nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7347.jpg
COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW

2019 Santa Cruz Carbon Chameleon - REVIEWED

Words Andrew Major
Photos Dave Smith (DS) & Andrew Major (AM)
Date May 7, 2019

TL;DR

I've had the opportunity to review some very interesting* takes on the mountain bicycle but I've never found myself wanting to say so much about a bike as pedestrian looking as the carbon Chameleon from Santa Cruz Bicycles.

And yet it doesn't top the charts in any single category. One look at the geometry will tell you this bike isn't for anyone chasing trends. Thanks to the single speed-friendly rocker dropouts and do-anything carbon layup it isn't going to win any hardtail weight weenie awards. The internal cable routing seems like a sad 'industry standard**' afterthought from the only company that makes bikes with internal routing as good as well thought out external routing. The Reserve level spec could comprise an article of its own.

And yet, I look at the entire field and if I was in the market for a carbon hardtail frame this is the only one I'd consider. It combines the solid singlespeed-ability of the carbon Pivot LES*** with the great trail geometry of the carbon Honzo. In a word, the carbon Chameleon has serious potential.

*Think Marin's 'unique' looking Wolf Ridge and Trek's 29+ Stache.

**'Industry Standard' in this case being just putting a few holes in the frame for housing to travel through.

***The LES is the only carbon frame with an adjustable dropout system as good as the Chameleon's.

SC Chameleon Carbon Build NSMB AndrewM.JPG

When asked if I wanted to test the 'new' Chameleon I assumed it was an updated aluminum model. This is literally the moment I found out it was a carbon bike. Photo: Andrew Major (AM)

Single speed or geared, the Chameleon could be a freeride hardtail, gravel grinder, XC race bike for technical courses, bike packing adventure machine or even a dirt jumper. As with the aluminum Chameleon the carbon frame has a ride quality that will surprise riders (including me) whose other frame experiences make steel the default hardtail material.

Santa Cruz Chameleon NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

The Santa Cruz Chameleon: It's a pack a beer on a ride bike. Photo: AM

SC Chameleon Carbon Ride NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

It's a hammer up the climbs like you're mad bike. AM

SC Chameleon Carbon 1FG NSMB AndrewM (5).JPG

It's a quick swap to a single speed bike. AM

I'm going to drill a lot deeper here but for folks in the market for a carbon hardtail with just enough time for a two minute bike review - I think this is the one. Build your dream single speed on the 1600 USD frame or pop 3800 USD for the full GX-Eagle, 'S' level Chameleon and upgrade strategically as you go. This modern take on the anywhere, anything, any-trail 'mountain bike' could be just what you need. Just add the meat engine.

Chameleon Sizing

It's my feeling that changing fork offset 7mm is more about personal preference and adapting than any real benefit, but in practice Santa Cruz's decision to spec an on-trend 44mm offset fork means anyone looking at a complete Chameleon will want to go with whatever size frame works best for their body with a 35-50mm stem.

In practice the short offset fork performs best with a shorter stem and handling gets a bit weird trying to jump up to a longer stem - in my case a 60mm and 70mm. I could likely adapt to a bit of front wheel flop with the longer stems, but if I was planning to run one I'd get a 51mm offset fork.

That would put my 5'9" on a large frame if I was buying the Chameleon for my local trails, mated to a 140mm or even 150mm fork and run with the wheelbase as long as possible. But that's only part of the story of a bike, whether purchased in aluminum or carbon, that can be almost anything to anyone.

Santa Cruz Chameleon Geometry

Buying complete? Pick the size that works with a 35-50mm stem. Building a frame? A 70mm stem and 51mm fork offset may be the ticket for a more XC-minded rider.

Frame only, living most other places I've ridden, I'd actually opt for a medium. It actually sounds weird writing that as I've been riding a large in everything for a while now but paired with a short stem and with the wheelbase tucked in, the Chameleon is as much fun as you can have pumping a 29er through smooth, fast trails. A medium frame with a 120mm fork would also be hyper adapatable. A full-dentist carbon 29er dirt jumper with a 40mm stem, all mountain machine with a 60mm stem, and an aggressive XC race single speed with an 80mm stem.

