It can’t change color, and it’s made out of metal, but the name is still appropriate. With a super stiff, sharp handling aluminum frame designed to run forks with anywhere from 100 to 160mm travel, an eccentric bottom bracket allowing for either geared or singlespeed use, enough beef to handle some hard abuse, but still light enough to climb like it means business, the Chameleon can be built up to do whatever you want.
This is the 5th generation with tapered head tube and ISCG05 tabs. Built as a 650b with 140mm Manitou Minute and 20mm TA, 1x9. This is definitely a 'go anywhere, ride anything' machine. Built it stout to handle all the trails so it's not screaming fast but it's fast enough and can take a beating. Slack angles make it stable at speed, confidence inspiring on scary downhills. Love the simplicity. Not sure why the top tube curves up; wouldn't it have been just as strong if it curved down? Not a big deal, but could use a bit more stand-over. In any case, this one is a keeper.
Strengths: versatile geo at any fork length and riding style, snappy rear end
Weaknesses: wandering front on steep uphill in longer fork positions
I picked up my Cham used by a punk who had been running it (and probably smashing it) at the dirt jumps. No dings or even paint chips seen. From there it got a full makeover into a heavy all mountain wrecking ball and had a good couple of crashes. Then I switched it over into a single speed pump track / tabletops / street machine and have had a few more good crashes.
I dust myself off, check everything out and get back to riding. No babysitting the carbon bits or pivots - Ride it dirty, put away wet, repeat, change parts, ride it dirty, put away wet, repeat. Who knows what guise my Chameleon will have next year, but where ever I ride I have no fear that the Cham will take it all in and if needed spit me out like a bucking horse. I don't babysit the bike and the bike doesn't babysit me on the trails : If my line isn't clean I'll know it.
Adjustable seatpost and adjustable fork are best. My model is v3 (I think) before the EBB but after the head tube side braces were added. Horizontal slot rear can be a pain getting wheel off & on straight, this is probably not an issue with the current 2013 version.
I run 2.35 Kenda tires (model depending on conditions) and have never had issues with clearance.
a Weekend Warrior
Date Reviewed: May 9, 2013
Strengths: Geometry supports 1) higher speed & flow trail riding, 2) tap pump track, 3) dual slalom jumps
Strength to Weights is much better for all aluminum bikes for trail, xc and definitely the DS bikes
Great color and graphics
Weaknesses: It looks "slower" than what it is capable of.
Its seat tube is much better if shorter..
Strengths: im rolling on 650b 2.1 crossmark rear, 2.25 ardent front! climbs like no other bike i have ridden, decends with such control you think twice about braking! 0 flex where it counts :) value in its finest form, and so versatile!
Weaknesses: weight it a tad on the high side, not a huge colour range to choose from
most versatile machine i have come across, upto 80-160ml travel optoins, ebb up to 2012 models, rock soild fames! im using the x-fusion velvet with 130ml travel and beating 100ml carbon racehorses on x/c tracks :) just feels so in safe and controlled even with the 650b wheels, plenty of clearance below! although i am thinking about a s/s conversion and a new rocky mountain altitude 650b soft tail for those comfort rides
a All Mountain Rider
from San Francisco, CA
Date Reviewed: February 27, 2012
Strengths: Solid performing hardtail! Good value and super versatile for whatever style riding you want. On a whim I set mine up as a single speed and it has become my go to for short weekday rides, wet weather, pump tracks or if I am riding a smoother/flowy trail. Great ride, and I am really happy with the SC's new and improved powder coating.
Weaknesses: 1 1/8" Headtube- Only bc it doesn't fit some of my newer forks. I guess SC wanted to add a taper, but said it looked silly when prototyping it.
Great, versatile bike. Can be set-up however you want to ride it, so great to have one in the garage.
Bike Setup: SS with a rockshox recon 130mm (I think).
Mtn Mike 2
a Weekend Warrior
Date Reviewed: March 10, 2011
Strengths: Good weld quality, proven geometry - in other words it's great to ride, strong frame, capable of taking a STANDARD fit deep recess(cup) headset, single-speed option, lots of style...
Weaknesses: Ridiculously small real world maximum tire size for this kind of bike in anything but sunny California. In muddy conditions you are limited to 2.25 if you don't want to grind holes in your frame. This is way off Santa Cruz's information of "2.5 being about the maximum." Be aware of this before buying.
