FANTIC CABALLERO 500 SCRAMBLER – first UK test


All bikes represent design compromise, which is why no bike does everything equally well:  buying a new one is application dependent.  Adventure bikes were supposed to tick a lot of the boxes: on road, off road, comfort, touring, scratching, two up, the odd track day. But in reality this plethora of apps takes us back to the beginning: compromise. If you want a two up, fully loaded motorway capability, your adventure bike is probably going to be too heavy to risk regular off piste action and be too unfocussed for the track.  If it could do all those things, you wouldn’t be able to afford it and it would still not be equally competent in all departments.  So the question for the buyer is simple: which apps can you do without?  Because here’s the thing…

By limiting the applications, by knowing exactly what you need, you’re more likely to be satisfied with your purchase. You’re more likely to have F-U-N, which is kind of the point. This philosophy goes completely against the arguments for the adventure bike, the Swiss Army Knife of motorcycle design – unless of course what you really want is something that tries to be everything. The new Fantic Caballero goes totally the other way: the applications are on offer are limited, but the boxes that get ticked are done so in bold. If you’re after something that excels on lanes and B roads, in cities, and is so much fun on the dirt that you start looking in for every opportunity to get on it, you have a contender.  A roads are fine too, but on the autobahn is not the Caballero’s natural hunting ground.

Fantic have a pedigree which is half ludicrous and half extremely serious: you don’t win serial Scottish six day trials with a pile of cack, and of the select band of manufacturers who have achieved that summit, none have simultaneously managed to produce what is now fondly regarded as the campest chopper of all time. None – bar Fantic. In a decade which started in 1968, the Italian managed both feats and the  irony is that the chopper is the one most people remember – as an absolute jewel of 70s iconography.

But what goes around comes around, and over the last five years or so the classic scrambler has undergone a renaissance – and the original Caballero was suddenly the Fantic that everyone wanted…

 So the factory decided to make a brand new one, styled along the lines of the original – the Scrambler and its sister bike, the Street Tracker (see pic below), come in 125, 250 and 500 editions: specs and differences can be found here.

Unlike the other manufacturers trying to cash in on their scrambler heritage, Fantic have come to the party with a proper off road contender, courtesy of decent suspension, a 19″ front and by contemporary scrambler standards, exceptionally light weight: the 250 variant weighs in at 130 kilos, the 500 at 143, which feels like at a bit over 150 at the kerb.  This is important, because matched with a modern 500 single and Arrow system in situ, one might expect serious amusement to be had on the road as much as off it. 

Unfortunately Fantic have been restrained by emissions regulations which have compromised the 500 motor in comparison with the party animal prototype my erstwhile colleague Neevesy rode in Italy a few months back, last seen wheelieing up vinyard slopes. That bike was wearing an unrestricted full system. The pretty Arrow set up on the commercially available model hosts three cat converters which undoubtedly hold things back . Don’t get me wrong – I had massive fun on the Caballero, and off road the slightly muted power was perfect for fooling around pretty much anywhere – but on the road you can feel that something is being muzzled. Power quoted is an A2 friendly 43 bhp (crank).  Which means we’re in KTM 390 territory.  The Caballero is actually a 450, and maybe the added 50cc on the tin does raise expectations a tad. But the OE system looks great and sounds nice, and many people wont give a second thought to missing horses – plus no one knows how the capable Ricardo designed and Zongshen sourced unit would respond to tuning. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t mind betting that sooner or later a remap and a full system will appear from somewhere. Just how necessary that is depends entirely on how you want to ride the bike:  it could be that a simple gearing drop would help lift things off nicely…

The chassis is a delight, as you might expect from a marque with this kind of pedigree, the Bybre brakes are  excellent, and the Fantic branded, Euro manufactured suspension works well on the road, while coping well enough off it for the bike to have passed muster in a couple of proper enduros back in Italy. This raises another interesting point. Bikes like the Caballero and even the way heavier Ducati Scramblers seem to cope pretty well off piste, despite both having road biased suspenders. I’d go so far as to say that compared with something more focussed, the old skool, lowish scramblers they emulate are actually more fun for more people once they venture off the beaten track . And the Caballero urges you to do that all the time. Despite sogginess abounding on the Hants / Dorset border where I rode the bike, I could hardly resist a single unclassified road or track. In fact any space without tarmac and traffic appealed, and that’s when I realised that what we actually have here is a great field bike – albeit one with smart LEDs and switchable ABS. The Pirelli Scorpions in situ coped fine unless the going got absolutely bottomless. The indicator mechanism is unusual: it feels like a rocker switch which has to be positioned for cancellation rather than jabbed in time honoured fashion.  

The most subjective element is, as ever, aesthetics… having to include a radiator  (emissions again) means a shroud, and the Caballero’s is a little obtrusive. The styling feature on the top of the tank will divide critics, and personally I would have preferred silver rather than gold as the finish on the USDs. None of which would be enough to put me off if I was a potential buyer.

I’m surprised that despite the current vogue, no one has managed to combine the achievable goal of say 50 bhp with 150 kerb kilos and decent suspension in a traditional scrambler format, because that bike would sell. Meanwhile Fantic is by a distance the closest thing we have to that goal. You’ll be looking at around £6k to get one. If you like having fun on two wheels, it could be the easiest £6k you ever spend.

 

 

 

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