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7448.jpg

For my preferred local riding I'd choose a large (I'm 5'9"). Most places, a medium Chameleon and a box of stems from 40mm-80mm would be my fun do-it-all. Photo: Dave Smith

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7352.jpg

Compared to today's bleeding edge geometry, the Chameleon's side profile almost looks classic NORBA. Amazing how a 67° head tube angle sags out to an XC-trail number in 2019. Photo: DS

Whether size medium or large, I think the pedaling position is brilliant for delivering power. Where a lot of hardtails are going with comparatively perpendicular saddle positions favoured on current suspension bikes that only work on the steepest climbs.

Then again, the long-legged among us may find that the position is too far over the rear wheel when the 150mm Reverb is at full extension, especially if over-forking the Santa Cruz. As always, test ride - then decide.

1FG

I figured that no one really needed another GX Eagle review, so after a few rides to get the Chameleon dialed in I went single speed for the rest of the test period. The frame is snappy under hard efforts and the dropouts are excellent so it's a very easy bike to recommend for single speed riding as a blank slate bike.

Due to the drive side chainstay being dropped, gearing options are unorthodox. Anyone coming from the '32 x Gear' school is going to have to get their head around running a 34t ring up front unless they're happy with a fairly low 32x22t ratio.

Santa Cruz Chameleon AndrewM

The dropouts are a bit more involved to adjust than the swingers on the Pivot LES, but all the same they're excellent to use. AM

SC Chameleon Carbon 1FG NSMB AndrewM (5).JPG

I was happy riding 32 x 22t and 34 x 22t. Anyone looking for higher ratios is going to need to stick with '34 x Gear' when calculating their inches. AM

Santa Cruz Chameleon AndrewM

I wonder what percentage of Chameleon owners will appreciate the attention that went into this dropout interface. Beauty. AM

I went into a lot more detail on how the drop outs are adjusted in my first look, and I was not surprised that they presented zero issue with movement or noise in use.

There is a 142 x 12 single speed specific dropout kit available for those wanting to use their existing high-end single speed wheelset, but I'd suggest anyone going from scratch just build up a Boost wheelset and enjoy the future swap-ability.

SC Chameleon Carbon 1FG NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

Using a Problem Solvers Zinger kit I used the stock XD Hope / Reserve wheelset for some of the test period. AM

SC Chameleon Carbon 1FG NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

I also ran the bike with a set of Project 321 hubs on Race Face ARC aluminum rims which was an interesting change in experience. AM

SC Chameleon Carbon 1FG NSMB AndrewM.JPG

Chain clearance is tight with a 32t chainring. Plan to run a 34t for single speed usage. AM

As much as this sounds like a cliché bit of carbon road bike advertising, it's crazy how well the Chameleon demonstrates the material's unique ride quality when combined with good design. I've ridden plenty of carbon hardtails that are stiff as f*** up and down and the Chameleon is not one of those.

Power transfer was impressive when hammering up out of the saddle. The bike is lively and likes to be pedaled aggressively. At the same time the ride quality both sitting and standing, with my wheels, was at least equal to my custom steel frame in a much lighter package.

On Personal Preference

My personal hardtail is a custom Walt Works which I call a medium. Comparing static geometry, the wheelbase is 50mm longer as it sits and the head tube angle (HTA) is about a degree slacker. It's also a rigid bike, so while the Chameleon is getting shorter and steeper anytime the terrain gets nasty, the Walt stays the same.

I bring it up because if this was 2017, when I rode the aluminum Chameleon, I would be comparing the bike against a Kona Honzo with a similar wheelbase and steeper HTA and I'd be happy with the geometry. In 2019, on local terrain, I couldn't help but wish the Chameleon was a little less snappy and a little more large-and-in-charge.

SC Chameleon Carbon Ride NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

I preferred riding the Chameleon on the relatively faster and more flowy local trails like 7th Secret and Severed Dick. AM

Santa Cruz Chameleon AndrewM

The majority of my Chameleon rides were in the dark where I would have happily traded some playfulness for a bit more stability. AM

SC Chameleon Carbon Ride NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

The Chameleon was a great bike to climb on. Power transfer meets ride quality. It's still a hardtail mind you, lots of standing makes for a happy back. AM

Going up a frame size would help some, but my experience with the current Honzo ST in a large says that I'd like something longer and much slacker. If this was a custom frame I'd add 20mm+ to the rear centre and knock 2° off the head angle. Unfortunately, the drop-in bearing headset spec means there is no option to put in an angleset or else I could have found my happy place with a -2° headset, 150mm fork, and the stays run full long on a large frame.