Very good frame completely let down by not being able to run oversize tires. This could be easily fixed by Santa Cruz. There is little point in being able to put a 160 fork up front for downhill etc. with what are essentially only large XC tires on the rear. For example : in loose, mixed or muddy conditions - I can't seriously run a Schawlbe Fat Albert 2.35 in the rear and a Specialized Eskar 2.3 is only OK if I take steps to protect the chain stays. Overall happy in the (dry) summer but also quite disappointed the rest of the year. Will think more than twice before trusting Santa Cruz again.
Similar Products Used: Rocky Mountain, Specialized and custom built frames on Columbus tubing
Bike Setup: Hope Pro 2 20mm front and 10mm bolt through Hope Pro 2 rear, Pike 140(spring)fork, Alex-rims Supra-D, SRAM x.9...
a Weekend Warrior
from Portland, OR
Date Reviewed: March 8, 2011
Strengths: Others have said it very well below - It's stiff & responisve - great do it all bike.
I agree with all the positive posts describing how responsive & stiff this bike is... how it's a great climber... excellent handling characteristics on the trail or downhill, etc...
The only thing I can add to all the posts... I'm 35 and a "smooth" trail rider. After a few rides on the rocky/rooted NW trails I got to borrow a Thudbuster seat post. I ordered one the next day.
I now run 2.4 F/R tubeless & the Thudbuster. I haven't had the though "I wish I had FS right there" since. I spend a lot of time out of the saddle – but that combo really takes out the constant little sting's you stay seated for.
I haven’t decided if I’m going to use it for racing – but for trail rides it’s staying on.
Bike Setup: 2010 frame, Rock Shox Pike 426, Hope Pro 2's w. Stans Flow, Thudbuster seatpost
a Cross Country Rider
from roanoke va
Date Reviewed: February 5, 2011
Strengths: "Bottle Opener" this bike loves to go fast downhill, uphill, and anything else you can throw at it! It is my Super D racer with some superior strength and handling. This thing handles!!! Its tight in the turns and opens up on jumps and downhill; great bike.
I've been riding for twenty years and have had a wide range of rides; the Santa Cruz Chameleon has seriously impressed me. It descends faster than any fully I have owned, and is more diverse than any bike I have ever ridden. It's a strong climber as well.
Bike Setup: Marzocchi Z150 on the front with ryhno lite rims, the rest is history.
a Weekend Warrior
Date Reviewed: November 13, 2010
Strengths: I was looking at the reviews and had to post one. I have recently moved to Geneva, so know some fairly hectic trails which I normally cover on my Specialized Enduro or Santa Cruz VP Free. That said, I was keen to try my Chameleon out over here on the trails that attract almost solely downhill and freeride bikes. This bike is solid - the geometry is fundamentally outstanding - the bike can handle the most technical of trails you throw at it, with a short stem and 160mm of travel up front. It is incredibly versatile and robust, but most of all, reliable, trustworthy and supremely fun.
Weaknesses: Happy to criticise, but there are no weaknesses to this frame. At least not the way i have it set up. Obviously you can't rail down trails at the same pace as a downhill bike, but if that's what you want to do, then you are missing the point of this bike.
This bike is seriously fun. It is awesome, and to a certain extent, the do it all bike. I was riding the freeride trails over here in Geneva last week and was inspired to write this as the experience is second to none. This bike has also been with me and hit the rockiest trails in Spain and South Africa - it is excellent. Serious quality. Worth every penny.
Bike Setup: XTR front and rear mech, Saint brakes with 203mm rotors and drivetrain. Thomson seatpost and short stem. Fox 36 RC2 Talas forks. DT Swiss 5.10 wheelset Hope Hubs.
a Weekend Warrior
from Tokyo, Tokyo-to, Japan
Date Reviewed: October 31, 2010
Strengths: Strong, light, well-built, no flex, good BB design, frame can ride any style
Weaknesses: A little pricey but will ride well forever.
This frame is just the best hardtail you can buy in my opinion. Strong and light (not super light but light), It can ride any setup or style of riding. It is a hardtail that can run 160mm forks and not have any problem. I have seen people running triple clamp forks too.
The Chameleon is a great frame but there is one important point that is either love or hate. The rear end is as stiff as they come. You know what the back wheel is doing and where it is. That makes for a rough ride if you are from full-suspensionland. I love it, the back wheel goes where you want it to go and it is where you want it because the bike gives so much feedback. If you want to be a smoother ride then I recommend this back. If you want to be a mindless bomber of hills this bike is not for you. This bike is so ridge that if you don't pick your lines you will be dead at the end of the day. You will see people with suspension seat posts for this reason.
