when Harley-Davidson is able to challenge Indian week in and week out with the XG750R. Throw in Yamaha’s increasingly competitive FZ-07-based racers and the already competitive Kawasaki-powered machines out there, and the series can only get more interesting.

The Indian Scout FTR750 is the best motorcycle in its class right now, and with Indian’s announcement of a massive contingency program for Scout FTR750-mounted privateers in the American Flat Track Series, it’s clearly here to stay.

  • JMDGT

    I really really really like this bike. Did I mention I like this bike? Just in case there isn’t any misunderstanding I like this bike.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      Too bad you can’t buy it.

      • Born to Ride

        Sure you can, they are 50 grand. Idk how many they built though.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          “White was the first customer to take delivery of one of the 50 copies being sold to the public”. How many on this forum can buy one?

          • Born to Ride

            “Not I” said the sad poor man.

          • Gary Latessa

            I delivered vin # 2 and # 16 sits on our showroom. I can’t afford one but I get to check it out daily.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            I have heard of only two FTR750s being sold so far: one to motorcycle industry icon Tom White, and one to Johnny Lewis who podiumed at Texas Motor Speedway.

          • Gary Latessa
          • mikstr

            beautiful bike! Hopefully that engine makes it to the street….

          • Gary Latessa

            Now you have heard of 4. The window of the 50 to be built is closing fast. I suspect several race teams are looking at these very closely. As far as Indian sales, let’s just say we’re near 10% of what Harley does. While you may scoff at these numbers Harley is not. And Indian hasn’t even got a full line up of bikes yet you can bet your Milwaukee 8 we will see a lot more from Polaris

          • Sayyed Bashir

            That was exactly my estimate several months ago when the VP of Polaris boasted at Bonneville that they were already selling three times as many Indians as the highest number of Victorys sold in a year, which was 8,000, so I estimated Indian sales at 24,000 a year. Harley sold 260,289 bikes last year. As far as the Milwaukee Eight, I don’t think Indian has the resources to come out with another big twin. They first have to sell the ones they have. And to most people, the 111 is still good enough. So they won’t be able to compete with the M8.

          • Gary Latessa

            If it’s good enough it’s already competing. And the Indian as a whole is a nicer bike all the way around. And 10% today is looking like 20% tomorrow. Like I said there is much more coming. Don’t get me wrong. Harley’s are nice. But they now have serious competition that they are not used to. There trend is likely to continue even in a stagnant economy. I suspect we may see a new engine soon. The sales are there too justify it long term.

  • B.Hoop

    I think this was one of the smartest marketing moves Indian has done. It puts their name out there on something other than t-shirts, and awnings at group rides.
    The competition has probably also drawn more attention to a sport that was likely thought of as a Harley only series.

    • Sayyed Bashir

      That’s exactly what it is. A very smart marketing move. But does it help sell the Scouts and Chieftains languishing in showrooms? Not so much because they have nothing in common with this bike. People are left waiting for a FTR750 they can buy which could be many years in coming, if ever. Recently went to Street Vibrations and 97% of the bikes were Harleys, possibly 1% Indians and Victorys, and 2% other bikes including Urals, Slingshots and CanAms.

      • Born to Ride

        So, you went to a Harley rally, and saw almost all Harleys. The world stands still at your revelation.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Do you know of a Indian rally I can go to?

          • B.Hoop

            I live in the midwest, so I probably see more Victorys and Indians around here than in other parts of the country, but on a couple road trips out west this summer, I definitely saw more Indians than I would have expected. I saw enough of them that i couldn’t just assume every bike coming at me was a Harley (even though they were, most of the time).

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Are you close to a Indian or Victory plant?

          • B.Hoop

            Minneapolis area. Close to Polaris corporate….

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Makes sense. You will always see more bees near a beehive.

        • Jon Jones

          Made me lol!

        • mikstr

          Poor Sayyed can’t handle the fact that sales for his beloved Hardley are tanking and those of Indian are going up. No sane person would expect Indian to match Hardley’s numbers so soon after the company’s re-launch, but current numerical sales superiority is all the the typical fragile Hardley owner can hang onto…. Not sure if it’s funny or pathetic…

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Mike, I think it is time for you to rest because it seems your nerves are getting frazzled. Your comments are not making any sense. Your facts are all wrong or just made up. I won’t bother to list them all because it will surely be a humongous waste of time. Do you actually own a Indian motorcycle or are just arguing for the sake of arguing?