I think any complaints I have about the descending prowess of the Chameleon come down to what I'm used to. Anyone happily running a stock Kona Honzo will be very impressed with the ride quality and geometry of the Chameleon.

RESERVE-ations

I pulled the Chameleon out of the box, built it up with my tiny mechanic, and went for a pavement break-in ride. I remember thinking "wow, this thing goes." The 2.3" Ardent Race and Minion DHF combo are the perfect spec for a hardtail that's going to be asked to do everything but still knobby enough that the snappiness was surprising. My first ride up the road from home was easily my fastest trip to the trail. That's where the love affair ended abruptly, and the reason that I find myself recommending either a frame-only build or the basic Chameleon 'S' for a complete option.

I actually shed a tear thinking that Santa Cruz had blown it with the carbon version of this bike. The aluminum Chameleon is easily the best riding aluminum hardtail I've thrown a leg over in terms of ride quality and here I'm having Deja Vu of my 2009-ish Gary Fisher carbon hardtail.

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7374.jpg

My opinion is that the Reserve rims, and most carbon rims for that matter, are too stiff for hardtail usage. Maybe I'm just a wuss. DS

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7381.jpg

The most notable upgrades of the Reserve-level build are the wheels and SRAM carbon cranks. I'd rather put that money into brakes and a fork. DS

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7399.jpg

Apparently SRAM's carbon cranks are the most reliable on the market, but I'll stick with aluminum on my own bikes, thanks. DS

AJ's experience with the Reserve wheels, on a full suspension bike, was that "the strength to comfort ratio of the Reserves strikes an excellent balance, unmatched by the competition" but my experience, on a hardtail, is that they're as stiff as anything I've ridden.

I removed them early in the test in favour of a set of wheels laced up with Race Face ARC aluminum hoops, with similarly sized tires, and the Chameleon frame immediately came alive. I went from dreading having to write this review to having a great experience with the bike with a wheel change that would allow me to buy a slew of other upgrades for the same price.

If it was my personal bike, I'd have two sets of wheels. A pair of Stan's Crest MK3 rims laced up for max comfort at a light weight, while still being a durable rim, for lighter trail action and some Flows, ARCs, or most likely Blunt rims with inserts for when things get dumb.

Over-Forked

Would it be a North Shore hardtail test without over-forking the Chameleon? I rode the bike with 120mm, 140mm, and a 160mm fork and I think the happy place for aggressive riding is going to be a 130mm or 140mm fork (or equivalent A-to-C height) with a 120mm fork for XC-trail action or bike packing adventures.

On that note, being that this is a hardtail I'd really like to see a fork with a sealed damper unit. Whether a Fox FIT, RockShox, or other, a sealed damper makes for faster and cleaner basic lower service for folks who lean on their hardtails over nasty winter months to keep maintenance down on their full suspension bikes. A fork with a sealed damper is also infinitely more field-serviceable when that creek crossing in the Chilcotin is a lot deeper than expected or your bikepacking rig falls off that Long-tail boat in Thailand.

SC Chameleon Carbon Overfork NSMB AndrewM (1).JPG

The Trace 36 was great at 140mm travel and overkill when cornering at 160mm. My favourite front end setup was the 120mm Mattoc Pro 29+. AM

SC Chameleon Carbon Overfork NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

While I'm used to notably slacker hardtails, I had no problem riding the Chameleon in steeper situations. Especially with a bit longer fork that rode higher in its travel. AM

Let's back up for a moment to talk about a frame-up build. If this was my bike I'd be running a 120mm Manitou Mattoc Pro 29+ with an i40 rim and a Bontrager SE4 3" up front for Shore riding. In most other places that would morph into a 140mm fork with a similar axle-to-crown like the Suntour Auron RC2-PCS and a 2.35" E13 TRSr tire up front on an i30. In either case it would be a 2.6" Bontrager SE5 out back for winter and a 2.35" E13 LG1r semi-slick for faster conditions. I know a couple of people talking about doing carbon Chameleon frame-up builds and I think it's one of the more interesting frames on the market in terms of seeing where folks' imaginations take them.

Frame Only

The carbon Chameleon's paint job is surprisingly polarizing. I enjoy the copper-brown and think up close it highlights the organic shapes of the frame. Compared to similarly high-priced carbon frames, the Chameleon's frame flows together on another level, from how the adjustable drop-outs are received to the way the front triangle flows into the rear.

