The Chameleon Hardtail MTB Expresses Every Notion of Its Name Through a Versatile Design

Chameleon Hardtail (Action) 15 photos
Photo: Santa Cruz Bicycles
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By now, you've figured out that I love myself a good hardtail MTB. Today, we'll be taking a closer look at a machine from Santa Cruz Bicycles, the one and only Chameleon, an MTB that expresses the very nature of its name with a versatility worth beholding.
Yes, the machine we'll be looking at today has been dubbed the Chameleon, and for good reasons; the crew behind it, Santa Cruz, ensures it can do more than just your average hardtail. Best of all, the most expensive build comes in with a price tag of $4,050 (€3,839 at current exchange rates) and bare aluminum frames for just $1,050 (€995). Time to see what's happening here.

To help you feel some sort of solid ground under your feet, let me point out a bit about the crew behind this trinket, Santa Cruz Bicycles. If this is a name that means nothing to you, that may change once we're done with this article. They were born back in 1994 in Santa Cruz, California, and since then, have grown to kick other well-known manufacturers off the podium. That feat takes more than just a sheer will to win; it requires careful R&D and a genuine love for the game beyond just business. That's the sort of heritage that goes into each Chameleon.

Just as its name would imply, this frame (the basis that defines any bicycle) was created as a "blank canvas" for riders to do as they wish. Santa Cruz designed it to allow you to play around with things like tire size, gears, and even forks; you can do just about anything you want with it. Want to rock downhill on 20-inch wheels? Not recommended, but it could make one heck of a YouTube video. Oh, you can also choose to ride with a fixed gear beauty or geared to the teeth for mountain domination.

Chameleon Hardtail Frame
Photo: Santa Cruz Bicycles
One aspect that Santa Cruz focused on was the bike's geometry, which yields the low dropped frame and slack geometry. No matter the frame size, 65 degrees defines the head tube angle, and the seat tube is set at 74.3 degrees for the medium-size frame. A stand-over of 682 mm (26.9 in) and a reach of 445 mm (17.5 in) also accompany the medium bike.

What does that offer? Just think about it. There's massive clearance for you to handle drops with the only suspension being your legs, and it keeps you on top of the bike with the front wheel out in front, suitable for some downhill. Heck, with a fork with lockout, maybe some different tires, and this sucker can rock cities too. Blasphemy! The trail is where this puppy shines.

If you want to pick up a complete build from Santa Cruz, there is something you should know. Standard, they offer a setup with 29-inch tires or an MX setup with a 27.5-inch tire on the rear and a 29'er on the front. Honestly, this is the sort of setup I've even asked my friends at a local shop to do for me, but I never witnessed a major manufacturer exploring this idea. I think I've got to give Santa Cruz a call. I'll let you all know how that went.

Chameleon Hardtail \(Action\)
Photo: Santa Cruz Bicycles
I have already mentioned the price for a peak build and a bare frame, but what about the cost for the least expensive build you can get? For $2,600 (€2,464), you'll receive a bike that comes equipped with a Sram SX Eagle derailleur with NX shifters and a PG1230 12-speed cassette with 11-50T. Nothing but a 1X drivetrain is suitable for the bike. And that's the least expensive 29'er build. The MX is the same price and features that 27.5-inch rear tire.

I started this article about how I'm a big fan of riding a hardtail. Well, I think I just found that one frame that I feel is a good fit for how I ride and how much money I've got to spend, and that's enough to get my attention. What about yours?
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About the author: Cristian Curmei
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A bit of a nomad at heart (being born in Europe and raised in several places in the USA), Cristian is enamored with travel trailers, campers and bikes. He also tests and writes about urban means of transportation like scooters, mopeds and e-bikes (when he's not busy hosting our video stories and guides).
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