      • Gary Latessa

        While most of the industry is down or flat Indian sales are up.

        • DickRuble

          there’s a a relatively new dealership in my neighborhood. the owner told me his business in Q3 was up 200% from last year and 50% up from Q2, including used bikes.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            So he sold 3 bikes in all of 2016, 1 in 2017 Q1, 2 in Q2 and 3 in Q3 (including used bikes). This makes it 200% from last year and 50% from Q2. Why does Indian use percentages to hide the actual number of bikes sold? No other motorcycle manufacturer does. Did you ask him how many bikes he actually sold?

          • DickRuble

            I made th story up to show how missleading percentage reporting is. High percentage growth when you start from nothing is meaningless.

          • Sayyed Bashir

            Dick, I am surprised we agree on something.

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Yes, yes, we have all heard that, many many times already. But how many actual bikes have they sold? Do you know? As I mentioned elsewhere, I just went to Street Vibrations in Reno and Virginia City, Nevada and 97% of the bikes there were HDs, 1% Indians and Victorys and 2% others.

      • mikstr

        Funny the Indian dealer in the Montreal area sells every Indian he can get (one of my buddies is a salesman there so I have it from a reliable source), many to former Hog owners… seems some are smartening up…..

        • Sayyed Bashir

          Yes? How many Indians does he get? Who else is going to buy Indians? Sportbike owners?

  • Born to Ride

    We are all seething in jealousy I’ll have you know…

  • Gary Latessa

    I hope this is only the beginning. Victory project 156 is on a shelf and needs to come swinging in a new Indian platform. I also think the FTR engine can make a lot more power. Could a road racer evolve. One could only hope. Indian can become a great Moto cycle company once again.

    • Auphliam

      As much as I hate Polaris for shuttering Victory, I agree with this 100%. They need to dress P156 in some new Indian clothing and release the FTR750 Street Fighter to the world. The problem is, I don’t think Wine/Menneto are smart enough to manage that…but that may be my own personal bias speaking 🙂

      • Kirkland

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      • I hate them for that too. But it did not stop me buying my second Victory
        a month ago. I did have a good look at the M8 before I did. I think that the 114 Fat Bob will sell very well. But it barely does 83 at the rear wheel with the extra 7 ci so you probably need a 117 Screamin’ Eagle Stage 4+ fitted straight off the Floor. Well sorted 106’s with Lloydz’ Cams, Torque Tubes and a good Pipe will smoke them still for years to come. I own an Indian Chief as well – it is the Sunday afternoon-er.

    • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

      i’m liking your road racer idea! hope Indian is hearing you

  • gjw1992

    This vs the Duke790 – and a full production FTR surely wouldn’t be 50k – would spoil us for choice as to the ideal (sub-)urban weapon.

  • michael32853hutson@yahoo.com

    extremely impressive bike and well written article

  • Keith Bednar

    I remember another XR-750 ride by Scott. It was Kelly George’s XR in Iowa. Ya looked good on it I must say !

  • James Edward Zeiser

    I wish I felt as happy as the rest of the World for Indians success. Harley made a bad move sticking their Team on the XG750R. As shown by Jeffrey Carver’s trashing of Mees in Texas the old XR would have given Indian all it could handle. I also really can’t stand the way Polaris bought off Team Howerton to prevent Kawasaki beating their butt. I also can’t help wondering why Team Howerton went backwards in comparison to Mees Roger’s Racing bike. Then lost,,,,badly..to Johnny Lewis on a privateer bike. It almost seemed Indian poured their resources into Mees and left Bryan Smith flounder. Hopefully Team Harley will come alive next year and Team Howerton will return to Kawasaki. After the beating Bryan Smith gave Jared Mees last year I can only blame the bike for his lack of success this year.

    • Gary Latessa

      An XR may run with an Indian on shorter tracks, but will have the rods run right out of it’s cases on the mile tracks. It won’t stay together without crossing your fingers. None other the wrecking crew would have left their old bikes if the Indian was slower. Did you read the article at all. Did you watch any races.14 wins out of 18. 37 podiums and 6 sweeps. There are plenty of XRs out there, but need to much maintenance to stay together. The bar has been raised.

  • Old MOron

    You’re a lucky dog, Scott. Sounds like an awesome ride.