Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (7).JPG
SECOND IMPRESSIONS

The 2022 Santa Cruz Chameleon MX Part II (Finally a Great Ride)

Words Andrew Major
Photos Andrew Major
Date Dec 14, 2021
Reading time

Not For Mullet?*

I was sat on one side of the trail. The Chameleon MX was on the other. We were just looking at each other. If this was a quick getting-to-know-you we'd be ending the first date with a handshake whilst thinking about all the laundry we could have done instead. Chemistry? Zero. At this point I had accomplished two things with the bike. First, a reinforcement of my opinion that a short parking lot or trail test ride doesn't tell you much other than if a bike is the correct size. Second, the large Chameleon was indeed the right size. It's smaller than the last few test bikes I've ridden, and my personal rig, but a good mix of climbing comfort and fun-focused fit.

Our problem, having already been joined together for this review series, wasn't fit or pedaling position, or angles, or wheelbase. On the first pavement and gravel climbs the Chameleon felt lively. On the first blue descent, I was instantly shocked at how, inexplicably capable the Guide-T brakes were compared to significantly much more expensive examples of the model that I've ridden. I could tell right away that I was going to have to go up in fork pressure from the recommended and the 35mm cockpit and the lock-on grips were not my cups of eggnog.

*If you missed them, here are Andrew's 2022 Chameleon First Impressions

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (4).JPG

My 760mm wide, 16° backsweep SQLab 30X bar and a pair of Chromag Wax push-on grips. Currently they're mounted to a 50mm stem but I've been back and forth between a 50mm and 60mm.

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (8).JPG

To adjust the chainstay length just loosen the dropout bolts on both sides and then use a hex key to wind the assemblies forward or backwards. It's very intuative. Here the stays are all the way long at 437mm.

All the performance issues showed up as soon as things became more aggressive. Big technical uphill moves I've cleaned many times on a whole range of bikes - short travel, long travel, hardtail - had me dismounted and walking. Despite the relatively short wheelbase I was failing to find lines on skinnies and log rides that I could ride on the Banshee Titan in the long-wheelbase setting and with an angleset installed. As soon as I started down the first aggressive descent that required some body English, I felt like the smaller rear wheel was getting hooked up on everything. In short, it was a very rare ride where I wished I was doing something else.

My first reaction was to send an e-mail to Santa Cruz requesting a pair of 29'er dropouts. Let's test this frame the way I would have chosen it. I'm absolutely #HotForMullet when it comes to full suspension bikes, and my previous hardtail experience - on my personal Kona Explosif - was actually quite good as well. There had to be some deeper reason we weren't making a connection.

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (2).JPG

These Guide-T brakes were actually okay with the stock 180mm rotors front and rear but the 203mm up front was still a notable improvement. Yes, I'd still take a pair of Code brakes in a heartbeat if that was an option.

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (3).JPG

The WTB Vigilante tire and I get along very well in 2.6" and 2.8" sizes. This is a 2.6" in the High Grip and Light(er) casing option mounted on an i40mm rim. I have a CushCore Pro insert installed as well.

I didn't have much time before my next ride, so I started by targeting things I knew I was going to change. First, I pushed the wheelbase out to its longest position, which puts the chainstays at 437mm. It's a very intuitive process though the price paid for the very clean appearance of the sliders is a longer adjustment time compared to my benchmark, which is Kona's simple sliding dropout system. I also added another 10psi to the fork at the same time.

The second thing I did was swap out the cockpit. In order to run my preferred 16° backsweep SQLab bar with the Chameleon's top tube length, I needed to bump up to a 50-60mm stem. This reinforces for me why I like companies to spec good-enough stems, bars, and grips, but not to waste too much time or money choosing something that's reflective of a bike's price. A single centimetre of stem length can make a huge difference in fit and handling. Alternative bar sweeps to the standard 7-9° back actually work quite well for, at least, a minority of riders. Don't get too attached to what came with your bike just because it's expensive or pretty.

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (9).JPG

With the better ride quality of the bigger tire and insert in the front, I'm happily running the Fox Rhythm fork much firmer than I was with just the light sidewall Maxxis DHF that came stock. In turn, the fork has much better support. Tire inserts would be an early upgrade for me on any hardtail.

For the next ride, I had a more comfortable position for seated or standing pedaling and a better position descending those smoother blue trails. But once again, I was entirely unsatisfied with my performance up, across, and down any time terrain became technical. Had my preferences changed that much since the last time I'd ridden a hardtail with a 27" rear wheel? I've ridden some truly budget bikes like the 1500 USD Marin Hawk Hill in 2017 and the 1000 USD Rocky Mountain Growler 20 in 2020 on the same terrain with zero struggle-fest.

