In July 1979 the brand new 200 Fantic was presented to the press. The machine was unanimously welcomed for its many qualities. The Fantic factory had made its first forays into the sport with the 125cc engine machine which gave out incredible power for the displacement. Jamie Subria was the test rider who developed the machine and ensured the different characteristics were perfectly matched. During the 1980 season he was able to perform miracles in the world championship despite the small displacement (actually 157cc) of the engine, ending the season with a fine 10th place overall. For those based in France there was a television programme on Sunday afternoon hosted by Jacques Martin called ‘Incredible but true’ where there was often a demonstration by an acrobat riding one of these machines. In the UK we had ‘Kickstart’. Three decades later we were able to convince the incredible Jean Pierre Goy to do us the honour of testing one of these machines again. Our acrobat accepted the challenge without hesitation to test this bike that most of the trials world is familiar with, and to discover the limits of the machine.
This 200 was in the vanguard of a new style of trials machine. It was followed by the Montesa Cota 200 and the Honda TLR. This Fantic, despite its modest capacity, was far from being docile! It is more powerful than a Bultaco Sherpa 250 as it develops 14.5bhp; it showed the Italians were capable of building a motorcycle of small capacity but incredible performance.
With its snappy engine the first 125 seduced a number of riders when it was first released. Fantic did not disappoint with the release of this clever tool. You only needed to twist the throttle a little and it seemed to race away, the revs climbing rapidly towards unimaginable heights. However, once at its maximum it levelled out rapidly and there was no more performance. You need to remember, however, that outright power is not the only characteristic we need in sections. We will look at this a little later.
Our tester rode the machine of his youth with only slightly rose tinted spectacles and gave us his opinion. He still thought it a very seductive machine, for its looks, the special red colour “just like a Ferrari” which is a signature of the marque.
The frame is a double loop and is the same as that used in the 125, protected by a small plastic sump guard. On this machine you will see two extra protective “ears” that have been welded to the frame to protect the engine covers.
Without them it is quite possible to damage them on rocks; on the left side this results in the case jamming against the flywheel magneto and stopping the engine from rotating.
The swinging arm is also longer than the 125, which increases the wheelbase and makes it feel more stable. The fuel tank contains 4.5 litres of fuel and is very resistant to damage, thanks to it being produced in polypropylene. The seat is also large and comfortable for those who sit during the ride between sections or use it as a trail bike. The wheel rims are aluminium and come from the Akront factory and are of high quality. The suspension on the little beauty was front forks from Marzocchi, combined with rear shocks from the same source.
Jean-Pierre was impatient to ride the machine, which we very much understood. Our 50-year-old rider was catapulted back in time by 30 years. Take it from me, the look in his eyes was more akin to a child that had found the most amazing present under the Christmas tree; let the games begin!
As with the 125, the engine of the 200 was supplied by Minarelli, it has a Nikasil treated bore to ensure close tolerances. A quick kick and the characteristic note of the Fantic engine issued forth. It needs a little time to come up to working temperature and I could tell Jean-Pierre was starting to enjoy himself. He was already back in his role as factory rider and ambassador; it was like watching the transformation on a high-speed film: clicking into first gear he was off to reacquaint himself and to re-find his automatic reactions deep in the memory banks.
After a short while he came back to give us his impressions. The seating position is a little cramped but obviously in a trial you spend
Jean-Pierre Goy rode the machine to its maximum at the test
more time standing than sitting. The controls are well placed and the clutch works perfectly. Unfortunately you need to be in neutral to restart the bike, which is a pity. The gearbox is firm but is precise nevertheless.
Our tester in chief went to find a section to test the grip and the low-end power characteristics of the engine. Without having good qualities in these critical areas it is difficult to ride trials well as they are fundamental even if, as in today, there is a top rider in control.
After a night of heavy rain the ground is quite damp and the brutal power delivery makes it very difficult to ride over our section; giving the correct amount of throttle to find grip and keep moving is certainly challenging in these conditions.
The engine characteristics are aimed at outright power rather than a soft supple power delivery as once again the Fantic races away with a vigorous power output despite it having reasonable torque.
Next we went down to the banks of the river, where we found some nice blocks of the local rock so that we could test the suspension and brakes. The Marzocchi forks, with their 35mm Ø tubes and 175mm of travel, cope well with the drops. The rear suspension units are also by Marzocchi and are simple gas shocks; they are set up very soft and soon use up the 110mm of travel.
Jean-Pierre told us that when he was a factory rider he changed the rear shocks very often, he considered them to be of very poor quality. He used to take a case full of wornout units back to the importer in Marseille when he went to stock up on spares! Arnaud, the owner of the machine, is there to keep an eye on his machine and hoped that it was not damaged during the test.
We all know what crazy stunts Jean-Pierre is capable of but today he is much wiser and treats it with respect. He was still not able to resist giving us some examples of his legendary prowess though – the brakes came in for a hard time! Comparing brakes of the ‘80s with the discs of today is almost impossible; they in comparison merely retard progression. Jean-Pierre could still easily lift the rear wheel on descents and his comments on the brakes were succinct, “they work well for a machine of this period, even if the feeling before locking the wheel is missing”.
Looking at the weighing scales the pretty Italian comes in at a fairly hefty 87kg dry weight. In terms of its manoeuvrability the Fantic is a veritable bicycle; even if sometimes the front wheel feels too light, it is a real pleasure to ride.
When watching a good rider on the machine everything looks easy. Arnaud was amazed! “I never thought that you could do such tricks with my machine!” As we all know, trials is about 90% rider input. Even so this machine is fun, light, rideable, and efficient and has a decent torque curve for such a small engine. The Italians made a great trials machine and the finish and quality of the materials used were a step up from the previous Spanish offerings which, in the following years, were unable to match the Fantic and the factories went into a slow terminal decline.
In the trials of the early ‘80s there were many 200 Fantics competing, with all standards of riders. They were successful at all levels. This was the start of a new era and Fantic changed the face of trials and became the supreme force on the scene. In 1980 this small miracle could have been purchased for the equivalent of £4,700 in today’s money. There were around 2,000 examples produced.