Santa Cruz Chameleon Review: Find Out If It's Right for You

Review of Santa Cruz Chameleon: Versatile Hardtails for Any MTB Application

santa cruz chameleon mountain bike
We are reader-supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through the links on our site. Read More...

Santa Cruz Chameleon is one of the most adaptable hardtail bikes around. It comes with an aluminum frame, adjustable dropouts, and with 29″ wheels and tires. Ride it hard on the trails or take it backpacking for weeks!

Santa Cruz Chameleon is a fun-loving hardtail designed to do whatever crosses your mind. Depending on the setup you choose, it can be excited about running single tracks, descents, and loose trails, or support you on day-long adventures in the saddle.

The name “Chameleon” suits it perfectly as it can change in numerous ways to blend in with its environment. If you want one bike that can assume the roles of several completely different two-wheelers, Santa Cruz Chameleon is your best bet.


Who Is Santa Cruz Chameleon For?

Santa Cruz didn’t make Chameleon with a particular type of cyclist in mind. Instead, they made it to meet the needs of a wide range of cyclists with different riding styles and preferences.

The 29″ wheels are perfect for speed and distance, as they roll better and help you maintain flow. Even though they’re a better choice for descents, Chameleon is not really suitable for smashing rock gardens as it is a hardtail. It is better to stick to dirt when riding it.

Santa Cruz Chameleon is an excellent trail bike with good climbing abilities, excellent descending prowess, and nimble handling.

When you’re tired of doing loops on backyard trails, fit it with bags, racks, and cages, and head out on a bikepacking expedition.


Quick Overview — Multiple Builds Available

Santa Cruz Chameleon is available in several aluminum (A) models called D, R, and S. Each model comes with the same Chameleon Aluminum frame.

While all of these bikes are essentially different and provide a different riding experience, they are all characterized by some common features:

  • Aluminum Frame.
  • 29″ Wheels and Tires.
  • 130mm Front Travel.
  • Adjustable Dropouts.
  • 1x Drivetrains.


These models are also available in two color schemes — Gloss Navy Blue, or Golden Yellow.

The prices vary between these different builds. You can get an Chameleon D for as little as $2,399 or you can go for the Chameleon S for $3,749. 

Therefore, Santa Cruz Chameleon is suitable for beginners, enthusiasts, and hardcore riders alike.



Chameleon D


Santa Cruz Bicycles - Chameleon A D

Santa Cruz Chameleon D is the most affordable model you can get. Right now, it costs just $2,399 which is a pretty reasonable price for the components and performance you get.

This bike is only available with an aluminum frame which is complemented with a RockShox Recon RL fork, which has 130mm of travel.

It is equipped with SRAM’s SX Eagle groupset that offers a 1×12 drivetrain, coupled with SRAM’s Level hydraulic disc brakes.

This model rolls on WTB ST i30 rims, with the Maxxis Minion DHF (2.5″) and Maxxis Aggressor (2.5″) tire combo.

You do get a dropper post on the Chameleon D in the SDG Tellis Dropper, as well as tubeless tires. 

It’s a great choice for beginner and intermediate riders who want recognizable quality at a low price.

See the Model on evo


Chameleon R


Santa Cruz Bicycles - Chameleon A R Complete Mountain Bike

Chameleon R is a peculiar build in that it is available with the same aluminum frame as the Chameleon D. Overall, there aren’t really any big differences between the two.

This build comes with SRAM’s NX Eagle drivetrain, which is slightly higher-end than the SX Eagle, and offers 12 speeds. It also features a FOX Rhythm 34 fork with 130mm of travel, same as above.

The brakes are SRAM Guide T, which are typically found on the more expensive carbon MTB models that cost upwards of $3,500.

The distribution of tires here is the same as on the cheaper Chameleon D, which is fine as they are still a pretty good choice at this price.

While past years had different dropper posts between the D and R models, Santa Cruz has outfitted the R model with the same seat post as the Chameleon D in the SDG Tellis Dropper.

See the Model on evo


Chameleon S


Santa Cruz Bicycles - Chameleon A S

Chameleon S is where the performance builds begin. These models are built around Santa Cruz’s aluminum frame combined with a Fox 34 Float Performance front suspension that offers 130mm of travel.

