Inspired by the Italian firm’s 70s scramblers, this bright red retro is light, simple, punchy and so well rounded, you’d swear it had been around for years.
It’s so much fun and easy to get on with that you can’t help but smile when you’re near it and offers the perfect antidote to everything that’s too serious in biking, like zillion mph race replicas, pretentious adventurers and stuffy tourers.
Arriving hot on the heels of the 125 and 250cc Caballero Scramblers launched last year, we also rode the prototype 500 on the mountain roads near Fantic’s Treviso factory and came away more than impressed. Its single cylinder engine packed a delightful punch and it was all wrapped up in a taught, classy chassis.
Polished, refined and given the Euro4 stamp of approval, this full production version offers a refreshingly pure and thrilling ride.
Set plush with a touch of firmness for control, the suspension won’t jar your wobbly bits and with its beefy forks, yokes and sticky Pirelli dual purpose Scorpion Rally STR tyres, the capable Caballero carves neat lines and doesn’t flop about alarmingly in the corners.
Its refined, modern, 43bhp, 449cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder motor is built in…China, by Zongshen. But don’t get too hung up on where it comes from, because when you dig deep you’ll find that even the most premium of bikes for sale now have a smattering of Asia about them.
Built to Fantic’s spec, once it knocks at their factory door, it’s slotted into an Italian-built steel chrome moly tubular frame and garnished with lashings of tasty cycle parts
Don’t expect demonic performance when you turn on the taps – the Fantic is calmer than that and doesn’t take itself so seriously. Think of the Scrambler’s motor more like a thrappy enduro engine with all the rough edges smoothed off.
Long-legged, with a seamless spread of power and emitting just the right amount of single cylinder ripples, the fuelling is perfect, the clutch light and gearbox accurate. If all Chinese engines can be this refined, bring it on.
Acceleration is delivered in crisp, meaty dollops and with such little weight to push along (just 150kg dry) there’s enough oomph to keep you grinning as you blast out of sleepy villages and into B-road heaven. Arrow pipes and a deep airbox roar provide the perfect scrambled soundtrack, but removing the baffles as soon as you get the Fantic home will surely be too great a temptation to resist?
There are no electronic rider aids to spoil your fun, except for ABS, which you can switch off where, free from silicone sorcery, the Fantic will handle gentle green lanes and stunt like a field bike.
Tried and tested Italian chassis parts should cause any major problems and despite their reputation, Chinese engines are usually reliable – it’s usually the bikes that disintegrate first.
Few machines can match the Fantic for price, but of course Ducati’s Scrambler comes close in terms of spirit, albeit for nearly two-grand more.
The Bolognese retro’s bigger V-twin motor has more power, advanced electronics and wears a more famous badge, but it’s massive 39kg heavier, less agile and not as much of a hoot to ride.
Just standing still the Fantic gets off to a good start. The styling is bang on and there’s something about a ‘500’ with yellow number plates. It conjures images of gnarly 80s 500cc road racing and motocross weapons, making makes riders of a certain age go weak at the knees.
You get a lot of classy kit for your money: LED front and rear lights, billet ali footrest hangers and yokes, wavy brake discs, Bybre calipers, Brembo master cylinder Tommasselli bars, Domino grips, Arrow cans, spoked wheels and a digital clock. Fit, finish and paintwork are superb.