Great bike and is super stuff. So if you are not smooth = stiff the next day. If you are smooth, you will beat the full-sus guys to the bottom. I haven't ridden a better hardtail.
Strengths: stiffness, does everything pretty damn good, looks awesome
Weaknesses: i look too cool riding it around...
i had one of the older chameleons that i never should have sold... so i bought a newer frame. felt good right from the start on the thing. tracks great, does everything expected. never feels out of place. the bottom bracket thing is a little strange, but seems to work ok. buy it, ride it, love it. everybody should start out on a hard tail, i think you become a better rider for it. i went back to it after a number of full suspension bikes, glad i did.
Bike Setup: 2009 chameleon, rock shox domain, single track hoops with king hubs, shimano brakes, truvativ cranks, gamut chain guide
a Cross Country Rider
from Portland, OR
Date Reviewed: July 1, 2010
Strengths: Stiff, Incredible handling that is predictable and gives confidence in rough conditions. Short wheelbase and geometry is great for quick steering and getting around technical stuff. Balanced front and rear weight.
Weaknesses: Hurts my arse when hit big rocks and roots.
I've been riding this bike for about 6 months, and I really expected to not like it much. The first month or so I basically hated it and wanted full suspension. I've discovered that riding an FS bike makes some trails too easy as you become a better rider. Riding this hardtail adds the challenge back and also the fun. The carbon bars make a huge difference, and running big tubless tires I find I can run it at 15-20psi in the rear and get a great comfy ride. This also makes the bike pedal really well with great small bump compression. I hardly have any pedal feedback unless it's a big root or rock. This bike handles so well it amazes me and just feels awesome and confident to ride even through rocks and off drops. Loves to jump and rail corners like no FS bike will ever do. This bike makes all but the most F'd up technical trails fun.
This is the sickest hardtail i've ever ridden. Dont see any reason to ever buy another bike.Just like everyone says on here this bike does it all!!Fast,fun,climbs good. BUnnyhops killer,wheelies.manuals.ext. SO stop hesitating and go out and get the best hardtail money can buy! You won regret it.
Bike Setup: 2010 black med.Fox vanilla rlc fork. Shimano slx shifters and rd. Xt fd.Raceface evolve xc bars,stem and cranks. Raceface next sl carbon seatpost.Avid bb7 brakes. Avid speed dial7 levers.Sram 990 casete. Sram 991 chain. Azonic outlaw wheel set. Azonic pooky plat form pedals. SDG grandprix seat.Hope wheel skewers,headset spacers and seatpost clamp.Kenda nevagal folding beed 2.35 tires. Answer falline xc lock on grips!
a Weekend Warrior
from Kew,Melbourne, Australia
Date Reviewed: April 30, 2010
Strengths: Super Stiff, Great Geometry, Horizontal Dropout so you can run single speed, Wide chain stays for tyre's over 2.35.
I have been riding mountain bikes for 1990 when it was old school time brakes and forks with elastomers in them.This frame has evolved and morphed into the do it all bike. Can run up to 160mm forks and have seen triples clamps run at DH events. I use my bike more often as a daily commuter. Put on the slicks, lock out the front fort and away you go. Drop the seat down firm up the shock rate and its off to the jumps.
Really it can do everything. I love this bike.
Does anyone know if it's still possible to find the rear disk brake dropouts for a very old Chameleon. I have a 1999 model that I purchased new. At the time Cable actuated disk brakes didn't have a very good feel, and Hydraulics were quite heavy. As I was racing XC at the time, I purchased with s ... Read More »
Hey guys / gals:
Recently have gotten back in touch with my BMX roots and got into DJ. I have been picking it up quickly and enjoying it thoroughly. I scored an old bright orange SC Chameleon frame in a size small and was thinking it might make a good DJ bike with 24" wheels. I am 6' with a 34- ... Read More »
Hey guys, just received my new Chameleon today and she is a beaut to say the least! Almost all ready to go in the stand but I'm having trouble with the rear derailleur. I almost don't even want to ask because I know it's something simple that I'm over looking but first time putting together a bike o ... Read More »
Is it possible to fit 650B wheels on a Chameleon 4? I think the newer ones can handle them but dont know about the older ones. I was looking to buy one thats for sale on the SC site. I want to build an AM SS 650B and a black lizard would look nice next to my black Nomad:thumbsup:.
T ... Read More »
With all of the 650B chatter, is Santa Cruz considering developing a playful all-mountain/trail hardtail 29er?
Highball LT would fit with the existing naming convention. Something with a little slacker head angle and shorter chainstay than the current Highball, designed around the current crop ... Read More »