There is a new crop of smaller machines on the market, but few are as drop-dead gorgeous as this Fantic Caballero Scrambler 500.
Of course appearances can be deceptive, but it’s been a while since I’ve found myself repeatedly looking back as I walk away having parked a bike, and a very long time indeed since I’ve had people go out of their way to comment so favourably on a machine I’ve been riding.
There are 3 models in the Caballero modular range, with variation tweaks; seats, ‘bars and wheels mostly. The ‘Scrambler’ on test has a 19” front wheel and 17” rear, as does the ‘Rally’ but with raised mudguards and 50mm longer suspension travel. The ‘Flat Track’ model has 19” wheels at both ends. It could be argued that the Rally is the more suitable ‘overland’ machine on raised stance and braced ‘bars alone, but as the core of these bikes is the same and the majority of our six-week 1,800 mile test was going to be on tarmac (like most peoples’ touring), I went for the more road-oriented version. And the Scrambler comes in the gorgeous red. I’m not shallow, but you’ve got to admit…
Collecting it on a cold overcast January day, I rode the 449cc, 40hp water-cooled Scrambler the 160 miles back to the Overland office and have got to say it acquitted itself incredibly well, even on the motorway. Better than I had imagined it might. The engine is a Zongshen unit but one that has been developed by Ricardo Engineering in the UK. Power figures aren’t big but the remarkable 43Nm of torque means that the wildly over-square engine is certainly lusty and can accelerate well from 60 to 80mph when you ask it to. And, as it turns out, it can maintain it into strong winds for hours at a time.
The six gears are well spaced and wonderfully smooth to select with the light clutch. They suit the power delivery well but if I was setting off on a really big trip I might try adding a tooth to the front sprocket to make things a little less frantic at higher speeds and to improve range. I’m sure the engine would easily pull it, even if it wouldn’t be as keen to get the front end light in the lower gears.
The fuelling system is clean and glitch-free but the idle speed seems a little high on the test bike. This might be to avoid the low-down stalling issues some singles suffer, but it’s hard to say as it was perfect while I used it. Trickling along rocky tracks or riding at less than walking pace and manoeuvering tight corners feet-up, the engine never stuttered or caused concern. Definitely one of the easiest bikes to ride slowly that I’ve experienced.
Chassis and brakes
Stepping off a 1200cc Honda CrossTourer to climb aboard this Fantic for the first time meant I initially felt like I’d left something behind, and I don’t just mean over 100 kilos. So light and flickable is the Scrambler it immediately gave me a remarkable sense of freedom. Yes that sounds clichéd, but get on one and you’ll see what I mean. The simplicity and ease of use (apart from the switchgear), the eager single-cylinder engine and the really progressive, powerful brakes meant I just started to smile and ignored the fact the fairing, heated grips and handguards were all still back with the Honda. It almost felt, from behind that tiny but wholesome digital display, that I shouldn’t be allowed to be this unfettered, to be so unencumbered. To be just riding.
The suspension on the Scrambler is straightforward. At the front there are beefy 41mm non-adjustable upside down forks and at the rear a monoshock with rebound adjustment and the usual spring preload. (Suspension on the Rally has adjustment at both ends). The cradle frame and swinging arm are steel and the whole package works exceptionally well, remaining tight even when provoked on rough bouncy roads in the west of Ireland.
It’s worth noting that the Indian-made Brembo (Bybre) brakes are strong and progressive, offering plenty of feel. The front is a 4-piston radially-mounted unit operating on a 320mm disc, the rear a simpler single piston unit. The best bit however, is that the ABS can be switched off for the dirt; neat as you like.
I would love to get the opportunity to ride this Fantic in the Alps as it is particularly suited to being chucked around on twisty roads and is an absolute joy to use on a B road, or in an urban environment as you ride around trying to choose which café to park it outside. Vanity aside, the steering lock is commendable, seating position comfortable and handlebars wide for manoeuvrability, with everything falling to hand…
…except the switchgear which reminds me of something in a French car from the 1970s. As a small manufacturer who must surely outsource many components, you’d think Fantic would have chosen the easy route with something as benign as switchgear, but no. They’ve created an item that keeps you on your toes. And keeps you fiddling. The indicator rocker switch avoids both the common ‘push to cancel’ and the older ‘pull back to centre’ methods. Instead it’s a ‘rock back to centre’ but is also offset in an attempt to be more ergonomically effective. Fantic have succeeded in creating a fiddly faff that involves either failing to cancel the indicators at all or alternating which side is flashing. Because of the shape of the handlebar grips I never managed to use either the horn or the headlight flash and the dip/full beam switch rotates. Really. Doubtless designed for use with summer gloves in Treviso or Venice (near the factory) the switch needs to be grasped between finger and thumb in winter gloves to use it with any accuracy. 1,500 miles in I am starting to get the hang of it, but not when my fingers are cold.
