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Chameleon Carbon 29 Mountain Bike Frame
The Santa Cruz Chameleon has defined the term versatility during its tenure as the brand's longest running model that's still in production. Long revered and beloved for its overbuilt stature and its ability to adapt to its owner's need, the Chameleon has been a favorite of aggressive riders who don't want or need a full-suspension bike. Throughout the years, the frame has transformed from 26-inch wheels to plus and 29-inch varieties, rim brakes to disc, quick-release to thru-axle, 3 chainrings to 1x, along with geometry tweaks making it capable of handling more technical trails. The one thing that remained constant is its frame material: aluminum. Well, a new day has dawned at Santa Cruz HQ, and the seventh generation Chameleon has received a carbon update. Leveraging Santa Cruz's mastery of carbon fiber construction, this lizard drops some weight and improves the ride quality. This particular frame, the Chameleon Carbon 29 Mountain Bike Frame, comes ready to rock with fast-rolling 29-inch wheels and is also compatible with 27.5+ wheels.
This fun-loving, do-it-all trail bike is on our short list of bikes we'd pick for long-distance bikepacking missions over rugged terrain. As we mentioned above, it comes out of the box ready for 29er wheels, however, if you want maximum grip and floatation over loose trails with plus-sized tires, its interchangeable dropouts allow the frame to happily accommodate. The dropouts also allow you to swap out the gears for single-speed use, should you desire a near-maintenance free drivetrain, live in an area without major elevation changes, or you just enjoy flogging yourself from time to time. Please note we carry the separate dropouts for both plus and 29-inch wheels as well as for singlespeed use where the spacing is 142mm while the geared version is Boost 148mm.
Geometry plays a key role in the Chameleon's versatility, with short chainstays, fairly long reach measurements per size, and a relaxed 67.3-degree head tube angle. It's recommended to pair with a 5 to 5.5-inch fork for taking the edge off of rough trails letting you tackle way more rugged terrain than you'd consider on a hardtail. What we love so much about the Carbon Chameleon is it can jump in a singlespeed race one weekend, hit the berms and jumps in the bike park after work, and load up with a week's worth of camping gear for a bikepacking vacation next. Eagle eyes will notice two bottle cage mounts, including a triple-bolt cargo cage mount under the downtube for carrying large water bottles or various other items for bikepacking.
The Carbon Chameleon uses Santa Cruz's Carbon C, its second-tier carbon, which boasts identical construction to the higher grade CC carbon but uses a different modulus that adds a tiny bit of weight while saving big on cash. The method remains the same, with unidirectional carbon plies wrapping between tubes, adding strength and long-term durability. An inner bladder applies outward pressure against the mold while the carbon cures to reduce resin pooling and virtually eliminates imperfections. This results in a frame that is so tough, Santa Cruz backs it with a lifetime frame warranty.
- The versatile Chameleon takes on trails and bikepacking now with carbon
- 67.3-degree headtube angle instills confidence in technical terrain
- Swappable dropouts adapt the frame for plus or 29in wheels, SS or geared
- Carbon C construction drops grams and boosts responsiveness
- Internal cable routing keeps the frame's lines clean
- Rest assured with a lifetime frame warranty
- Clearance for 27.5 x 3.0in or 29 x 2.6in tires
- Item #SNZ00LD
- Q & A
Deep Chameleon Thoughts
- Familiarity: I've put it through the wringer
Hardtails aren't for everyone and neither is the Chameleon but if you're looking for a hard charging trail bike efficient enough for all day riding you've come to the right place.
The aluminum Chameleon is a classic, the carbon shaves some weight and is probably a bit stiffer. Don't worry about damaging this carbon, it feels stout. The interchangeable dropouts make this frame real versatile and you can run it with up to a 140mm fork. I went 130mm for some extra cushion on the rocky trails, it definitely slacks the front end out a bit more than I'm used to but it still climbs ok. The frame builds up nicely, the only annoyance is the housing doesn't run through internal tubes but Santa Cruz gives you a large opening so routing isn't that big a deal. Dropper posts are recommended, you can fit plenty wide tires (up to 2.5" 29ers), and there's bottle cage bolts in and under the frame.
We'll get my fit comments out of the way first: I'm right between large and XL on the Chameleon and in the past on Santa Cruz I'd always recommend sizing up when between sizes but they've changed up the geometry on their newer bikes so it can be trickier to choose. Honestly you could probably ride a couple sizes and be fine, much of the choice comes down to your riding style. If you like a playful, nimble feeling bike that you can pop off roots and rocks on, I'd go with the smaller size. If you like a more stable feeling bike for fast, rough descents or long days in the saddle, go with the larger size. Now the other thing to keep in my is your body - I went towards the larger size as I have longer legs and can feel like I have the seatpost way up compared to the bars on smaller bikes, and I've got that paired with short stem. But if I did it again I'd probably go with a longer stem and some spacers under it to get that more playful bike. I'm finding on the steepest of steep climbs I can't get enough weight over the front end which a shorter reach would fix. If you're solidly in the middle of Santa Cruz's size recommendations just go with that!
This frame isn't for weight weenies even though it's a hardtail. My XL built up at just under 28lb with dropper, GX/X01 Eagle mix, XT brakes, Reserve 30 carbon wheels, 2.4â Ardent tires, and Deity carbon bar. As for ride quality, don't expect this to ride similar to your springy steel hardtail - the Chameleon is stiff. Wide tires will get rid of any real harshness but if you're looking for a cushy cruiser, this isn't exactly it. That being said, after a 45 mile day the bike didn't make me hate it. Ride quality can be real hard to evaluate as everyone has their own preferences but I'll say that I'd look elsewhere if I wanted a bikepacking rig or even an endurance racer. However if you want a trail bike that can handle some real trails while still letting you load it up on the weekends, this is the bike for you.
And be careful - when the trail points down, this bike wants to go! It's easy to get in over where a hardtail should be if you're not careful.
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