It’s hard to imagine today, but in the glory years of the two-stroke, you could have some serious fun on a motorcycle with just 50cc. And this became a serious business when the UK raised the age for learners to seventeen, and those a year younger were restricted to small-capacity mopeds. But European and Japanese manufacturers were ready to pounce, already armed with fast 50s, the English-speaking world would soon discover a host of these mini monsters. And one of the true standouts was the Italian-made Fantic Caballero 50. At the Deus Ex Machina workshop in Milan, it’s a motorcycle they remember fondly, and to pay tribute to the little bike with a big attitude, they’ve created a modern Fantic Caballero 500 called ‘Fuoristrada’, and it packs all of the fun and thrills of the ’70s in an adult-sized package.

It’s almost impossible to forget your first ride on a motorcycle, and here in Australia, many of us took that initial blast on bikes like Yamaha’s PW50. Sure we had bigger bikes on offer suitable for kids and teens, but it seems that most parents felt the little PeeWee was the perfect place to start. But with a local industry boosting competition, the Italians and Japanese in particular, were creating bikes of the same capacity, capable of some serious speed. Machines like Yamaha’s FS1E and the Caballero 50 were responsible for ensuring countries like the UK added a top speed as well as a capacity limit for young learner riders.

When the Fantic Caballero was first released in 1969 at the Salone del Ciclo e Motociclo di Milano, it became an instant classic with charisma to burn and a design that set it apart in the cutthroat Italian motorcycle scene. And at Deus Milan, it’s still a bike remembered with fondness, “Decades have passed however our love for the iconic lines of the seventies remains. When the opportunity presented itself, we eagerly seized the chance to pay homage to this Italian icon.” Thankfully Fantic still make the Caballero range, just with much bigger capacity four-stroke engines.

Straight out of the box, the Caballero has the looks of a scrambler pretty spot on, but there is always room for improvement and to capture those ’70s lines, the guys wanted to craft their own fenders. The front is a high-mounted item and makes a smooth singular arc to provide full coverage to the tyre, unlike the angles-everywhere look of modern MX plastics. To get the rear look right, meant first ditching both the factory fender and the tail assembly, which pokes out a mile, with the number plate and lights bouncing on flimsy plastic. This is all replaced by another classic fender with a more old-school styled bracket and a vintage light arrangement.

The next step was to ditch the fancy factory LED headlight and in its place is an old school “mask” style cowl, which has a smaller light and indicators incorporated into the look, and truly captures the vibe of some of those early Dakar and Desert Rally machines. The next touch is a little more subtle but really shows how committed the Deus team was to being true to the period. The stock seat is brilliant, and it has somewhat of a vintage British look. But, in the pursuit of perfection, the guys instead went for the extra padding and simple stitching of those ’70s Italian machines that had a lot of shared parts with their MX siblings.

The paint job sees the new fenders, fork guards, radiator covers and the addition of a mini hugger all hit with a nice matte grey with a gloss clear. While the tank could only ever wear one colour combination, the distinctive red and yellow of those first Fantic bikes, complemented by a simple Deus graphic. Interestingly enough the yellow factory side covers have been removed, to slim the bike’s profiles down, but the front mask gets hit with the colour nonetheless. And then playing a big role in the visual transformation of the motorcycle are those tyres, big knobbies eat your heart out.

So far you’re probably thinking, why don’t we see more of the Caballeros out on the street, and it appears the feedback from potential customers is the engine. But these are people who have never actually ridden the bike, and worry about its Chinese Zongshen powerplant. Truth is, it’s actually brilliant, just ask the world’s most experienced test rider, Michael Neeves. “Its Chinese motor may not have the power or kudos of its big gun retro rivals and it lacks their electronic wizardry, too, but it’s all the better for it. A simple joy to ride, it’s packed with meaty, real-world punch.” And the guys at Deus agree, only seeing the need to elicit some extra sound by fitting an SC project muffler to the 450cc single.

The braking is however all Italian, and you’ll find no trouble slowing down, thanks to the Brembo designed package which features quality discs and a single radially mounted caliper for the front end. The suspension too is great from the factory, but Deus wanted to go one better, and the beefy USD front forks have been stripped and had the internals rebuilt. The alloy swingarm then had to come in for some modification to accommodate the premium TFX suspension components from the Netherlands. It’s a bike you’re just going to never want to stop riding, so a Garmin navigation means you won’t get lost. Built on the back of childhood dreams, this Italian big boys toy is now ready for the ultimate weekend adventure away. 

[ Deus Milan | Media by Davide Calafa ]