The Fantic Caballero is something of a cult motorcycle. Although a rare sight on British roads, the stylish single has a small but loyal following. Now the Italian brand is introducing a new derivative, called the Explorer 500, with more off-road and touring capabilities.
Powered by Fantic’s own design engine (albeit assembled by Zongshen in China) the ‘500’ is actually a 449cc single-cylinder unit. It produces 40bhp and, with only 150kg to haul around (before adding fuel and the rider), it’s got more than enough to create a lively motorcycle.
The Caballero has been around for a few years now, in learner legal 125cc form as well as the 500, and Fantic is really starting to make big inroads in becoming a bigger player in the motorcycle market. This year saw the introduction of a new 700 version, powered by Yamaha’s MT-07 motor, while the Explorer is more a derivative of the Scrambler 500 – with taller suspension, a bunch of touring orientated accessories and some knobbly tyres for some real ‘go anywhere’ capability.
In many ways those tyres, Michelin Anakee Wilds to be precise, make it difficult to truly appraise the Explorer as a road bike. The Michelins really are an amazing tyre, essentially being road legal off-road rubber, but their greatest strength is off the road rather than on it. We did a bit of riding on a local farm and they were brilliant, but on road you do feel the blocks moving around and that doesn’t inspire too much confidence. For road riding, I’d probably opt for a set of Anakee Adventures or Pirelli Scorpion STRs, as fitted to the Scrambler and Deluxe versions, because although the initial turn in feels light and precise, the OE tyres feel a bit squishy and don’t show the Caballero’s true potential on the asphalt.
The Explorer is one of five Caballero 500s, being an extension of the Rally version. With their off-road focussed chassis, the Rally and Explorer both have longer travel suspension and higher saddles than the Scrambler and Deluxe – being 40mm taller with an 860mm seat height (the fifth derivative is the Flat Track 500 with its more distinctive styling and 19” wheels front and rear). As a shorter rider, at around 1.65m, I found the Explorer a little bit of a stretch. With the slightly forward handlebar position, long tank and an exhaust position which made straddling the bike a little wider than might be expected, as well as the tall suspension, it was a little uncomfortable and awkward for me, but still manageable. I suspect taller riders will fit the Explorer much better than I do and if you’re shorter, and like to be more surefooted at a standstill, the Scrambler or Deluxe should provide a much more confidence inspiring alternative.
At £7449 the Explorer is the most expensive model in the Caballero 500 range, £700 more than the base Scrambler and a £250 more than the Rally upon which it is based. That’s pretty good value if you like the extras you get, mainly the 17-litre saddle bag, engine bars, rear rack and a natty little tank bag which is a bit on the small side but still useful for keeping your phone, wallet and important documents. Along with the Rally, the Explorer gets the high front mudguard, flyscreen, aluminium swingarm and enduro style handlebars to distinguish it from the more street orientated models.
And actually you also get a very good specification of motorcycle for the price. The motor’s quick enough and the chassis is full of loads of quality components, like the sweet exhaust made by performance specialists Arrow and some really cool CNC machined parts. You get adjustable suspension, brakes from Brembo’s ByBre sub-brand, Michelin tyres and an ABS system which can be turned off for riding on rough terrain. We actually spent a good bit of time riding on the dirt tracks of a friendly local farmer and it handled really well. If I was looking for a simple and manageable bike upon which to tackle an around the world adventure the Fantic would definitely be on my shortlist, the only fly in the ointment being the rather small 12-litre fuel tank and slightly firm seat.
For me personally it’s more suited as a weekend plaything, best enjoyed down back lanes and occasional dirt sections, or as a cool city commuter (probably after a quick tyre change). It looks great, with a real ‘60s retro vibe. The two-tone white and bronze (don’t call it brown) combo looks fantastic and although its not exactly mainstream, it’s easy to see why these have such a loyal following.
I really enjoyed my time with the Fantic Caballero Explorer 500. As a day-to-day ride, I’d probably opt for the Scrambler version instead, with its more road orientated rubber and lower seat height, but for taller riders or those looking for occasional off-road forays the Explorer makes a lot of sense.
Fantic is a smaller brand but the quality looks good. They’ve worked with some big hitting names to develop the motor (British company Ricardo Engineering helped with the development, Italian tuning firm Athena worked on the electronics and Arrow developed the exhaust system) and while the engine itself is currently assembled in China the bike is very much Fantic and very much Italian, with final assembly taking place at the company’s factory near Treviso.
It's not perfect and it won’t be for everyone but if you’re still reading this and still thinking it’s right up your street, chances are you would enjoy being the next member of the Caballero Club.