I have to say I'm disappointed that the Chameleon doesn't have the best-in-industry internal cable routing for which Santa Cruz is oft-heralded. Even folks like me who would always prefer external routing have to admit that their in-moulded channels are as good as it gets.

Here we see 'industry standard' internal cable routing for the front triangle. Given the rear brake and derailleur are both routed externally on the rear triangle, I think they would have been best just to route all the cables externally except for a stealthy exit point at the back of the seat tube.

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7406.jpg

The only two features I'd change are the non-Santa-Cruz-Bicycles-level internal cable routing and the drop-in bearing headset. DS

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7434.jpg

I find the Chameleon frame to be totally gorgeous. As cheap as I am, I can clearly see where folks would go carbon over aluminum. DS

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7445.jpg

Removable frame protection and all the front end stiffness any rider could want. Threaded bottom bracket because why would they run anything else? DS

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chameleon-7397.jpg

As with the aluminum Chameleon, the ride quality engineered into the rear triangle is surprising given my other experiences with the material. DS

Tire clearance is also impressive for a carbon bike, especially with the option to run the stays at 415mm with a true 2.3" knobby. My 2.6" knobby didn't clear with the stays set at their shortest, but at ~425mm with my single speed setup there was plenty of room.

Wanting to go bigger? There are increasingly great options for 27+ rubber and what's more on-trend that running a 27" rear wheel with a 29" front wheel? Choose a 27 x 3" rear tire, 29 x 3" front tire, Mattoc Pro fork, and away I go. I'd add a 170mm PNW Bachelor dropper post and a pair of Magura Trail Sport brakes to fill out my key components.

Santa Cruz Chameleon AndrewM

Ample tire clearance on both sides with 2.3" rubber and the stays set at 415mm. AM

Santa Cruz Chameleon AndrewM

The shortest I ran the stays with a bigger tire was ~425mm and a 2.6" SE4 cleared just fine. AM

When it comes to the carbon competition, I think the Chameleon's strength is in the 1600 USD frameset option and I'd be very curious to know how frame only sales numbers compare to the complete options. Anyone considering building a single speed might want to start from a frame set, but I also think I could min-max myself a geared carbon Chameleon to better suit me for 5700 USD* starting with a frame and working with my local shop. **

*Beating the 3800 USD option would be tougher

**Realistically if I had 3800 USD, or 5700 USD, to spend on a complete hardtail I'd choose something with a lower-end drivetrain and upgrade suspension and brakes. Likewise, with 1600 USD to spend on a frame I'd probably choose custom steel to get exactly the geometry I want.

Sprite Millwright

I hate to call the carbon Chameleon a 'jack of all trades' because it's a fully ticketed master of some of them. It's the only carbon hardtail frame on the market that I'd consider; it's an excellent single speed - period; it's a great Tech-C, Shore-XC, etc frame thanks to more-aggressive-than-XC-race geo and for folks who aren't challenging for the pro podium it would be an excellent XC race bike.

I'd be happy to debate any competitor folks can raise in carbon fibre. On the other hand, the obvious competition for the carbon Santa Cruz Chameleon - especially if we're talking complete bikes - is the aluminum model of the same. It has a similarly surprising ride quality to efficiency ratio without resorting to much heavier steel construction for a similarly durable bike.

nsmb2019-gearreview-firstlook-santacruz-chamele.original_rOOQcZw.jpg

I don't think there's a competitor on the market that can match what the Chameleon brings to the table in carbon fiber. DS

2017 Santa Cruz Chameleon

There are lots of great options in other materials, including the aluminum version of the Chameleon which matches the ride quality while remaining much lighter than the equivalent bike in steel. DS

If I set out to build the lightest aggressive hardtail, single speed or geared, lived where snappy handling was more important than stability, or wanted to pick up some amateur XC racing days on a bike that was my daily driver, I could make a very strong argument for adding a carbon Chameleon to my stable.

Or, indeed, as my one bike to do it all.

Comments

DogVet
0
Hugo Williamson  - May 7, 2019, 5:22 a.m.

I take it that is a medium you built up?

I have seen a large in 29 er format and even at 5'10 (178 cm0 it seemed huge!

So I guess a medium would be great for someone as yourself at 5'9.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Chad K
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 6:46 a.m.

Choosing between medium and large is a key theme through my review and has its own header (‘Chameleon Sizing’) if you prefer to focus in on it.

