Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom [Safety 3rd Riders Build]

I’ll be honest—I’m not always the sharpest tool in the drawer. After many years and countless examples of me doing stupid things, my friends christened me “Safety Third”. And while I believe I’ve become a pretty safe motorcyclist as I’ve aged, Safety Third does fit me otherwise. The name also seemed like an excellent choice for our fledgling motorcycle gang. To be fair, we are much more like “Grandfathers of Mischief” than “Sons of Anarchy”. So, our families like to point out that we are, at best, a club. Whatever. We decided that Safety 3rd Riders fit the group perfectly.

The author comparing the Indian FTR Rally (left) and BMW R nineT Scramble.

With our newly established club/gang, I needed a motorcycle that fit the theme; yes, I will shamelessly use any excuse possible to get a new bike. It had to be a classic design—a bit of a hooligan bike that evoked emotions and tradition. About a year ago, I did a road trip into the desert, testing the BMW R nineT Scrambler and Indian FTR Rally. While both bikes were fun, I fell in love with the engine and ride characteristics of the FTR. I knew it would be a fun bike to own and potentially our new club mascot bike!

I loved the Indian FTR Rally’s upright stance with riser bars, 19-inch front wheel, scrambler aesthetic, and highly tractable V-twin. With gobs of horsepower and torque, you can easily tackle anything facing you without worrying about shifting much. The only disadvantage was that the Rally was pretty basic in the lineup. The upper speced models get superior suspension, more sophisticated electronics, a lower handlebar, and 17-inch wheels for a more sporty ride and lower overall height. It would be ideal to have an FTR Scrambler with the suspension and electronics of the premium FTRs.

I thought I was out of luck until the limited production 2022 Indian FTR Championship Edition came along to celebrate Indian’s flat track racing successes. The bike included the electronic and suspension wizardry I was looking for, packaged with the 19-/18-inch wheelset I preferred.

2022 Indian FTR Championship Edition.

While there were only 400 Indian FTR Championship Edition models produced worldwide, I was able to find one at a local dealership in Los Angeles. Picking up the bike, I loved its color scheme and stance.

Riding it home on LA freeways and through the Hollywood Hills, I identified an issue I had missed on my first ride—that previous desert ride was in cooler weather. In the Southern California summer, I noticed a fair amount of heat coming up from the rear cylinder toward the back of my right thigh—so much so that I knew I had to make a change there right away.

Other things I wanted to change included removing the ugly, large, and heavy license-plate/turn-signal arm hugger unit hanging off the swingarm’s end. Also, the FTR Championship Edition has a lower-bend handlebar than the Rally, and an exhaust note that is pretty tame despite having an Akrapovič muffler. Further, the Champion Edition has Dunlop DT3-R flat track tires, and I wanted scrambler-style tires. Lastly, to make it something I could do some trips on, I needed wind protection and a luggage-carrying set-up. With my to-do list complete, I started the project.

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom.

The highest priority was fixing the heat/right-thigh issue. That meant changes to the seat, or possibly an entirely new saddle. My spare parts bin had a Wind Rider seat cover ($160) that I had used on my Ducati Scrambler Desert Sled. It provided a nice cushion and good airflow while riding the Sled, and I decided to try it on the FTR. Although it wasn’t an exact fit, I made it work with a bit of finessing. I expected this would be a short-term solution. Instead, I was pleased to find it solved the problem completely. Apparently, the additional height the Wind Rider added and the airflow between my thigh and the seat evacuated the heat perfectly. The first problem was solved with no incremental cost!

The second task was tidying up the rear by getting rid of the swingarm-mounted license plate bracket. I found a tail tidy kit from Bullet Proof Designs ($140). It mounted easily, saved at least 10 pounds of unsprung weight, and provided a much cleaner look.

The next modification was a taller handlebar bend. The FTR Rally has a higher-bend ProTaper tapered aluminum handlebar, while the FTR Championship Edition has a ProTaper bar that puts the grips about two inches lower. The Indian Motorcycle Parts & Accessories catalog offers the higher bar-bend, but being an underpaid motorcycle journalist, I scoured the Internet for something cheaper.

I found what looked like a nearly identical handlebar for about half the price—remember, Safety Third. Unfortunately, this is where I encountered my first customization problem. When I removed the throttle and electronics modules from either side of the stock handlebar, I found holes in the bars that held the clusters in place—my Internet Special handlebar did not have the same holes drilled for the clusters.

