American motorcycling is about more than just cruisers. Indian and Harley-Davidson both have long histories with racing on dirt flat tracks and wooden board tracks. However, they’ve also competed in something a bit more obscure in the US: hill climb racing. But for the first time since WWII, Indian is rejoining the racing series with the FTR750.
What’s a motorcycle hill climb race like?
It’s natural, when you hear ‘hill climb,’ to think of Pikes Peak. The race that’s held there is called ‘Pikes Peak Hill Climb,’ and motorcycles do compete there. But that’s not the kind of hill climbing that Indian will compete in.
The sport’s existed since the beginning of the 20th century when competitors raced on their every-day motorized bicycles. Sometimes, they raced each other directly; other times, it was a race against the clock. And over the years, hill climb racers started building dedicated, specialized machines to eke out faster times.
The sport’s heyday was in the 1920s and 1930s when multiple manufacturers ran factory-sponsored teams. Triumph, Harley-Davidson, and yes, Indian, all competed heavily. However, Indian left the sport in 1939, Cycle World reports. Soon after, hill climbing mostly faded from the limelight.
However, over the past decade, hill climb events have seen a revival. Harley-Davidson even raced some modified Sportsters in the Winter X Games’ hill climb events, The Drive reports. And now, Indian wants to get back in the game.
Turning the Indian FTR750 into a hill climb racer
Although Indian’s cruisers have been turned into off-roaders, hill climb bikes are closer in design to dirt bikes and dual-sports. Instead, the company’s new racing motorcycle is based on the Indian FTR750 flat-tracker, RideApart reports.
While the Indian FTR750 has achieved a great deal of racing success, flat-track racing and hill-climbing aren’t quite the same. Prepping the FTR750 for the latter therefore required a fair bit of modification, Cycle World reports. Because the bike speeds uphill, it requires a longer swingarm, both for stability and better rear-wheel traction. The updated FTR750 also has a modified chassis, as well as a new clutch and S&S exhaust.
The hill-climbing Indian FTR750 still has a 750cc V-twin. However, it has new pistons, cylinders, and cylinder heads. The seat and body panels are modified as well, for better ergonomics. The same goes for the front end and forks, which are closer to that of a dirt bike.
However, the tires aren’t too dissimilar from those used in flat tracking. Normally, hill climb motorcycles’ tires have extended paddles, for better grip. But the American Motorcyclist Association’s new Pro Hillclimb Twins class doesn’t use them. That’s why, instead of the heavier but more powerful FTR1200, Indian’s using the FTR750: the latter won’t overwhelm the tires.
Will there be a street version?
The modified Indian FTR750 will make its debut in the 2020 AMA Pro Hillclimb Twins Racing series. The first race is scheduled for September 19, 2020, at White Rose in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania.
Once the racing bike debuts, though, will Indian eventually offer a street-legal FTR750 for prospective hill climbers? As of this writing, there’s no indication that the company is planning to do that. However, the FTR1200 lineup exists in part because the racing bikes were so well-received. So, it’s not an impossibility. And if Indian did release a street version, it would be the closest thing to an American dirt bike. That could poach sales away from the likes of KTM, Husqvarna, and Honda.
But before all that, the new Indian FTR750 has to get up that first hill.
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