Fantic Caballero Scrambler 500 review

Stephen Edwards, foto: author, Jan Somerauer 24.5.2019


Fantic are not a particularly old brand of motorcycle with the Italian company having their origins back in the late 1960`s. They have been known over the years for a couple of things the first being a good solid reputation in making successful Trials and Enduro bikes and the second for a very dubious looking production 50 and 125cc chopper. Fair to say that the latter are a very personal taste, though these early 70`s machines are fetching good money today.

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As with many smaller factories the company has seen its share of troubles but thrives today under new ownership who are injecting the brand with modern day energy. To this end they offer a range of bikes under the name of Caballero, carrying on a core model from their very beginning. Offered as either Scrambler or Flat Track style in three engine sizes 125, 250 and 500cc the range is soon to be expanded with a rather tasty looking Rally version.

On a recent trip to Croatia we had the perfect opportunity to test the 500 Scrambler version of the Caballero to see how it performed on a combination of street and off road riding. First impressions make a big impact and the Fantic greets the eye in a very favourable way. Styling, of course, is subjective but I immediately liked the look of the bike and it drew favourable comments from others too. What is not subjective are the impressive number of features that stand out immediately. Not so long ago people would get very excited to see components milled from billet aluminium of top of the range bikes, such as Bimota and here we have the very same on the Caballero.

The foot rest hangers are beautifully machined from solid, as are the triple clamps and handle bar risers with the front mudguard stay from solid rod with nicely knurled alloy fixtures. An attractive twin silencer exhaust, manufactured by Arrow, lies neatly along the right hand side of the bike underneath a carbon heat shield and all complemented by attractive bodywork and styling. It is not just the initial features that impress as even on closer inspection the Fantic stands up to scrutiny as a well put together machine, utilising good components and finishes.

The single cylinder, 449cc engine, produces 40hp (29.8 kW) @7500 rpm and 43 Nm maximum torque. These figures may not sound too much but they were more then enough to allow the 150kg bike to be a lot of fun and especially the torque delivery of the motor made it easy to pull up steep off road inclines and power through bends on the tarmac. I was never left feeling like I was suffering for a lack of performance. The engine is made by Zongshen in China and if you are the kind of person who is bothered by that then you are a bit daft in my opinion. It is a lovely unit that shifts precisely and reliably through its six speed gearbox and whatever inputs that Fantic have made to the engine have provided the bike with a well matched heart.

The machine itself is made and assembled in Italy, though again as to why that should matter to people today is beyond me. The Arrow exhaust provides a nice noise to the running without being intrusive to the rider or others. I would not be surprised if someone comes up with a revised ignition map for this machine to allow it perform even better through the exhaust which no doubt has held back some performance to meet emissions standards.

The riding position is comfortable and sits well on its 19 inch front/17 inch rear, spoked wheels running Scorpion Trail tyres. The bike is low enough to make getting on and off trauma free yet has more than enough ground clearance for some spirited riding along fairly rough off road sections. Braking comes courtesy of Bybre which is a product line of Brembo, hence Bybre(mbo), that produce braking systems for smaller capacity motorcycles using the technology of the famous Italian brand at their Indian manufacturing plant. The front is a 320mm floating single disc with radially mounted calliper and a 230 mm single disc at the back both of which performed well even if the rear did not have quite as much feel and it was well used with all the off road action it saw. A two channel ABS system is supplied and can be turned off easily using a handle bar mounted switch.

Suspension duties are handled by Fantic`s own produced units that performed perfectly well. The front forks had no adjustment facility and the rear offers rebound only. The turn signals are operated by what is basically a simple rocker switch on the left handle bar that has to manually be pushed back to centre to cancel. It took a minute or two to get used to this, after becoming accustomed to the `push to cancel` arrangement that is standard these days. It was compounded by the switch appearing not to sit centrally when in the off position but this is not a complaint as it was a non issue after a very short time. The one thing that is the biggest complaint for me however was the electronic display. In todays market where we are bombarded with on board information, it was actually quite refreshing to see something simple in a one of round, liquid crystal unit but this was a little too spartan. There was no gear position indicator and I found the rev counter segments quite hard to see when quickly looking down. The two buttons on the side of the display, to change information or reset, lacked feel and are quite difficult to change with gloves on. Our particular model also had a neutral indicator light that constantly stayed on and would be joined randomly by the high beam warning light whenever it felt like it. This is the one area of the bike where I felt like Fantic had perhaps selected a component based on price.

As mentioned the bike was overall a fun machine to ride and in the conditions we were it was, for me, almost perfectly suited. If it were to be my everyday machine then I would find myself avoiding any lengthy journeys on highways. The bike is perfectly capable of holding the speeds required but it is definitely not this machines ideal environment. Away from highway touring however and the Caballero is much more at home and especially so on secondary roads, forest trails and the like. It is a lot of fun through twisty tarmac curves, picks up well for blasting through a corner and sprinting on to the next one. It handles well when relaxed and there is a certain pleasure in riding smaller capacity bikes where it is possible to use more of a machines capability than on some larger capacity, higher powered machines.

There is an awful lot to like about the Fantic Caballero Scrambler 500 and I am most definitely a fan. The Scrambler fashion is very popular right now and this bike can truly live up to the name as it really does also work off road. At 180,000 Kc it represents great value and truly is a good bike.

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