The all new Santa Cruz Chameleon is capable of shifting from a trail rig to a bikepacking mule using an elegant swappable dropout system — and 29er or 27.5+ hoops. It’s not too shabby to look at either. What do you think?

Posted by Logan Watts

Dirt or asphalt, mountain or urban, geared or singlespeed. All potential possibilities that Santa Cruz claims for their new Chameleon. While the new Santa Cruz Chameleon was just ‘released’ earlier this week, it technically already hit stores earlier this month. This is actually the seventh iteration of the Santa Cruz Chameleon. It features a completely redesigned frame that allows it to be setup geared or singlespeed, with 27.5+ wheels and tires or 29ers. The crux of the Chameleon remains the same; built on modern trail bike geometry and a 120mm fork, it’s designed to ride fast and have fun. However, we took note because this one-bike wonder looks like it has potential as a solid bikepacking rig as well. With internal dropper post routing, long and low trail geometry, downtube bottle mounts, a pretty solid component spec, and the potential for plus or 29er wheels, what more do you need? Read on to find out more details and let us know what you think in the comments.

  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017
  • Santa Cruz Chameleon Tire Clearance
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017

The new Santa Cruz Chameleon has four different swappable dropouts. Clockwise below are Boost 27.5+, Boost 29er, 142×12 Singlespeed 27.5+, and 142×12 Singlespeed 29er. This interchangeable system enables the Chameleon to maintain the same geometry regardless of wheel size.

  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, Dropout
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, Dropout
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, Dropout
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, Dropout

New Santa Cruz Chameleon Geometry

The new Santa Cruz Chameleon comes Olive Green and is available in four sizes ranging from small to XL. There are several builds available including 29er and 27.5+ starter kits for $1,599 USD with a Rockshox Recon fork — the same fork is used for both 29er and 27.5+. We like the looks of the $1,999 Chameleon R+, a 27.5+ build featuring a Fox Rhythm 120 fork with a Race Face Affect Cinch crankset and Race Face AR 40 rims. Here’s the spec:

2017 Santa Cruz Chameleon R+

Santa Cruz Chameleon R+

  • Frame Material Aluminum
  • Fork FOX Rhythm 120
  • Rear Dérailleur SRAM NX
  • Shifters SRAM NX
  • Chainring Size 30 Tooth
  • Crankset Race Face Aeffect AL
  • Bottom Bracket Included w/ crankset
  • Cassette SRAM XG1150 10-42
  • Chain SRAM PC1110
  • Brakes SRAM Level T
  • Brake Rotors Avid Centerline; 160mm
  • Headset Cane Creek 10 Series; integrated
  • Bars Race Face Ride 760mm, 35mm clamp
  • Stem Race Face Ride, 35mm clamp
  • Grips Santa Cruz Palmdale Lock-on
  • Front Hub Novatec D711; 15x110mm
  • Rear Hub Novatec D712; 12x148mm
  • Rims Race Face AR 40
  • Spokes DT Swiss Champion
  • Front Tire Maxxis Rekon EXO TR; 27.5×2.8
  • Rear Tire Maxxis Rekon Exo; 27.5×2.8
  • Tubes Stans Sealant
  • Seat Post Race Face Ride 31.6x400mm
  • Saddle WTB Volt Race

New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017

  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017
  • New Santa Cruz Chameleon, 2017

We hope to test one soon and report back. In the meantime, more at

  • Alexander Sollie

    Seems like a more expensive Salsa Timberjack. Any compelling reason to get one of these over the Timberjack or the Big Honzo?

  • All tempting options for sure. I think the swappable dropouts on this one will be of interest to some folks. I think it’s the most interesting system I’ve seen. Other than that it’s a matter of looking closely at the geometry and component spec. Skyler mentioned that he likes the Kina due to the steeper seat tube.

  • I’m digging it.