By comparison the aforementioned bijou instrument display is lovely. Sitting low but in easy sight the digital speedometer is clear to read. There’s a clock, fuel gauge and voltmeter, odometer, 2 trip meters and a ‘miles to empty’ readout. At the expense of the fuel and voltmeters, you can reconfigure the display to show a rev counter but it’s the most pointless thing because there’s a delay of what seems like minutes before it registers when you blip the throttle, it’s too small to be legible and the numbers it reads against are actually printed on the rim of the bezel so aren’t illuminated at night… But ‘eh!’ says Luigi, ‘it’s beautiful so who cares?’
The seat (820mm) has proven itself comfortable for 4 to 5 hours at a time, even though it may not look it, and I’m sure the foot-peg position and the limited vibration helps facilitate this. Those footpegs are well positioned for standing too. Although the side panels – especially the exhaust side – do push against your calves, you soon fail to notice.
The lights are LED both ends and the front is really good on a dark night, especially on full beam. Dip can become ill-defined when there’re too many other light sources, but when you’re out there on your own it performs really well. The only caveat is that the front mudguard is so short the headlight (and your visor) is quickly caked in filth in the depths of winter, even when you steadfastly stick to tarmac. On the test bike the high beam warning light operated at will and the rear light lost a couple of LEDs but I never stopped smiling.
In fact, apart from the switchgear, the only complaint I can really level at this Fantic Caballero Scrambler is the fuel range and that’s not even its fault as big tank range was never in the design brief. Fitted with a 12l tank the gauge can read empty, the big orange light come on, and the countdown read 15 miles remaining, after only about 105 miles. That’s not to say the bike only does 42 miles to the gallon, (infact it’s returned between 53 and 62.6mpg) but rather that I could never manage to get more than 9 litres in when I got to the pumps. Even if it was running on fumes and I rode it to get the best economy I did on this test, that would be 160 miles at the most extreme.
If you are happy carrying 5 or 10 litres fuel with you when you travel, so be it, but you’ll still be infuriated with the enforced stops because this bike is so great to ride and so comfortable. It’s an odd quandry to face. I’m also convinced it’s possible to record much better economy figures but I was just always smiling when I rode; sometimes too fast, sometimes enjoying the gently popping exhaust on the over-run, always revelling in the 150kg light weight and the deliciously flickable chassis.
Verdict for overlanding
So can it be used to travel? Yes of course. It’s so light to manhandle I’d have loved one of these in many of the hot, muddy, or snowy places I’ve been. It’s comfortable and it’s so much fun on or off road. The bash plate and radiator guard on the test bike featured actually come from the Fantic accessory list, but are standard on the Rally version which also has 50mm more travel on the suspension at both ends. For overlanding the Rally’s raised mudguard would probably be more effective too. The upswept exhausts on both models restrict luggage so you’ll need something custom made to even locate soft panniers, but that’s not a big task and companies like Crobba Customs can do that quickly and cheaply.
Perhaps what surprises me the most though, is the quality of finish this Caballero has. During the test I rode on salt-encrusted winter roads, on gravel tracks, some muddy lanes and on a beach being lashed by the waves of the North Atlantic. Many of the miles ridden were also through torrential rain which might have had some cleansing properties, but it was a few weeks before I was able to hose the bike down and see what was underneath. Apart from a few minor blemishes on some of the spokes this Fantic looks as good as it does when I collected it and I can’t pretend that this quality of finish doesn’t really impress me.
The nature of bike ownership means you may want to fettle a few things before any big trip, but even if you can’t bring yourself to leave the mile-munching GS behind, you should probably own one of these for just about every other occasion. And because you won’t be able to stop smiling when you’re riding, or looking at it when you park.
Colours are straightforward inasmuch as the Scrambler is red, Rally green and Flat Track black.
Fantic Caballero 500 Specifications below:
|Miles covered on test:||1741 miles|
|Test fuel consumption:||53-62.6mpg|
|Fuel capacity:||12 litres|
|Front suspension travel:||150mm|
|Rear suspension travel:||150mm|
|Front tyre:||110/80 x 19”|
|Rear tyre:||140/80 x 17”|
|Front brakes:||320mm disc (4-piston radial caliper)|
|Rear brakes:||230mm disc (single-piston caliper|
And it seems that Givi have now started to produce a line in luggage for the Caballero. The B32 top box with its ‘Old School’ look, features more square shapes and a satin silver central trim and retails for £69. It works with the MONOLOCK® system and also allows you, with the same key, to open the lid and release the box from its storage plate. There’s even a comfortable back support available for the passenger.