Santa Cruz Chameleon returns as a 29/27plus trail hardtail

In: BIKES, GEAR, NEWS By: Dirt Rag Contributor On: March 15, 2017

Santa Cruz isn't just full suspension bikes and carbon fiber. The new Chameleon brings back an old favorite, tarted up with 29 or 27plus wheels, modern trail geometry and an affordable price tag.

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Words by Zach White, photos by Gary Perkin

MSRP $2,000 (R Kit)
Sizes S, M, L(tested), XL
Available Now

As the name suggests, Santa Cruz’s Chameleon has historically been a frame that’s adapted to various riding styles quite well. Over the years, I’ve seen them built up as dirt jumpers, singlespeed trail bikes, freeride hardtails, townies, and even straightforward trail bikes (GASP!). The updated 2017 version holds true to this tradition as it is now offered and cross-compatible with 29er and 27.5+ wheels, has four different choices of swappable rear dropouts, and is compatible with a plethora of drivetrains(it’s so close to being belt drive compatible with the dropout design, but there isn’t a break in the frame). Angles and lengths are also updated to current Santa Cruz trail bike geometry standards, including Boost spacing and impressively roomy top tubes.

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I had the chance to spend a couple of wet, sloppy days on the new Chameleon last month in England, which brings up an interesting marketing angle from Santa Cruz that we’ll get to in a minute. I was set up n a size large Chameleon set up as a 29er with a SRAM NX 1×11 drivetrain, and a 120mm Fox 34 Rhythm fork. We climbed up steep cobbled roads and bridleways laced between farms and fields to the tops of often steep, sloppy, loose and rooty descents that had me really wishing the dropper posts the frame has routing for had shown up in time for this trip.

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary PerkinYORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary PerkinYORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary PerkinYORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

Climbing steep doubletrack and techy, twisty bits of trail highlighted how tight and responsive the Chameleon’s rear end is, thanks to short 415-430mm stays on the 6000-series aluminum frame. While I’ll be the absolute first to admit Seb Kemp is a far better rider than I, watching him clean long, steep and wet rock garden climbs on 27.5×2.8 tires while I walked/pushed up with 29×2.3s had me wondering if it were possible for mere mortals to make it a little farther up said climbs with more tire. Otherwise, the 29er setup felt great and didn’t offer any excuses for other soft spots in my riding abilities. Stock 1x gearing worked well and lent itself nicely to not getting too clogged in English muck, but for those interested in broader gear ratios, the Chameleon is direct-mount front derailleur compatible.

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

Once the seat was dropped down with an Allen key, the Chameleon provided a playful feel, as it was almost as happy to manual as my 26-inch dirt jumper back home, and begged to be bounced around trials-style in urban settings. Descending on an aluminum hardtail without a dropper was interesting for someone like me who is currently addicted to suspension bikes and disappearing saddles at the push of a button, but it didn’t take long to find the Chameleon’s rhythm, especially in the softer muck. That tight rear end was once again appreciated as it whipped through tight and steep switchbacks, and tucked under rider nicely in a few really steep chutes and drops. Once things got rocky, or over miles of relentless cobbles and big, rough bridleway stepping stones, the Chameleon didn’t have any magic switch to soften trail feedback into the cockpit – at least in 29er mode. If this style of riding or something similarly bumpy was my norm, I’d opt for trying a set of 27plus wheels and tires at lower pressures on the Chameleon.

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

At the end of each ride, we spent a fair amount of time and English quarters(quarter pounders?) at the carwash cleaning a day’s worth of UK muck off the bikes. This is where an interesting marketing angle comes in from Santa Cruz, as they’re not just marketing the Chameleon as a well-sorted entry level hardtail. Santa Cruz suspects owners of its high-end suspension bikes might opt for a Chameleon as a winter bike/bad weather bike. At only $1,600 or $2,000 for a complete bike that’s void of pivot bearing maintenance, a drivetrain that’s a fraction of the cost of top-of-the-line options, and has modern geometry very akin to other trail bikes in their line, and considering how many riders of various tax brackets already likely to have a quiver of bikes, the not-exactly-original idea of a mud bike seems viable. Factor in how popular the brand of Santa Cruz is, i.e. the ‘matchy matchy!’ effect for current customers already running $10k+ bikes, and I think they’re on to something.

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

Regardless of marketing semantics, first impressions of Santa Cruz’s Chameleon are very positive, especially with its $2000 price tag. For riders like myself who can’t ride without dropper posts, it has internal routing that’ll easily allow installing a stealth style version as an upgrade. Set up choices are impressive with dropout options in both 142mm (singlespeed) and 148mm (geared) spacing, two wheel size options that are interchangeable, and an abundance of drivetrain compatibilities. The Chameleon’s fit and feel made jumping back and forth from it to a Tallboy all but seamless, short of the whole suspension thing, of course. Not to beat a dead horse, but finding similarity like this between two bikes of entirely different price tags is definitely noteworthy, and points to how well sorted the Chameleon’s geometry is at this point in the trail bike game. There wasn’t an opportunity to throw the new Chameleon on a scale, but it didn’t hint that it was portly or outstandingly light. Claimed weights should be released in the very near future, but weren’t available while writing this. All said, as an addition to a proper bike geek’s quiver, or as an entry level bike, the new Chameleon seems like a great option.

Santa_Cruz_Chameleon_Dropouts

Santa Cruz shipped these bikes to some dealers earlier in March, so if you want one of these, best get on the horn with your local SC dealer, as Santa Cruz is out of stock and doesn’t even have one to send us for review.

Santa Cruz’s website has more details and a dealer finder.

Pricing:

D Kit: $1,600

R Kit : $2,000

Chameleon 27.5+
Frame Reach Stack HT HT ST ST RC/ FC BB BB Wheel Wheel TT Standover
Size Angle Length Angle Length Chainstay Height Drop Base (short) Base (long)
S 415 615 67.5 100 73 390 415-430 704 315 50 1115-1130 1130 596 689
M 440 615 67.5 100 73 420 415-430 729 315 50 1140-1155 1155 621 705
L 460 614 67.5 100 73 450 415-430 749 315 50 1160-1175 1175 642 721
XL 490 624 67.5 110 73 490 415-430 783 315 50 1193-1208 1208 674 739
Chameleon 29er
Frame Reach Stack HT HT ST ST RC/ FC BB BB Wheel Wheel TT Standover
Size Angle Length Angle Length Chainstay Height Drop Base (short) Base (long)
S 412 617 67.3 100 72.8 390 415-430 703 315 55 1115 1130 601 689
M 437 617 67.3 100 72.8 420 415-430 728 315 55 1140 1155 626 696
L 457 617 67.3 100 72.8 450 415-430 748 315 55 1160 1175 649 721
XL 487 627 67.3 110 72.8 490 415-430 782 315 55 1194 1209 682 740

 

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE - February 2017 - during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

YORKSHIRE – February 2017 – during the Ales, Trails & hardtails rides in Yorkshire & The Lake District with Seb Kemp, Gary Perkin & Zach White Photo by Gary Perkin

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