Fantic Caballero 700 | First Ride
By GARETH CHARLTON - 31 Jul 23
What does "Scrambler" mean to you? A predominantly road biased machine that won't turn tail at the sight of a gravel track or green lane? Or a mud plugger built to launch off tabletops and negotiate the odd linking road... If you tip toward the latter, get back to your copy of Enduro Monthly, but if you favour the former, then Fantic have just built a motorcycle you might like. A lot.Introducing the Fantic Caballero 700. Now before we wade into the superb list of components or I get carried away describing the ride, a quick recap on Fantic the brand. Founded in the late 60's in northern Italy (where they are still built) Fantic are known predominantly for their trials and motocross machinery, and of course that infamously lairy 70's moped chopper... Google it. They enjoyed success throughout the 80's on the competition stage (sadly, not with the chopper) and more recently have offered a range of Enduro and Motocross machinery. In 2019 they reintroduced the iconic Caballero name in the form of 125, 250 and 500cc scrambler and flat-track inclined machines. Why the history lesson? Because it seems following a few fleeting conversations at the Shoreditch Shed there are a few misconceptions of the brand. Yes, the lower capacity Caballeros utilise the excellent, Chinese-built Zongshen engine, but despite providing strong value, they are anything but budget-built Asian machines topped with a fancy European badge. Fantic are a proudly Italian manufacturer, boasting a vibrant heritage, creating machines with far loftier ambitions than the approval of your wallet. They are targeting your heart and your senses. And in the 700 Caballero, they have leveraged their long-standing relationship with Yamaha to procure a motor that no misguided country of origin snobbery can criticise.So to the motorcycle. That universally adored 689cc parallel twin is hung from a brand new, dedicated tubular steel frame, which thankfully carries over the beautiful CNC frame plates from the 500. Unlike it's largely tech-free Yamaha sister steeds, the XSR, MT-07 & Tenere, the Caballero mates the motor with a fancy IMU to deliver variable traction control and lean sensitive ABS. The three riding modes (street, off-road & user custom) are accessed through a circular TFT dash, sitting pretty above the glorious CNC yokes which grasp the fat, non-adjustable USD Marzocchi forks. Those fork legs in turn straddle a 19' front which is ably arrested by the Brembo caliper biting a single front disc.The styling draws heavily from the mightily attractive smaller capacity Caballeros. Twin, high-level exhausts peak from behind oval number boards which pair with the pleasingly simple white mudguards in a nod to the past. The long, one-piece seat rides up the tank which features a few additional slashes and sculpts over the 500 to embrace that 700 frame and those sizeable forks. My one gripe with the 500 visuals is fixed in the 700 by way of a clean and simple headlight unit replacing the more elaborate bulb layout of the former. Resplendent in matt blue or vibrant red, it is without doubt a handsome machine with a level of detailing many more mainstream manufacturers would eye with envy.As we set about a days riding on the glorious lanes and byways of Kent I was keen to find out if I would register the tweaks Fantic have made to the engine mapping. It is a unit with which I am very familiar from my daily-use Tenere, and it immediately reminded me why I love it so. With a cherry on top. Whether provided via the mapping, the loss of a few KG's, the pleasantly burbling soundtrack of the high pipes, (or more likely the combination of all three) the surging motor has definitely found itself a happy home in the Fantic.As the bends began to swing, the firmer than expected suspension and planted yet co-operative 19' front wheel set the handling expectations early. While never directly referred to as a "Street" Scrambler, Fantic clearly intend for this to be enjoyed as much, if not more so on the road than anywhere else. Which is exactly right if you adhere to the earlier definition of the type.It is perhaps a little unsporting to compare my Tenere (with its 21' front) with the Fantic over ever-tightening A & B roads, and such was the composure and eagerness shown by the Caballero that I soon parked that comparison. Instead my internal debate began to question whether I was in fact having more fun on these classic country roads aboard the Caballero, than I would on a dedicated roadster with a now de rigueur '17 front? I have always had a soft spot for the handling of a 19' on the road, and the Caballero reminded me exactly why. The best of both worlds the majority of the time? I would wager so. In fact, throw some dedicated road rubber at this machine (in place of the admittedly excellent dual purpose Pirelli Scorpion Rally STR's) and you would be well set to surprise more than just yourself on the British road network.So while I would happily have stuck to the tarmac, with the looming mantle of "Scrambler" to address, my 500 riding guide began to lead us down ever more broken tracks. I thumbed the mode button to engage the off-road setting and adjusted my mindset accordingly, but before we took to the byways proper we parked up, and surveyed the five and seven-hundred side by side. It was a timely reminder of what we should and perhaps shouldn't look to tackle. The larger engine is carried significantly lower than that of its 500 predecessor and the exhaust and engine lowers are clad with a lovely, yet decidedly thin carbon bash guard. Gravel tracks and green lanes would be ripe for plunder but significantly uneven terrain would be off the agenda (from the back of my mind, my maligned Tenere summoned a smug smile). At a long limbed 6'4", standing on the pegs tipped me into an awkward downward dog, so with my bum back on the seat I set about kicking the back out of line under power and provoking some skids on the loose stuff. The 700 was more than willing to engage and no doubt would indulge in further dirt-foolery in more capable hands. Our day encapsulated exactly the variety of road network this style of machine should be pitched at, and it is what makes the genre so appealing. That a country ride should not feel the need to terminate at the sight of a tempting track. That the road (marginally) less travelled can be explored, as part of the wider body of a tarmac ride, but not as its sole endeavour. From my perspective the Scrambler box is firmly ticked by the 700, but if you crave more, it is likely that in time Fantic will follow the footsteps of their 500 lineup and develop a more dirt inclined Rally edition... I took a brief interlude on the 500 Rally. Shod with more trail oriented rubber and a few additional inches of ground clearance it clearly had dirtier inclinations than the 700, at the expense of some of those road going grins I was wearing earlier.
If I was applying adventure-tyre style terrain splits to the machines I would pitch the 700 as 80/20, the 500 Rally as 60/40.So, is the Caballero 700 worth your consideration? Most definitely. With Ducati and Triumph's excellent Scrambler options the most obvious competitors and plenty of alternative machines to consider it is a complicated category to navigate. But with that joyous engine at its heart, the quality componentry and tech suite delivering a thoroughly engaging ride, and a smattering of parts and details to make it feel truly special, the Caballero certainly commands consideration. Without the firm evidence of a back to back test, but with a healthy dose of gut feeling, of the three mentioned, it would be my choice. Try one.