FANTIC CABALLERO 500 SCRAMBLER (2019 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Highly capable retro scrambler
  • Engaging and exciting handling
  • Very reasonable running costs

At a glance

Owners' reliability rating: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £210
Power: 39 bhp
Seat height: Tall (33.3 in / 845 mm)
Weight: Low (331 lbs / 150 kg)

Prices

New £6,399
Used £6,400

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Feelgood bikes don’t come much more heart-warming than the Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler. Its Chinese motor may not have the power or kudos of its big gun retro rivals and it lacks their electronic wizardry, too, but it’s all the better for it.

A simple joy to ride, it’s packed with meaty, real world punch, charm and a generous level of equipment. Light, smooth and accurate it’s happy to burble serenely through town, flow through B roads and even get its tyres muddy.

When it comes to dirt bike-inspired retros the Caballero 500 Scrambler is a surprising gem and as easy on the wallet as it is on the eye. Put simply, the Fantic is the light, simple, affordable, cheeky Scrambler Ducati should have built…but never could.

A side view of the Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler

It also comes in a variety of different flavours to broaden its appeal, from the restyled Flat Track, to the Rally which has 50mm longer travel suspension, adjustable forks and shock, Michelin off-road tyres, cross-braced bars and sump/radiator/headlight guards.

2020 also saw the introduction of the Scrambler 500 Deluxe with tweaked engine mapping, fork re-valve and retro finishes including brown seat, grips and crossbar pad, new side pods graphics and grey paint.

The Caballero Scrambler 500 is, as the name suggests, a larger version of the Scrambler 250. It's more road-biased than its off-road-spec sibling, the Rally

Once you've read this review and our owners' reviews, you may want to join an online community to get talking to likeminded people. We'd suggest the Fantic Caballero Owners Group on Facebook.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Riding the Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler

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.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Its refined, modern, 39bhp, 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.

The engine is Chinese

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.

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Our Fantic Caballero Scrambler 500 owners' reviews show owners are happy with their bikes. If you're buying secondhand, watch out for early versions that need revised maps and tappet settings . 

We've also heard of a few reliability issues on the electrical side. An owner reports a non-cancelling indicator switch, while our own experience on the MCN250 test threw up a few gremlins too. Read the next section of this review for details...

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
5 out of 5 (5/5)

Ducati Scrambler vs Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler: 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 a massive 39kg heavier, less agile and not as much of a hoot to ride.

MCN250: Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler vs SWM Ace of Spades

Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler vs SWM Ace of Spades

As I prepared to tackle the MCN250 on a pair of single-cylinder scramblers built by non-mainstream brands, I feared the worst. I assumed that the MCN250 would be an MCN100 at best with at least one bike returning in the back of a van. I  shouldn’t have these prejudices, but I can’t be alone in thinking the chances of an SWM and Fantic making it all the way around a very tough, 250-mile test route in torrential rain, were pretty slim.

And when I was greeted in the MCN office by "the Fantic’s headlight has a fault and when the fuel warning light comes on find fuel… fast" my confidence took another dip. But while both are relatively cheap, in this modern world a low price shouldn’t equate to unreliability. And SWM and Fantic aren’t exactly new to making bikes, especially off-roaders.

Fantic are an Italian motorcycle manufacturer who started life in 1968 but built a solid reputation in the UK in the 1970s when, alongside their off-roaders, they released some very quick 50cc learner bikes. Up against the likes of the Yamaha FS1-E and Suzuki AP50, the Fantic was fast and exotic, but also fragile and a bit temperamental.

Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler vs SWM Ace of Spades ridden on road in twin test review

The company are still based in Italy, but now use engines built by Chinese giant Zongshen for their road bikes. Speedy Working Motors (SWM) are also Italian and have been going on and off since 1971. They went into liquidation in 1984 only to reemerge in 2014 with the backing of Chinese manufacturer Shineray Group’s owner Daxing Gong, which is where it gets a bit weird. When BMW sold Husqvarna to KTM, SWM took over the Italian Husky factory and in that deal gained the company’s engine designs and tooling, which they use to build their motors. So yes, both companies can lay claim to proper off-road heritage and both are still Italian manufacturers. But history is one thing, reliability is something completely different.

The MCN verdict

I’m all for historic brands being revived to create fashioninspired bikes like scramblers – but only if the final product is worth buying. On this score the Fantic really delivers. The Caballero is a thoroughly charming machine that is a pleasure to ride. As well as a name that evokes memories of yesteryear, its styling doesn’t compromise ride quality – a sign of a company that understands how to build a motorcycle. The water-cooled single is refined enough without irritating, the chassis is adept and its price the right side of acceptable. It’s a fun, middleweight scrambler that looks the part and has a good dose of heritage behind it.

In contrast, the SWM feels cheap with its lack of refinement counting against it rather than giving character. The misfire was unfortunate but doesn’t excuse it being, well, basic. Where the Fantic feels like it has been crafted, the SWM gives the impression of being an older model given a new lease of life through a re-style, which doesn’t really cut it for me.

Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler vs SWM Ace of Spades ridden against one another

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Accessories include an aftermarket Arrow exhaust system with freer-flowing downpipes and carbon cans, claimed to add 8% more power.

The Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler Deluxe

Specs

Engine size 449cc
Engine type Liquid-cooled, 4v, single
Frame type Tubular steel backbone
Fuel capacity 12 litres
Seat height 845mm
Bike weight 150kg
Front suspension Non adjustable Fantic FRS 41mm USD forks
Rear suspension Single Fantic FRS rear shock adjustable for rebound damping
Front brake 320mm wave disc with Bybre four-piston radial calipers
Rear brake 230mm rear disc with single-piston caliper
Front tyre size 110/80 x 19
Rear tyre size 140/80 x 17

Mpg, costs & insurance

Average fuel consumption -
Annual road tax £69
Annual service cost £210
New price £6,399
Used price £6,400
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 39 bhp
Max torque 32 ft-lb
Top speed 105 mph
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

  • 2019: Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler released.
  • 2020: Fantic Caballero 500 Scrambler Deluxe revealed.

Other versions

  • Caballero Flat Track 500: A scrambler with 19in rims and flat track style seat unit and tyres, Big-wheel handling isn’t as sure footed as the Scrambler on the road. 
  • Fantic Caballero Rally 500: 50mm longer travel suspension, adjustable forks and shock, Michelin knobblies, aluminium swingarm, cross-braced handlebars, sump/radiator/headlight guards.
  • Caballero 500 Scrambler Deluxe: Tweaked engine mapping, fork re-valve and retro finishes including brown seat, grips and crossbar pad, new side pods graphics and grey paint.

Caballero Scrambler and Flat Track also available in 125 and 250cc guises.

Owners' reviews for the FANTIC CABALLERO 500 SCRAMBLER (2019 - on)

2 owners have reviewed their FANTIC CABALLERO 500 SCRAMBLER (2019 - on) and rated it in a number of areas. Read what they have to say and what they like and dislike about the bike below.

Review your FANTIC CABALLERO 500 SCRAMBLER (2019 - on)

Summary of owners' reviews

Overall rating: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Ride quality & brakes: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Engine: 5 out of 5 (5/5)
Reliability & build quality: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Value vs rivals: 4 out of 5 (4/5)
Equipment: 4.5 out of 5 (4.5/5)
Annual servicing cost: £210
5 out of 5 Brillant Fun
17 August 2020 by Jonathan

Year: 2020

Annual servicing cost: £200

A real joy to ride, good handling and a lively engine. Enough retro without looking dated. Plenty of power with great torque. Very confortable seat and riding position.

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

excellent brakes and suspension

Engine 5 out of 5

smooth and predicable

Reliability & build quality 5 out of 5

Quality seem good, no issues

Value vs rivals 5 out of 5
Equipment 5 out of 5

Great tyres suspension and exhaust are lovely

Buying experience: Dealer excellent (Power Start Bikes)

4 out of 5 Fantic Cabalero 500 scrambler. (I call it 'the scab') my findings.
15 August 2020 by Grahame 'the grim reaper' Cooper.

Year: 2019

Annual servicing cost: £220

Great fun on B roads and covers ground surprisingly quickly for 43 hp. I have 25+ bikes and even the Tyco rep S1000RR sat in the garage ignored whilst I was busy re living my youth. Astonishing handling, grips like a limpet on the pirelli scorpions and superb brakes are really confidence inspiring. Mine was an early bike which had not had the revised maps or tappet settings and so these were added at first service. The only other negative for me was the quirky and non cancelling indicator switch (which I eventually got used to) and the left hand switch gear does not like being pressure washed even from a distance (although after an hours drying all lighting returned to normal).

Ride quality & brakes 5 out of 5

A very easy and confidence inspiring bike to ride. 43 hp should not be this much fun on local A and B roads. I have only ridden to the maximum period of an hour so far and it has felt comfortable at this.

Engine 5 out of 5

Feels lively and is capable of covering ground very very quickly. Friends on 1000cc superbikes initially laughed seeing me turn up for a Sunday blast on the 'scab' but were soon to be shocked by it's pace as well as cornering abilities once it gets going.

Reliability & build quality 4 out of 5

As above. Many early bikes required revisions at first service after running hot and with hesitant fuelling. My TPS (throttle position sensor) also had to be adjusted but I have known no others requiring this. On delivery I covered all exposed fasteners with XCP rust blocker, something I do on all of my machines and I can see no corrosion anywhere whatsoever.

Value vs rivals 3 out of 5

I was really unlucky as my supplying dealer (an MV dealer) had ceased trading by the time first service was due and so I had to journey 40 miles to next nearest. The early bike warranty work (TPS, revised tappets and map) which I thought would have been F O C but I felt that labour charges for the service were inflated in order to offset this as I paid double what most others in the owners club had paid. It has to be noted that Fantic UK have no control over what dealers charge for their labour. (This was my answer after I queried it with them).

Equipment 4 out of 5

Tyre choice 10/10. Not a bike intended to be lavishly equipped. The tank range is low and fuel gauge could be more accurate. I have rerouted my exhausted header to be neater (just my personal choice) and have fitted ex military canvas camo panniers using a simple rail to secure the n/s safely away from the rear wheel. I have sometimes carried extra fuel in these whilst assessing tank range.

Buying experience: Dealer. £6200. I was very unlucky as my bike was poorly prepped and the dealer ceased trading soon after purchase.....see above.In fairness others have had great experiences.

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