  • rocketman

    nice job on the redesign but aluminum hardtails are still too rough riding, even with 3″ tires

  • Yeah, I’m definitely a fan of steel bikes over aluminum (or carbon oddly enough). That said, I was impressed with the alloy Timberjack when I rode it at Saddledrive last year. Aluminum’s harshness isn’t quite as bad with plush tubeless 27.5+ rubber underneath…

  • 3.0″ tires and a suspension fork should basically make the frame material irrelevant at least as far as rider comfort is concerned. Add an engineered carbon post like the Syntace P6 Hi-Flex and it would be nearly impossible to identify the frame material while riding blind and none of the bikes would be considered harsh. Tires, saddle, handlebars, suspension set-up, grips, and seatpost all make a big difference here, I’m not convinced frame material does.

  • rocketman

    certainly those things can mitigate a harsh riding frame. But why not start out with a more supple materiel 1st? I wouldn’t want to mount my PR Mr Fusion to that expensive carbon post nor spend extra $$ to try to fix a harsher riding frame. Not to mention materiel durability and ease of repair of steel frames.

  • I’m not convinced the rear end of a hardtail mountain bike frame is doing much to flex or act in a way that can be described as supple, and I won’t accept that this bike is harsh simply because of the material used. To handle the massive forces when mountain biking, to resist flexing too much under pedaling loads, and to be truly durable over the long haul, those two triangles in the back end of a hardtail are extremely stiff and strong, no matter the material. That said, any material can be engineered to affect ride quality. For instance, Salsa claims the rear end of their aluminum Warbird frames are more compliant then the now-retired titanium Warbird frames, and the carbon models are even better in this respect. It isn’t necessarily true that aluminum is harsh, titanium is supple, and carbon is stiff. With engineering, any other these material could be described by any of these words.

    I ride a steel bike because it is a durable material that resists impacts and abrasion, better than carbon or aluminum, but I don’t think it rides any “softer” than the aluminum fatbikes I’ve ridden, or Lael’s aluminum Fuse.

  • rocketman

    I really don’t pay much attention to what a mfg says about their frame as they certainly have a bias. Having ridden many frames in my life I only ride steel now as the combination of frame design and materials offer the best ride. I’ve certainly noticed this comparing an aluminum Salsa fat bike to my Ritchey Commando on hardpack. Even at low fatbike tire pressures
    I have limited experience on carbon frames so I can’t compare those.
    Aluminum frames have to be built stiffer to compensate for their reduced tensile properties and lack of ductility. But,yes you are right, that it greatly depends on frame design

  • I will say that I have noticed that a couple alloy frames I’ve ridden seem to ‘carry’ vibration more so that comparable steel frames. Again, these are small tire bikes I’m referring to. I’m not at all talking small bump compliance, but vibrations. I’d definitely be interested in trying the alloy Warbird Jost to compare it to the carbon version I rode. I was impressed with their ‘VRS’ on both the Cutthroat and the Warbird.

  • Dave

    Honest questions: Salsa’s alternator dropouts seem better than having to entirely replace these Santa Cruz dropouts (which entails more work and more parts to keep track of). Am I missing something? They both produce the same end result.

    Also, the choice of only a 160mm front rotor strikes me as odd and under-spec’ed in 2017 for a trail bike (or for bikepacking any kind of technical singletrack).

  • They’re actually quite similar to Alternators. both have different sets of plates and require dismantling to swap configurations. I like how these have the embedded adjustment screw assembly with the rugged looking Allen bolt, versus the small rear external screw of the Alternators (that rely on a dab of Loctite). That said, the alternators are definitely proven. I’ve personally ridden them on some long and rough trips.

  • Per

    How would the Fox forks handle the long hauls?

  • I’ve ridden a Fox fork on long trips over 1000 miles with no issues to speak of

  • Nathan Fenchak

    Late to the party, and this is kind of a retro-grouchey reason, but the Chameleon’s threaded bottom bracket is one reason to choose it over a Timberjack or Honzo.

  • Chris King

    Historically, the Chameleon has been a bomb-proof hardtail. No seat tube bottle mounts and compact
    front triangle make this seem a little less than ideal for long trips, though. Could it be used for bikepacking? Of course! Might there be some better options? Definitely.

  • But, unlike a lot of hardtail, it has under downtime bottle mounts… so if you’re running a frame bag, that’s a plus. It is a small triangle though…

  • Bryan

    Where does it say the Timberjack doesn’t have threaded bottom brackets?

  • Nathan Fenchak

    It doesn’t. I was wrong and the timberjack does have a threaded BB

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