Reply

sweaman2
+1 Andrew Major
Sweaman2  - May 7, 2019, 12:03 p.m.

On the topic of sizing any thoughts on the stack height?  I really wanted to like the Chameleon but just didn't get on with the low stack height (to me at least) on the large. (5'11 but long legs short arms).  So ended up on a Chromag.

I find it interesting (and perhaps a different discussion) how some manufacturers are now leaving stack almost constant between frame sizes (e.g SC) and others have both increasing (e.g Kona Honzo).

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 3:04 p.m.

Stack height was fine for me and there’s lots of room to adjust via bar rise.

What Chromag did you buy (frame / size)? They fit me fine but lack of stack on larger sizes had long been a complaint tied to their frames by tall folks.

I’m glad lots of fit options exist. With stem length becoming less of an adjustable it’s important to buy the right frame fit.

Reply

sweaman2
+1 Andrew Major
Sweaman2  - May 7, 2019, 5:12 p.m.

A M/L Surface last year (so not sure if it's exactly the same as currently listed)

Reply

vincentaedwards
+1 Andrew Major
Vincent Edwards  - May 7, 2019, 6:50 a.m.

Great write up! I’m glad to see so much thought put into the dropouts- esp love the 142 SS option. If I wasn’t a happy owner of a SS ti honzo, I’d be reaching for my wallet right now. 

I absolutely agree with your thoughts on carbon wheels + hardtails. I do wonder how the new Zipp moto rims would work. 

Do you have any thoughts on ride quality compared to the honzo?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 7 a.m.

Hi Vincent, thank you. 

Honzo Ti is such a nice SS option. I just pressed a Works Angleset into one yesterday for a buddy  (-2*) and it improves descending and out of the saddle climbing if you’re looking for tweaks. 

It’s very cool that SCB does SS specific dropouts but on the Carbon Chameleon I’d stick with 148 - can always cut + file or grind the hanger off. Staying 148 gives the option to add some clearance by running a Super Boost spaced ring.

Reply

Heinous
+1 Andrew Major
Heinous  - May 7, 2019, 5:18 p.m.

That's a good idea - though again, limits you to freehubs to get that 3mm (or 6mm) of chainline back. Not a biggie unless you're moving an existing wheelset or tragically in love with your Paul Comp hubs like me.

Reply

reini-wagner
0
Reini Wagner  - May 8, 2019, 1:09 p.m.

Hi Andrew,

> I just pressed a Works Angleset into one yesterday for a buddy

that's just amazing , as we recently had a discussion about exactly this topic over at the other thread where you were reviewing the works angleset.

How did it go? Did you experience any issues with the insertion depth of the upper and lower cups? Do you happen to know which frame size your buddy rides, and how long the fork's steerer tube is? Which fork is he using, at which travel?

Thanks a lot for the great review, and thanks in advance for your replies.

All the best, Reini

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 8, 2019, 5:58 p.m.

Hi Reini,

XL frame. As expected insertion was no issue with the straight 44 HT. It would only be an issue if there was slag or warping from welding in which case the post-production reaming is claimed to not be deep enough.

Froze the cups overnight and they went in perfectly straight on go #1. Don’t orient off the head tube decal - his was off centre.

150mm DVO Diamond non-Boost so bike is going to climb and descend better with the change. He has tonnes of steerer - certainly the Works is much taller than the ZS44/EC/44 King he was running.

Installed -2* headset.

Reply

reini-wagner
0
Reini Wagner  - May 9, 2019, 12:57 p.m.

Hey,

thanks so much for the detailed answer - almost as thorough as your excellent review above :D

Very cool, now I only need to figure out if my fork has enough steerer left, and if so I will go down that route as well with the Honzo Ti. I might even order a second headset for the Smuggler.

On another note, I saw your insta post regarding the Belter. What is your and your little mechanic's opinion on that one so far?

Cheers, Reini

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 7:23 a.m.

Most my personal Honzo riding experience is in the steel Honzo (all generations) and they’re definitely heavy riding and very stiff as steel frames go. 

They’re all hardtails (not comparing to suspension bikes for the non-hardtailing reader) and I’d give the compliance a ~ tie between the carbon Chameleon compared to the Honzo ST or the Chameleon aluminum. I don’t have enough time on the Ti to compare. 

That’s pretty impressive as the carbon is stiffer under power than the aluminum Chameleon and much, much lighter frame-frame with the Honzo.