For this model, Santa Cruz opted for the 1×12 SRAM GX Eagle groupset with a 10-50T cassette and a 30T crankset.

The brakes have received an upgrade as well, so these builds come equipped with SRAM G2 R brakes and levers, coupled with Avid Centerline 180mm rotors.

Chameleon S models roll on Race Face AR wheels that are wrapped in the same Maxxis tires found on the other models.

The dropper post is the same as the D and R models in the SDG Tellis Dropper.

All of these improvements make Santa Cruz Chameleon S a great choice for results-oriented riders who don’t want to stretch their budget too much.


Downhill and Climbing Performance

All Chameleon 29 models offer decent downhill performance. As expected, 29er builds do well in this realm.

However, the rather narrow 29 tires are not suited for trails with lots of rocks and roots. When descending, Chameleon feels most at home on smooth and fast descents that get the adrenaline going.

Moreover, Chameleon has a decently slack geometry, so it gets your heart racing when you find yourself at the top of a very steep descent. Once you get down, you’ll enjoy confidence once again due to superb handling and traction.

Santa Cruz Bikes riding

When it comes to climbing, the 29″ models perform really well, especially on very rough climbs. This is where its light tires really come to shine, and the position is comfortable as well, but not perfect.

The seat tube angle is rather slack, so it shifts your position backward, especially if you have very long legs. Therefore, on very steep climbs, tall riders might not get all the leverage they need to stomp the pedals.

All Chameleon models come with a dropper post as well, which becomes very handy when you need to get in an aggressive descending position and really storm the hill.

Therefore, we’d say Santa Cruz is a good climber and an excellent descender, so you can expect a well-rounded performance on most of your rides.


Related Santa Cruz Models


Geometry & Sizing

One of the reasons why so many riders love Santa Cruz is the geometry of the bikes they make. They’ve always had clever solutions to provide their fans with progressive geometries that become better with every new iteration.

Even though 29″ Chameleon builds should be totally different, they have pretty much the same geometry. One of the ways Santa Cruz did this is by giving 29″ models 130mm of travel.

As a result, the head tube angle on all models is 65° and the seat tube angle is 74.1-6°, which are minimal fluctuations.

Both versions are available in four sizes and the chart looks the same no matter the frame material or the wheel size:


Santa Cruz Chameleon Sizing

5’0″ — 5’5″
5’5″ — 5’10”
5’10” — 6’1″
6’1″ — 6’6″



Santa Cruz Chameleon is a versatile hardtail bicycle that can be used for different types of riding. As its name tells you, it can assume different roles and lets you customize it. Chameleon is great for bikepacking, trail riding, cross-country exploration, and a lot more.

Santa Cruz Chameleon is a premium hardtail mountain bike available with a carbon or aluminum frame. This bike is compatible with 27.5″ and 29″ wheels and comes with adjustable drop-outs, which means that you can even set it up as a single-speed rig.

No, Santa Cruz Chameleon is a hardtail bicycle. That means that only the fork has suspension travel, whereas the rear end is rigid.

Santa Cruz Chameleon comes tubeless. It is shipped with tubeless rim tape and valve stems already installed. Santa Cruz even includes Stan’s Sealant with the bike, so all you need to do is pour the sealant into the tire, inflate it, and head outside to ride.

Santa Cruz Chameleon’s frame weighs around 2000g (4.4 lbs). However, the exact weight depends on the size of the frame, so it’s hard to attach a precise number to it.


Final Verdict

suggestedAs we’ve mentioned above, Santa Cruz Chameleon is an unprecedentedly fun bike. It is also one of the most adjustable hardtail bikes out there, which makes it a safe choice for riders who are still trying to find their favorite MTB style.

However, it’s a great choice for those who have their mind set on one type of riding as well, as Chameleon can change colors and do it all.

Get the 29er if you’re a bit more serious and goal-oriented, focusing on speed and results at the end of each ride. On the other hand, the 27.5+ model will suit you well if you like having fun, testing new tracks, and spiking up the adrenaline.

See All Chameleon Models on evo