There’s a new Dakar factory team signing up for 2022. No, it’s not Triumph (although Hinkley’s latest plans to build dirt bikes would make that a sensible move). It’s not Suzuki, not Kawasaki, not even a returning powerhouse like BMW. It’s … Fantic.

Who’s Fantic?

So, who’s Fantic? It sounds like the name of a soft drink manufacturer, not a dirt bike company. Yet, some readers will probably remember we’ve talked about Fantic a few times here at ADVrider. Fantic is based in Italy, and tied very closely to Yamaha. A year ago, Fantic announced it was working on a partnership with Yamaha Motor Europe to build electric motorcycles, after Fantic bought out Motori Minarelli.

Fantic vs. Dakar

Now, we get the following news from Fantic’s website:

Fantic starts a new chapter. The sand and the unique landscapes of the desert will be the stage of this new challenge for the Italian Motorbikes Manufacturer which, after conquering the Motocross and Enduro scene, it opens its horizons for the first time to the Rally Raid world with this new motorbike designed to deal with the most extreme competitions.

Hrm. Interesting. From dirt bikes to desert bikes? Fantic seems to think it can make a go of it. And, it’s not actually that far-out; Sherco has a relatively strong factory effort at Dakar, despite its status as a small niche manufacturer. Sherco’s riders are often in contention for top-10 results on a stage, even if they don’t take a podium at the end of the event. Maybe Fantic can put up a similar effort after figuring out the challenges of desert racing.

To pilot their bike, Fantic’s signed Franco Picco. Longtime Dakar fans should recognize the name, as Picco was a star at the event … way back in the 1980s. Picco was actually born in 1955, so he’s far older than most of the competitors at Dakar. He appears to still be in top fighting shape, and his years of experience will at least help him give a lot of feedback on bike development.

What will the bike look like?

We haven’t seen the bodywork or any other mock-up of the new bike. All Fantic tells us is that it’s a ” new model with a 450cc single cylinder 4-stroke engine.”

Now, allow us to slip into a tinfoil conspiracy hat for a second and speculate: What if this is actually a Yamaha skunk works project?

The reality is, Yamaha’s factory Dakar machines have suffered from terrible reliability in recent years. The 2021 event was particularly embarrassing, with most Yamaha riders dropping out due to mechanical failure. Clearly, something needs to change.

Could this new Fantic be Yamaha’s way of test-running a prototype engine? Stranger things have happened in the world of moto competition, and it would explain how Fantic suddenly got the money to build a new 450.

We’ll know more when we see the new bike unveiled at EICMA next month, no doubt. Stay tuned.

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