Aluminum Chameleon is the all around bargain (weight / ride / geo / price) but for the drop-in headset which limits the adult-LEGO factor a bit. 

I went Honzo ST for my last mean SS (over the alloy Chameleon) as I wanted to run a -2* angle set and a 170mm fork.

Reply

Heinous
+2 Cr4w Andrew Major
Heinous  - May 7, 2019, 6:52 a.m.

Man, I love how comprehensive and open this review is - thanks! 

I searched high and low for exactly what I was after, and just before this was released pulled the trigger on a BTR with geo that’s pretty much bang on what you describe as perfect. 

One other thing I guess the dropped stay rules out is oval rings? That’s a pity, oval rings for SS and something I wouldn’t want to compromise on.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 6:57 a.m.

Thank you!

BTR; NICE! How much travel up front?

That’s a great point, as I vastly prefer an Oval too. I wasn’t able to check clearance on an Oval 34t here (would have needed a SRAM one or a full-crate crankset/BB swap) but my gut is that it will just clear. An oval 32t will have chain contact with the stay. 

One option, sticking with the 148 dropouts, is to run a Super Boost spaced ring up front. Then a 34t Oval would definitely be a non-issue.

Reply

Heinous
0
Heinous  - May 7, 2019, 5:27 p.m.

We've designed it around 120mm with a 66º HA unsagged / 67º sagged. BB drop of 52 rather than 55mm as I run 180mm cranks for SS.

I might try it at 130mm or 140mm at some point. Either way it'll be a load more versatile than my 10 year old Soulcraft. When we designed that people were shocked to see a 100mm fork on a 29er.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 8, 2019, 5:52 p.m.

What 180mm cranks are you running? I ran 180mm XTs for years but went back to 175mm when I started riding Oval.

I have a lot of theories on SS specific hardtail geo. Just no real forum to tackle them. 

For example, wheelbase can be epic long as I’m always standing on steel switchback climbs anyways and a bike is much shorter when leaned over. By the same token headangle can be wicked slack because standing uphill steering is totally different than seated steering. I’m currently rigid with 440-ish stays (with current gearing), 1200mm wheelbase, and a ~66 HTA. I love it but when thunking down tech trails I could go longer and slacker.

Reply

Heinous
0
Heinous  - May 9, 2019, 2:55 p.m.

I picked up some xtr m780’s cheap - looks like a shop grom took the proprietary rings off in a rush and when they went to replace discovered cost or availability wasn’t kind.

I totally agree on geo. I’m not a fan of short rear ends. Slack fronts I find there’s a limit (and reach, bar width all play a part). If it’s too short in the rear I just find it won’t suppirr the kind of gymnastics I resort to on an SS in lieu of an extra 200w.

Reply

rigidjunkie
+1 Andrew Major
Allen Lloyd  - May 7, 2019, 7:55 a.m.

I keep looking at these to replace my Nimble 9 at some point.  Having modern geometry and a light weight are very attractive.  After riding a carbon full suspension bike I have no desire to own a carbon hardtail, I like that I can throw my Nimble 9 in a truck bed and not worry about where every other pedal is. My carbon bike has a scratch from a pedal and it drives me crazy that another mistake in the same spot will likely mean a new rear triangle will be needed.  I am 90% sure my next bike will be an aluminum Chameleon.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 2:45 p.m.

Added bonus of the aluminum is that it’s 32xSS friendly.

Reply

craw
+2 Metacomet Andrew Major
Cr4w  - May 7, 2019, 9:08 a.m.

What an incredibly thorough review.

Reply

DogVet
0
Hugo Williamson  - May 7, 2019, 1:23 p.m.

The UK's Cotic Solaris Max,(www.cotic.co.uk) albeit not quite as versatile is right on the money re geometry, very balanced ride with longer chainstays, in steel but not massively heavy.

Reply

LWK
+1 Andrew Major
LWK  - May 7, 2019, 2:12 p.m.

excellent review as usual Andrew!  Curious on your thoughts re the pros/cons and why you'd pick this over the Trek Stache (which also comes in alu and carbon flavors)?

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 LWK
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 2:57 p.m.

I had a great experience with the Stache (aluminum) and obviously it wins on 29+ tire clearance but I’d be building both options the same - 120mm Manitou Mattoc Pro, 29x3” SE4 on i40 front, 29x2.6” SE5 on i40 rear, stays ~ full long - and absent the need for 29x3”+ rear clearance the Chameleon is my winner.

