When it comes to modern bikes, especially trail bikes, I confess my motorcycling palate has become a bit jaded. With just a few notable exceptions, bikes seem to be getting taller, more complex and with an unnecessary surplus of power, as a consequence very few contemporary bikes appeal to me. It would be good to see manufacturers concentrating on producing bikes which are simpler, lower and lighter but unfortunately I don’t see that happening any time soon. However, when my pal Gary brought over his brand new Fantic Caballero 200M Casa I was intrigued for here was a modern trail bike which, on paper at least, seemed to have addressed the needs of the average trail rider.
The magic figures for a trail bike are 100kg wet, 100 mile range and 60mph cruising speed. It might surprise you to discover how few bikes there are that meet these three criteria. Combining two is easy, it’s the 100kg weight which is the elusive one. There are sub 100kg bikes but they’re often too focussed to be viable for 100 mile road trips or sustained 60 mph cruising. The Caballero misses the 100kg threshold but only just. Filled with fuel and oil it will tip the scales approx 5kg over the 100kg mark. Close enough to warrant further investigation I reckon.
Fantic only produced the Caballero 200 between 2013 and 2016 . It’s a model which seemed to fall between the cracks of their UK model range and consequently only a few made it to these shores. The Casa 200 was an upgraded version of their 125 cc trail bike and came with an interesting specification which included fancy forks shared with the current 250cc Casa model. ‘Casa’ in this context literally means ‘house’ as in ‘in-house’ or ‘works’. It’s a nomenclature a lot of Italian factories have used over the years and is usually applied to an upgraded version of a standard model. This particular bike came from Haines and Co Ltd in Cinderford , Gloucestershire who had it lying around in their surplus stock when Gary discovered it.
Lifting it out of the van, the little Fantic felt commendably light for a modern bike especially when you take into account it’s a four stroke (presumably having at least a litre of oil in the sump, plus the weight of cams, valves and an electric start) and is equipped with beefy suspension, twin rads and various other bits of kit to make it road legal in the UK. The engine is rather interesting, it’s Yamaha’s venerable 125 four stroke single factory-fitted with a big bore kit from the Italian tuning specialist Athena to provide a capacity of 183cc. Fantic decided to go with a 30mm Keihin carb instead of fuel injection on this model – it’s a good carb and ideally suited to this application.
I was curious to hear Gary’s fist impression of the bike … “ it’s very similar to my old Honda XL 185, dead easy to ride with plenty of torque low down, it’s just about perfect for trail riding…” Looking at the handsome bike parked outside the workshop there was little to suggest Honda XL185 to me but I can appreciate why Gary made the comparison.
The Caballero is a undeniably a looker. The red, blue on white colour scheme, simple graphics and black rims set off by the fancy red forks give the bike a very striking appearance. The detail engineering is impressive and well up to Japanese standards. Gary fired it up and it sounded good – fiesty but in a sensible, subdued way. Loud trail bikes just ain’t cool and it was nice to hear a pipe which strikes the right balance. Top marks to Big One exhaust systems who are Fantics’ exhaust provider.
Gary and I set off for a 100 mile loop around the Welsh Marches and when we reached a suitable stretch of single track Gary let me have the Caballero’s reins. I ride Gas Gas Pamperas most of the time which means I’m used to a low seat. It was a pleasant surprise to discover the Fantic also has a reasonably manageable seat height of 880mm which means most riders over 5′ 8” should be able to cope, if not it should be straightforward to fit some lowering links. I’d still prefer the seat to be an inch lower though. I’m 5’10” but with relatively short legs and, if my customers are anything to go by, my vertical dimensions are reasonably common in the UK . It’s something I wish more manufacturers would take into account. The average trail rider simply doesn’t need masses of ground clearance and most riders I’ve met would happily trade off a bit of ground clearance for a low seat height. With some clever packaging Fantic seem to have combined the best of both worlds and built a bike with a low (ish) seat and excellent ground clearance.
We’ve had no rain in Shropshire for the past few weeks and on the day of the test the ground was rock hard. This showed up a potential problem with the bike because over some rough terrain the forks were extremely harsh to the point of being bone jarring. Gary reckons they’ll ease up but I’m not so sure. They seemed to have a lot of stiction and were reluctant to return after being compressed. This could be something very simple such as the front axle pinch bolts having being done up prior to the axle nut being tightened ( it happens) or it could mean some careful setting up is required. Time was short on the day and I didn’t have time to investigate but the good news is the Caballero has Fantic’s fancy FRS forks fitted and it should be possible to tune out the harshness. I’m confident it could be resolved therefore it wouldn’t put me off owning one
Out on the trail I really enjoyed the Caballero, the engine is a gem and if I hadn’t been told its capacity before riding it I’d have sworn it must be at least 250cc. The team responsible for developing the Caballero should be congratulated for they’ve created what is one of the most sensible, real world trail bikes I’ve ridden for quite a while. It will handle being left in third gear down to a relatively moderate pace ( say 12mph) and then pull away convincingly with no snatch or unpleasantness and yet the final drive is high enough to make 60mph cruising feasible. It’s got a surprising amount of poke for a small four stroke and on a typical AdventurerRide trail riding day I don’t think I’d find the bike wanting in any way. I particularly liked the way it felt when riding on and off the throttle along gnarly trails On a lot of modern high compression four strokes, shutting the throttle can have the bike pitching up and down on the suspension and this can get quite unpleasant unless you moderate the throttle very carefully. It’s one of the reasons I’m so fond of two strokes, they have such little engine braking they’re very easy to ride smoothly in such conditions.
With its modest capacity the Caballero doesn’t suffer from this snatchiness and was smooth and very easy to control on the nadgery stuff. The brakes were particularly impressive being very progressive in application and quite gentle – perfect for the job in hand. Fierce brakes are the last thing you need on a trail bike, especially if you’re new to the sport.
When we filled up at the end of the day I was astonished to calculate the Caballero had done 85mpg. For the performance on offer that’s a very impressive figure and means its range is somewhere in the region of 120 miles to a tank. Very handy if you’re out in the boonies.
Having experienced problems with a brand new Ossa I purchased a few years ago I would normally advise caution when looking at specialist products from low volume manufacturers because the customer often ends up being an unwitting development rider. In the case of the Fantic I would say this won’t be an issue, the engine is a long-established Yamaha unit and therefore should be bombproof. The rest of the running gear looks more than man enough for the job and Fantic UK appear to have established a network of experienced off road dealers who should be able to provide decent back up and support.
Overall I was very taken with the Caballero and would happily have one or two on the hire fleet should the supply of decent Pamperas dry up. If you’re looking for a good all rounder with the focus on trail rather than road it would definitely be worth seeking one out. Fantic haven’t imported very many of the 200s so that might be easier said than done. Don’t despair if you can’t find one, I notice Fantic’s current 250 Casa is only a few kilos heavier which would make it a very interesting alternative to Honda’s rather porky CRF.
A modern day XL185? Possibly… I can see where Gary’s coming from but I’ll admit that whilst I never wanted to own an XL185, I’d be very happy to have a Caballero in my garage.
Fantic Caballero Tech Spec
Engine Euro 3 compliant
183 cc 4T
Claimed Weight (dry) 96kg
Tank capacity 7.5l
Estimated range 120 miles
Seat height 880mm
Will it fit in the van? 2040 mm long
Carb Keihin 30mm
Forks Fantic FRS USD 41mm
Wheel base 1395 mm
Frame material CroMo
Brakes Front 260mm disc, Rear 220mm disc