The Santa Cruz Chameleon is a long-standing hardtail favourite, having made its name as one of those bikes that’s happy to do pretty much anything depending on what bits you choose to hang off it. The all-new 2008 incarnation continues in the same vein in terms of attitude, but it’s a whole new beast other than that.
The most distinctive feature of the new Chameleon is the pierced top tube. The top tube flattens out and curves down at the seat cluster, while the seat tube goes right through it. The top tube flares out and is welded to the wishbone seatstays – the weld is smoothed off to present the appearance of a one-piece top tube and seatstay. We’re mildly ashamed to say that the first thing it made us thing of was a particular generation of Muddy Fox frame, but we’ll swiftly move on from there.
Up front, the gently-curved front end of the down tube (a feature that we’re starting to think is mandated by frame-manufacturing law) meets the head tube amidst an array of gussets. Right at the back, the previous Chameleon’s rear-facing dropouts are gone in favour of a new vertical arrangement. The replaceable gear hanger is along the same lines as that found on the reincarnated Superlight and Heckler frames, and includes a bottle opener.
One of the selling points of the previous frame was its singlespeedability, with the rear-facing dropouts affording enough axle adjustment to tension the chain. Running a rear disc brake at the same time was an inexact science, though – Santa Cruz advised against it, some people managed to make it work, but it was generally a bit unsatisfactory. So for 2008 SC has gone for an eccentric bottom bracket to tension the chain. It’s going to take some UK miles to decide if this is a good idea or not – lots of EBB bikes seem to suffer from persistent creaking and they tend to get gunged up and hard to adjust. And of course, if you’ve got no interest in running one gear, there’s a bit of a weight penalty. Mind you, if you’re obsessing about weight you’re probably not looking at a Chameleon.
The frame is rated to take up to a 160mm travel fork, and you might want to do that if you spend all your time riding off tall things. The demo bike we rode had a 100-120-140 Fox TALAS up front – we had a fiddle with it and concluded that for general all-round singletracky riding it’s a bit of a Three Bears thing. 100mm is a bit on the twitchy side (but entirely usable if you’re so inclined), 140mm is a little wandery (but great on fast, open descents) and 120 feels spot on. If we had one of these and didn’t fit an adjustable travel fork, it’d end up with a 120mm one on it.
Looks-wise, it’s an acquired taste, but then you can’t see most of it when you’re riding it…