Dirt Rag Magazine

Review: Santa Cruz Chameleon

Santa Cruz designed their Chameleon to perform like its reptilian namesake. Their goal was to produce a versatile bike adaptable to multiple environments-cross country, dual slalom and single speeding.

By Karl Rosengarth

Santa Cruz designed their Chameleon to perform like its reptilian namesake. Their goal was to produce a versatile bike adaptable to multiple environments-cross country, dual slalom and single speeding. With a quick handling geometry and a sloping top that provides plenty of room to maneuver, the Chameleon is set up to carve nimbly through tight singletrack or slalom gates. The sturdy rear triangle efficiently transmits pedaling power to the rear wheel-for powering through slalom or XC courses. Horizontal dropouts and a unique removable derailleur hanger are designed to facilitate single speed conversion. Versatility, indeed.

Made in America from 6061 aluminum alloy, the 19" Chameleon frame weighs in at about 3.9 lbs. Frame construction includes several notable features: large square chainstays, a stout chainstay bridge behind the bottom bracket, a wishbone seatstay, gusseted top/down tubes and built in gussets on the horizontal dropouts. The word “strong” comes to mind.

The Chameleon’s geometry is quite interesting: 71° head angle, 73° seat angle, 23.25" top tube, 16.5" chainstays, 11.75" high bottom bracket and 41.8" wheelbase. Relatively speaking, the frame has short chainstays and a long top tube. The long top tube allows a shorter stem, which puts more of the rider’s weight over the over the bike and less over the front wheel. I felt like my center of gravity was directly over the bike’s balance point-a very comfortable feeling. Precise handling that was just-quick-enough made the Chameleon a joy to ride. Like a steady dance partner, the bike moved with me as if it were my shadow. When the situation called for lightning fast cornering, the short rear end was easy to flick around. One might expect a nimble bike like the Chameleon to be a real handful on the downhills. I did, but soon learned that this bike is plenty stable on the steep stuff. I haven’t had this much fun on a bike in a long time.

Those big beefy stays and oversized aluminum tubes make the Chameleon ride harsh, right? Wrong. Coupled with the Rock Shox SID fork, this is one of the smoothest rigid frames I’ve ridden. The radically sloping top tube leads to a radically long seat post which flexes enough to soften the blows quite nicely. In my case, about 10" of Dean titanium post was all the suspension I needed. And here’s the nice part-when you stomp on the pedals, you feel no flex.

I didn’t race dual slalom on the Chameleon. But, it railed through twisty singletrack, and I can’t imagine a bike better suited for slalom racing. Another confession-I didn’t mess with the single speed conversion. Hey, it’s got horizontal dropouts and you can unbolt the derailleur hanger to take it out of your way-it doesn’t get much easier than that.

The Chameleon is available in a dizzying array of forms starting with a frame-only option for $500. A frame plus fork will run you $795, $830, $945, $995 or $1115 depending on your choice of Judy T2SL, Judy XC, Judy SL, Z2 A-Bomb, or SID. Add $550, $915 or $1465 for a full build with LX-STX, XT or XTR components, respectively. Santa Cruz hand builds their wheels using 370 gram Bontrager/Weinmann Red Label rims with Butted DT spokes, radial laced on the front and on the non-drive side rear-a sweet set up. The mostly Shimano XT, 19" test bike they sent me weighed in at 24.5 pounds-with a Rock Shox SID, my SPD pedals and Velociraptor tires. The Chameleon comes in 14", 17", 19" and 21" frames. Eight colors are available: black, SID blue, lime green, metallic green, orange, red, white, and yellow. From Santa Cruz: PO Box 2700 Santa Cruz CA 95063, telephone 408.459.7560.

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