After a few weeks of staring at bars with no success, I MacGyvered a solution by drilling holes in the handlebar to approximate stock positions. Fortunately (okay, luckily), I drilled the holes where they needed to be, and was able to use the generic aftermarket handlebar.

Taking the Indian FTR Champion out for a spin was a revelation. I was surprised at how much a couple of inches of added grip height changed the riding dynamics. Unlike many riders—probably because I do most of my riding on ADV bikes—I prefer a more upright stance rather than being over the front wheel. Experienced riders, particularly those who ride sport bikes on track days, usually prefer to be over the front wheel—not me. With the taller-bend handlebar installed, I felt more comfortable entering corners, particularly during deceleration. It just felt natural.

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom: Givi Windscreen

With the ergonomics dialed, I added a Puig windscreen ($128) to take the wind off the chest. I also had in my parts bin a larger universally mounted Givi windscreen I could swap in for more protection on longer rides. An Indian luggage rack ($280) was added behind the seat to haul cargo on those trips.

The last bodywork add-on was a pair of Puig Vintage 2.0 frame sliders ($140). The sliders are long enough to protect the bodywork and radiator, which means they stick out pretty far and are not that attractive; these might not stay long-term.

To complete the scrambler look and dirt performance, I swapped the Dunlops for knobby Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR tires that come on, naturally, the FTR Rally. I had a pair of these on my Desert Sled and was impressed with their on-road performance and for light off-roading.

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom: Pirelli Scorpion Rally Tires

The last major change was to the exhaust. I wanted improved sound, less weight, and a sleeker look than the stock dual cans. My first thought was to try a slip-on single can. Toce Performance was one of the few manufacturers with a nice, streamlined slip-on ready for the late-model FTR. I ordered the Toce Performance Visor Tip slip-on muffler ($639) with a polished finish (+$70) and the dB Killer installed (+$86).

Swapping out the standard Akrapovič cans was a breeze, and no remapping was required. The single-can Toce muffler is significantly lighter and looks cleaner, while providing a definite improvement in sound. Unfortunately, the polished look wasn’t as good as I had hoped; I should have stuck with Toce’s standard powdercoated black finish. Also, the connection to the standard Indian header system is not very attractive.

After a few weeks of riding, I further upgraded the exhaust by installing a Toce Performance Race Header + Link Pipe Kit ($1149). This would drop another 10 pounds and improve performance with a fueling remap. I ordered the satin-finished headers, which can be used with the Toce slip-on or the OEM Akrapovič muffler.

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom: Toce headers

After assuring Toce Performance that the kit would only be used on the track, the headers arrived in a few weeks. The fit and finish, similar to the slip-on, was excellent. Due to the tight tolerances and multiple connections, the installation was more challenging than the muffler, taking the better part of the day. I stuck with the Toce Performance Visor Tip slip-on.

With the fully free-flowing Toce track-ready exhaust system installed, I fired up the DOHC motor; all wildlife in a 10-block radius fled, and I terrified my entire neighborhood. The sound was deep and very loud, at idle and under acceleration. There was also a fair amount of backfiring, demonstrating the expected need for remapping the fueling.

After a few trips around the neighborhood “race track,” I concluded I had gone too far. The bike was just too loud and obnoxious. As I still had the standard Akrapovič cans, I installed them on the Toce headers. The change was easy, and the results were fantastic. The V-twin now had a great throaty sound that was not annoying. It also had improved throttle response and minimal backfiring.

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom: Toce Exhaust

The changes were finally complete. I shaved an estimated 20 pounds off the 2022 Indian FTR Championship Edition, and improved the comfort, sound, performance, and distance capabilities of the bike.

For me, I needed an appropriate riding helmet to match the style of the bike. Torc Helmets has a line of retro-styled helmets, and the carbon fiber T-1C matched the Championship Edition’s carbon fiber graphics perfectly. In addition to being a great-looking helmet, the Torc T-1C has plenty of venting, high-quality parts, dual-certification (DOT and ECE), and is very comfortable.

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom: Windscreen

The final step for the Indian FTR Championship Edition was designing a Safety 3rd Riders logo and subsequent sticker for the tank. It all came out perfect—truly a thing of beauty!

Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom photography by Don Williams


Indian FTR Championship Edition Custom Photo Gallery