Now I know you might laugh, or judge my admittedly limited riding abilities, but I did come to a solution. I was thinking about my own Explosif mullet with its Chris King rear hub, and the previous generation Chameleon aluminum frame I rode with dual 27" and a Hope hub. Indeed, while I've ridden a number of budget bikes, with budget hubs, with large rotations between hub engagements, these have been either full-suspension bikes or 29" wheeled hardtails where it was much less work to maintain momentum over generously janky ground.

So, I took my Project 321 mullet wheelset and plugged it into the Chameleon, and immediately it was like I knew how to ride a bike again. I'm positive I would have been happy with my 5° King, but going from the stock SRAM hubs with a very wide 17° of engagement to the P321 at 1.7° was a stunning turn of events. The next ride I was pumping through sketchy roots and finding my footing with complete confidence on any greasy woodwork. The difference in engagement swallowed anything negative I had to say about the smaller rear wheel.

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (1).JPG

Look at that beautiful chainline. I am going to drop to a 30t ring up front as I'm in the 36t cog quite a bit right now with the 32t. For the compatibility counters, that's an NX Eagle 12-spd drivetrain crisply shifting 8x cogs of a 10-spd Shimano cassette. I suspect if I cared more about gear range than chainline it would shift all 10x cogs perfectly.

Santa Cruz Chameleon MX NSMB AndrewM (6).JPG

I know this is starting to look like an argument for a frame-up Chameleon build but there are some relatively affordable options for higher-engaging rear hubs, like Bontrager's 3.3° Line Comp that could get me there. Especially since I don't care if my front and rear rims match - especially on a mullet.

Suddenly I was enjoying the Chameleon MX to its fun potential. So much so that if I was buying a complete Chameleon MX of any level, I'm positive my first upgrade would be a quick engaging rear hub. I think the 4° Industry Nine 1/1 probably has the best balance of speed, quality, and price but I'm open to arguments otherwise. If you have the money, why not P321, Chris King, or Hydra?

I scored some other upgrades at the same time. I installed a larger front rotor, or rather it was already attached to the matching front wheel that I added next. That gives me the ride quality and traction advantages of inserts front and rear and also the upgrade to WTB's excellent 2.6" Vigilante High Grip as a front tire. In the rear, the Specialized Butcher is considerably better in wet greasy terrain than the Maxxis Aggressor it replaced and I'm quite happy with my 8-spd cassette block mated to the remainder of the Eagle drivetrain.

I know that a lot of folks don't care about, or don't care for, hubs with fast engagement but I wonder how much of that is situational. I always prefer ≤5° but where I often can live with 10°-20° hubs and still comfortably clean sections, in this case I found it to be a barrier to enjoying the MX version of the Chameleon. Either way, problem solved. The Chameleon is very fun to pump around smoother trails and with the long wheelbase, inserts installed, and the suspension firm it tackles more technical riding as well. I'm looking forward to many more great rides.

2022 Santa Cruz Chameleon

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Comments

boomforeal
boomforeal
5 months ago
+5 Vik Banerjee cheapondirt JT Cr4w Zero-cool bushtrucker Nologo nothingfuture Joseph Crabtree

what i think i just read is that it took ~$1500 of upgrades ($100 for the bars, $200 for the inserts, $200 in new tires, $1000 for the wheels) for a $4k hardtail to not suck to ride

Reply

Vikb
Vik Banerjee
5 months ago
+5 Andrew Major Doug M. Cr4w bushtrucker Nologo

This is why I [almost] always buy frames and sling parts on there a la carte. If you shop sales/deals over some time and/or use existing parts the cost is not insane and if you end up replacing OEM parts you end up paying twice for some items on the complete bike anyways.

I'm glad you got the bike setup to your liking Andrew. How do you find the AL frame ride feel vs. your usual Steel is Real experiences?

FWIW - I'm happy on ~8 deg POE hubs, but one of these days I do want to try a really high POE hub to see if I notice anything significantly better in terms of trail performance. My gut says no, but it's been wrong before!

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+3 Vik Banerjee Cr4w bushtrucker

Huge difference between 8 degrees and 17 degrees of poe. The difference between 5 and instant is tiny. 

Frame rides great.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
5 months ago
0

This just makes me feel like an unsophisticated degenerate, who can't be bothered to complain about 20° POE range.  I've ridden Onyx and 240pt hubs, and it's really nice, but I suck so much at technical climbing that it really just removes a small excuse.  
If I was buying some 'investment grade hubs' that I intended to relace a couple of times, sure... but I still haven't successfully killed off my first two sets of DT350's, and had no luck murdering the cheap 1st generation LightBicycle hoops that live on them either.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+5 Vik Banerjee boomforeal nothingfuture Joseph Crabtree Taiki

I don’t think that’s a fair assessment at all, and I think it’s clearly covered in the piece.

