Santa Cruz Chameleon

BikeRide Score

Summary of Reviews

We have read all expert and user reviews on the Santa Cruz Chameleon. In summary, this is what cyclists think.

11 reasons to buy

  • The Chameleon demonstrates agile, reptilian handling capabilities.
  • For some lower-end models, experts saw value-for-money as ‘solid’.
  • Generally, climbing ability impressed. One expert deemed it ‘stellar’.
  • The bike can be run geared, singlespeed and with two chainstay lengths.
  • It can also be shod with 27.5” tires (up to 2.6”) or 29” (up to 2.6”).
  • Reportedly, this steed performs savagely on descents.
  • Testers found the Chameleon to be at home at high speeds.
  • SRAM Level T brakes offered adequate stopping power.
  • Bikepackers were satisfied with cargo-carrier mounts under the down-tube.
  • Weight on carbon versions was described as ‘fairly light’.
  • On higher-end models, Race Face Aeffect dropper-posts were lauded.

10 reasons not to buy

  • It was common to hear that higher-end models seemed massively overpriced.
  • For some, steep geometry felt less confident in rapid descents.
  • The short rear-end felt jarring on rocky terrain.
  • An expert loathed the less-aggressive, XC-focused Maxxis Ardent rear tire.
  • On lower-end models, the lack of a dropper-post was a detractor.
  • The Fox 34 shock underwhelmed, as a difficult-to-tune base-model.
  • SRAM Guide brakes lacked power and needed bleeding early on.
  • Some riders would have liked clearance for a 29” x 2.6” tire, or larger.
  • One tester found climbing difficult on an R1, due to a ‘wandering front end’.
  • The Chameleon lacks a downtube bottle-mount.

Bottom line

The Chameleon has been around since 1997, in one guise or another. In its 8th and most recent edition, we see a bike equipped for singletrack, jumping, cross-country and now bikepacking. Innovative rear dropouts allow owners to easily choose from two chainstay lengths. In addition, the bike can be set up as a singlespeed and run with either 29” or 27.5” tires. Plus-size 27.5”s offered increased comfort at lower pressures. In general, reviewers could not overstate the Chameleon’s fun-factor. Unfortunately, when it came to higher-end models, it became clear that the Santa Cruz name demanded eye-wateringly high prices.
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Release Year
Wheel Size
Number of Gears
Gearing Type
28.27, 28.82, 29.62, 26.01, 28 lb
Brake Type
Frame Material

Expert Reviews

82/100 based on 6 rated expert reviews
Dusty Betty

Santa Cruz Chameleon R+ Review

As far as hardtails go I think this is, hands-down, my favorite I’ve ever ridden… Fun-factor: 11/10.

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Santa Cruz Chameleon 7 R1 29 Review

…an addictively engaging, hyper-versatile all rounder that refuses to play by category and geometry fashion rules.

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Feed the Habit

Santa Cruz Chameleon R Aluminum 29 Review

I enjoy the efficiency on climbing and the visceral way it connects you to the trail.

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Santa Cruz Chameleon R1+ 2019 Review

Downhill capabilities are great, climbing is solid and the fun-factor is sky-high.

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Santa Cruz Chameleon 29 R Review

…this bicycle is supremely fun and is a great choice for the rider who wants a hardtail to slap corners and play around.

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Santa Cruz Chameleon C SE+ Long-Term Review

…my preference for bikes is for ones that are agile, light, fun and communicative…this Chameleon has all of these facets in abundance.

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Guy Kesteven

Santa Cruz Chameleon Live Ride Review

This is genuinely as smooth as any of the superfancy steel bikes… I love this bike.

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The Best Hardtail We Can’t Recommend

The spec level on this bike – well, it isn’t amazing, is it? I like it but…I want the top-end stuff for that kind of money!

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Fast and Flurrious MTB

Lets Talk About My 2018 Santa Cruz Chameleon

It is a do-it-all, take-on-anything type bike and I love it, especially for the price.

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Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon (C): Full Review

…if you’re in the market for a trail hardtail that can double as a bikepacking rig, and do both really well, the Carbon Chameleon should probably be on your list.

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2019 Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon – Reviewed

Power transfer was impressive when hammering up out of the saddle. The bike is lively and likes to be pedaled aggressively.

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The Radavist

A Bike That Really Stands Out: the Santa Cruz Chameleon 27.5+ Hardtail

..if I lost all of my bikes and had to buy one frame, it would be the Chameleon.

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Dirt Rag Mag

Santa Cruz Chameleon

The versatility from one end to the other is unmatched, and the Santa Cruz Chameleon continues to prove itself as a do-it-all machine.

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User Ratings

100/100 based on 1 ratings
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Bike Comparison

Santa Cruz Chameleon in comparison to averages

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