Santa Cruz Chameleon review

Hardtail with lots of build options

Our rating 
3.5 out of 5 star rating 3.5
GBP £2,198.00 RRP | USD $3,330.00

Our review

A capable, confident hardtail, but the spec of this particular build isn’t that great value
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The legendary do-it-all Chameleon from Santa Cruz has had an overhaul for 2013, with the promise of making it even more versatile and capable. 


Ride & handling: Lively and responsive 

It was as we plunged down the ragged, roughly cut hillside trail that we realised just how capable the Chameleon was. The stiff, precise feel that the frame delivers makes for a lively, responsive ride that lets you rapidly react to obstacles or the need to change line. 

The Chameleon’s geometry underlines the bike’s eagerness to be ridden just about anywhere, balancing snappy handling with a good dose of stability. The 1,105mm (43.5in) wheelbase and now slacker head angle combine to create a confident ride on more challenging, high-speed trails while the short 420mm chainstays help to keep things lively and flickable in tighter, more technical situations. 

The additional length in the top tube means climbing is comfortable and efficient but on longer drags, you’ll notice the 13.15kg (28.99lb) weight and 2.35in High Roller tyres. 

The SLX Shadow Plus rear mech makes a big difference on rougher sections, reducing chain noise significantly but considering the price, we’d prefer a higher-end double- or single-ring chainset and a FIT damper equipped Fox fork. There’s loads of mud clearance at the rear – we never had a problem with clogging. 

There’s plenty of mud clearance, which is great for uk riding:
Steve Behr/Future Publishing

There’s plenty of mud clearance, which is great for UK riding

Frame & equipment: Aggro skeleton with variable spec 

A combination of the newly added tapered head tube and ISCG 05 chainguide mounts gives a nod towards the general hooliganism that this little beast is capable of. The addition of the replaceable rear dropouts boosts the bike’s all-round flexibility further. These can be removed via the four 5mm Allen key bolts (two each side), to offer a choice between the fixed vertical dropout option for a geared setup, or the adjustable dropout option for running a singlespeed setup. 

The Chameleon’s new hydroformed aluminium tubeset has allowed Santa Cruz to do away with weighty gusseting. Doing so, they claim, has shaved 1lb from the frame without sacrificing any strength. 

When it comes to geometry, Santa Cruz have added a bit more material to the top tube and slackened the head angle a touch. Ours measured in at 66.2 degrees.

Build options start at a fairly reasonable £1,599, but with the choice of adding such gems as a RockShox Reverb seatpost and Fox’s Kashima-coated 34 FIT fork, that price can easily start to soar. 

Our build is more all-mountain than cross-country, which is why it sports the Maxxis High Roller 2.35in tyres and a lengthier 710mm RaceFace Ride bar. We switched to a shorter 50mm stem just to liven the steering up.


This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.

Product Specifications


Name Chameleon (13) (custom build)
Brand Santa Cruz

Available Colours Neon Green
Rear Derailleur Shimano SLX Shadow Plus
Weight (kg) 13.15
Stem RaceFace Ride 70mm
Seatpost RaceFace Ride
Saddle WTB Volt Race
Rims Mavic EN321
Rear Tyre Maxxis High Roller 2.35"
Rear Hub Shimano
Handlebar RaceFace Ride 710mm
Available Sizes L M S XL
Front Tyre Size 2.35in
Front Tyre Maxxis
Front Hub Shimano
Front Derailleur Shimano XT
Frame Material Hydroformed aluminium
Fork Fox 32 Float CTD O/C, 130mm (5.1in) travel
Cranks M552 24/32/42 10-speed
Brakes Avid Elixir 5
Weight (lb) 29