It’s lighter, better SS dropouts in use, geo is more over-forking friendly, slacker to begin with, and the planes of stiffness/compliance are more tuned (Stache tuned around elevated stays).

Any of those things is a tiny improvement but it adds up to a win for Chameleon.

Reply

tdmsurfguy
0
tdmsurfguy  - May 7, 2019, 8:26 p.m.

Andrew, anytime on a transition vanquish?

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 7, 2019, 10:10 p.m.

Not at all, a hardtail has to be REALLY compelling to overcome a lack of sliders and be interesting to me.

For example I’m working on a test of the Rocky Mountain Growler 40 and it’s so capable (bike + upgrades) for ~ the price of a Carbon Chameleon frame that it can only be called awesome (for the money) and even then I’m wondering if some kind of Horizontal dropout/bolt-on hub would add any cost.

Reply

andrewo1son
0
andrewo1son  - May 8, 2019, 6:20 a.m.

2017 aluminum owner, riding 30x18 with 120mm fork.  Great bike, but not the same as my rigid Surly (my favorite).  Can't help but wish for a rigid fork with a long enough A-C.  Do you think Niner's 490 mm fork would work well?  Perhaps 27.5+ rear and 29+ front to keep the HA similar?  Would be nice to have a carbon chameleon frame/fork combo.

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 8, 2019, 4:42 p.m.

I mean, Walt could always build you a custom fork to replicate the 120mm - 20% sag suspension fork. 

The problem I’ve found with carbon forks is they’re mean as ... in aggressive terrain. The problem with long (suspension corrected) steel forks is they can flex rearward until breaking loads. Anyways, the fork I would have loved to try on the Chameleon is the stock rigid fork of the Niner ROS-9+. I haven’t ridden it myself but from what I hear for suspension corrected it’s good all around. 

Certainly a challenge in my mind that led me to a custom rigid-specific (non-suspension corrected frame and fork combo).

Reply

NickB
+5 Ac Velocipedestrian Andrew Major Metacomet Pete Roggeman
nick bitar  - May 8, 2019, 6:37 a.m.

I’ve always liked the gear reviews on NSMB but I do believe that they have gone to a new level. Some really cool and interesting bikes that I haven’t seen reviewed elsewhere and some neat concepts like the min/maxing. Hell, I live in the desert and will still enjoy the wet weather gear reviews! 

Great show NSMB crew!

Reply

AndrewMajor
0
Andrew Major  - May 8, 2019, 4:37 p.m.

Thank you Nick; It means a lot.

Reply

ac
+1 Andrew Major
Ac  - May 8, 2019, 10:43 p.m.

Have you ever tried a carbon rim on the rear and a more compliant alloy front wheel?

I've been wanting to test that out for a while.

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Ac
Andrew Major  - May 8, 2019, 10:59 p.m.

Absolutely, I road much of last summer with a Reynold's carbon wheel out back and a Race Face ARC 40 on a True Precision hub up front with 2.6" rear tire and a 3" front tire. I had the outline for a piece about it and then Crankbrothers totally stole my thunder with their wheel program. 

If WR1 made a i40 rim I would definitely consider the investment for a rear rim (paired with a 2.6" tire) and match it with something alloy up front. It's one of those cases where the companies I'd buy a carbon rim from don't make i40 and the companies that make i40 I'm not interested in buying their rims.

Reply

ac
0
Ac  - May 8, 2019, 11:15 p.m.

Might you have been happier with the reserve wheel in the back only?

Or would have it still been uncomfortable just a little less so?

Reply

AndrewMajor
+1 Ac
Andrew Major  - May 8, 2019, 11:35 p.m.

Ah, see where you were going. Nope - tried that. What I didn’t try was Reserve +2.6” tire which would have made a big difference. The Reserves are stiff.

Reply

Northcountry
0
Northcountry  - May 9, 2019, 7:15 p.m.

AM, You mentioned that this bike would be a decent DJ bike.  Can you comment on why? For some time, I have been thinking of getting this as a trail hardtail that I can also take to the pump track, since I'm somewhat averse to the limited potential of a DJ bike for where I live.  I do want something that rips a pump track better than my full suspension 29er though.  Do you think that you could make this bike work for trail and as a DJ'er.  Would you downsize?

Reply

Please log in to leave a comment.

Trending on NSMB