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Santa Cruz Introduces the New Chameleon

Leapin' Lizards!

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Somehow, we all got the wrong idea about chameleons. Yes, they are able to change the color of their skin, but they don’t do it to blend in with their environment. In fact, it’s often the exact opposite. It may be done in order to show dominance or to attract attention. It’s an expression of the chameleon’s mood or intention. Sure, they also sometimes do it to help regulate their temperature, but that doesn’t work with the long-winded analogy I’m working up to, so let’s stick with the self-expression thing. In fact, Santa Cruz is leaning into that, with a series of bios of the interesting things some folks are doing with their Chamelions.

Ever since the Santa Cruz Chameleon was born, it was able to change its stripes. Its historically aggressive geometry made it well suited for aggressive trail riding, but being a hardtail, it could also potentially crush laps on an XC course. It’s also had the ability to shed its derailleurs, meaning it could also crush laps at the pump track, crush tables at the dirt jumps, or just crush beers at a single-speed race.

Maybe that’s how the whole blending-in-to-its-environment thing took hold. But today, choosing to ride a hardtail is more of a statement than ever. The new Chameleon seems determined not to be overlooked. Once again available only in aluminum, this generation has the same low standover and short chainstays that it’s always had. It’s built around a 130-millimeter fork, the head angle has slackened to 65 degrees, and the reach numbers grew, though not excessively.

But the most significant change may be in the Chameleon’s new sliding dropouts. They’ve generally been how Santa Cruz gets the single-speed-ability out of the Chameleon, but now, because 2021, those dropouts also allow for a mixed-wheel setup. Without the need for a “MX”-specific frame, you can opt for dropouts that make up for the different axle height of a 27.5-inch wheel without disrupting the frame’s geometry.

And in a feature that’s almost too practical to be seen on a bike so fun-loving, Santa Cruz also built those dropouts around the UDH derailleur hanger. Instead of getting off on the technicality that a sliding dropout is itself a replaceable derailleur hanger, Santa Cruz showed that standardization doesn’t necessarily have to stifle creativity.

There are three builds available in the Chameleon, each with the option to be either 29-inch or mixed-wheel. None are meant to be top-notch superbikes, but this is Santa Cruz, so the Chameleon isn’t the sort of hardtail you choose because you’re on a budget.

There are also features like room for 2.6-inch tires in its 29er version, or a 2.8-inch rear tire in the MX configuration. And a three-bolt bottle or accessory mount below the downtube. These are highlights you might see on a bike that could even be suited for a little bikepacking. But let’s call it shredpacking. You don’t want to blend in too much.

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