First, I used what I had available - spent $0. If I was spending on new components for upgrades I could have gone about it very differently.

Min-maxing I would have bought a Bontrager Line Comp rear wheel. It is under $300 with 108pt engagement. There are also so good values in pre-built wheels with I9 1/1 hubs.

Neither the bar or inserts are going to come on any stock hardtail at any price point. Clearly inserts could be installed in the stock tires. Mine were already installed in my tires/wheels. Clearly most folks are happy (enough) with 35mm bars and 7-9* sweep.

I think inserts make a huge difference to riding hardtails locally. 

———

Upgrade cost to make bike “not suck to ride” <$300.

Reply

stinhambo
Steven Hambleton
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

It is under US$300 if you have an XD driver compatible cassette - otherwise it's another $137 here in Australia for the HG or Microspline driver.

I'm looking at the Nukeproof Horizon v2 wheels.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

I've heard that Trek Dealers can get them with the HG drivers or MS drivers installed, but baring that - yes, it would mean buying a new cassette or driver.

Reply

stinhambo
Steven Hambleton
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Well that's interesting, I'll ask :)

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

Let me know what you hear from your local!

stinhambo
Steven Hambleton
5 months ago
0

My LBS said XD only sadly. I have to buy a separate HG driver which makes it a pricier proposition.

Is it worth getting a full wheelset or just the rear wheel in your opinion?

Reply

boomforeal
boomforeal
5 months ago
0 Andrew Major Joseph Crabtree

even minimaxing the cost is likely somewhere in the middle. new stem and bars aren't going to be cheap ($150). sounds like at least the rear tire would have had to go ($100). add a new rear wheel ($300) and we're sitting at $550 to make a $4k bike not suck -- fair? plus tax. and you'd still be riding a hardtail :-p

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

I think around here in the winter it’s fair to say the Aggressor is getting replaced. At least by anyone who is riding greasy trails with my skill set.

Could go back on for summers which reduces the net cost over time (tires wear out / get replaced anyways) but I concede that’s getting replaced up front. $100 at least. Maybe a heavier casing saves going to an insert for some riders.

——

Bar-stem is hard - it comes down to what’s fair as a reviewer I guess. The vast majority of riders won’t change them. The vast majority of reviewers would change them - even if noting the ride quality is sub-par, and some people apparently really love super stiff ‘precise’ setups.

The 35mm bars like Renthal’s that aim to mimic the feel of their 31.8 bars are expensive. Replacing the stem & bar to go 31.8 (assuming I wouldn’t be changing the stem anyways for fit) is also expensive.

So, yes, an expense IF they’re getting swapped. But most bikes come 35mm now so probably, in my case, an expense for any bike.

Reply

geraldooka
Michael
5 months ago
0

I’ve tried several insert companies and didn’t like any of them.I guess I’m not the target customer. I want plushness in the rear of my hardtail and all inserts I’ve tried including ones I really thought would make the ride softer ended up having the opposite effect 🤔

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 ElGenerale

Out of curiosity, what sort of sidewalls were you running? I ask because I have a good riding friend who had the same experience but then ditched his DH-casing rear tire / DD-casing front tire for rubber with softer sidewalls and discovered that inserts were amazing for him. 

That said, I know a few riders locally who ride hard and who prefer no inserts, heavy-duty tire casings, and a bit of extra pressure - usually with carbon rims so dents aren't a concern. 

I know riders elsewhere who run light-light tires aired up firm and that works great and weighs a lot less. 

So, there are definitely personal preference and location factors to consider.

Reply

geraldooka
Michael
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

I’m a serial experimenter so it was several combos but no DD or anything higher than the equivalent of EXO I guess, I don’t know how Schwable, Vittoria, or Bontrager tire sidewalls compare but they were all tried (they ruined the otherwise amazing supple Mezcals) I do run carbon rims but honestly the only tire I’ve ever consistently flatted was an EXO Maxxis Ikon 2.8 which I don’t run anymore. Another of your influence is one of my fave rear tires for the big wheelset the SE2 I guess that’s a slightly tougher casing?  

The harshness was the deal breaker but I wasn’t fond of the weight either it certainly killed that hop and skip vibe as well. 

So I’m about a buck fifty not including water and a small gear kit and we don’t have long fast hammefest style runs Duncan to the southern tip of the island perhaps that’s a factor? 

To perhaps put my experience in context I recently swapped in a couple of smaller tires 275 x 2.6! Maxxis EXO DHF/Forekaster these are the smallest I’ve run in a couple years at least and I can happily run these sans inserts at 17f/16r…

Reply

craw
Cr4w
5 months ago
+2 Andrew Major Joseph Crabtree

To not suck to ride here. In a lot of places the stock configuration would be fine for a lot of people.

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

As a resident of a riding zone that does fit exactly this setup well - I think you absolutely nailed it.  With a mixture of wide open terrain, the odd tight area that does benefit maneuverability, and places where slightly sloggy climbs with lots of switchbacks are interspersed with high speed chunder sections where the pick-and-place riding style can work really well, that setup would work...
That being said, in those same situations, my 6'2" idiot self would still be faster, happier, and ultimately more intact rocking a FS 29er.

Reply

jt
JT
5 months ago
+3 Andrew Major Vik Banerjee bushtrucker

This highlights why as most progress in the sport, frame up builds become more common: stock bikes at certain price points, as good as they can be, just aren't up to our personal snuff. I've now picked up two completes in the last 4 years, and the amount of swappery that went on to get the fit and function where I like it amounted to a bit of extra coin being spent. Touch points will mostly be a point of preference and can get a pass, but to trace a ride quality issue back to hub engagement will make this a hard sell. Swapping bars/stem/post/saddle is one thing, but swapping a wheel out is a bit much to ask for at these price points.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 Velocipedestrian

That used to be the case, but I don’t think it is anymore? At least not locally.

Certainly don’t see anywhere near the custom ‘metal’ I used to. Lots of stock bikes with We Are One wheel upgrades.

Reply

4Runner1
4Runner1
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

That’s where I ended up this time. Shop swapped out stock wheels and I purchased WAO I9 1/1. They have been awesome, btw.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

In my experience, the difference between 10° of engagement and 5° is massively larger than the difference between 5° and 0.5°. At 4° the 1/1 hub is plenty fast, the quality is very high, they're easy to work on, and they're made in the USA for a very reasonable amount of money. 

I really think it's the gold standard for value. I mean, I like pretty anodized colours as much as the next person, but I have a hard time justifying the cost of Hydra over 1/1.

Reply

stinhambo
Steven Hambleton
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

I'm looking to pick up a Nukeproof Horizon v2 rear wheel for this reason - I'm on OEM hubs which seem to take an age to engage!

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

There are some good values in quick engaging hubs. 

They’re not as cheap as the Line Comp or Nukeproof, but also check out Crankbrothers’ Synthesis aluminum line with Industry Nine 1/1 hubs. Solid value.

hbelly13
Raymond Epstein
5 months ago
0

"They’re not as cheap as the Line Comp or Nukeproof, but also check out Crankbrothers’ Synthesis aluminum line with Industry Nine 1/1 hubs. Solid value."

I'm SOL on the Bontrager stuff as they don't have the big booty 157 spacing available and Nukeproof doesn't sell hubs alone. I found out that the Factor 157 Super Boost hubs are 5 degree from the guys there and those go for $300 USD. I understand that one can calculate the POE via dividing 360 by the number of teeth in the ratchet ring. So if I really want to know what is going on inside a Super Boost WTB hub I have lacking any other reference I'll need to pull it apart and do that calculation I suppose.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 Velocipedestrian

So hear me out / riddle me this. Will your next bike be complete or will you buy a frame and move your parts over? Will your next bike use 157 spacing? Do you buy that there's any physical (not academic) stiffness improvement of 157 or 148 and, if so, that it matters? 

For me, a big part of the calculation in buying nice wheels (or more specifically hubs) is that they're a long-term investment. It's important to me that they're fully compatible with aftermarket rim options and that they'll fit my next frame. 

So, if it was me I'd be tempted to get a 148 hub and a Super Boostinator kit from Problem Solvers and future-proof my investment a bit.

tehllama42
Tehllama42
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Like Andrew, I'd basically be pricing a boostinator kit into my stuff... but in my case I went all in on the 142 spec knowing that I would probably be able to pick up another used frame that I could mod my way into using with existing hardware.
I've been on a kick of evaluating bikes for a Longshock & Mullet treatment, because it's worked so phenomenally well on my 2014 RockyMtn Instinct, the same general idea can move forward, and being able to run a wheelset well past its intended lifespan just means I have money to throw at suspension parts (new shock, longer air shaft, damper tuning) and really impacts the ride experience a whole lot more.

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

In my extended riding group, there are lots of bikes with 142/100 to 148/110 Boostinator kits of some kind. Most of them are the basic Problem Solvers ones with floating spacers. Zero issues. 

I recommend them to everyone who isn't concerned about eking out just that little bit of extra wheel stiffness between what they have now and could have by going Boost. 

Certainly, the whole make-it-work aftermarket for adapters is my favourite part of mountain bike nerdery.

jt
JT
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Shortages not withstanding. That's the reason I went with my most recent complete- the 4 frames I was looking at were all out of stock with ETAs all over the place. It's a hard life, but someone's gotta live it.

To me, it's just a spec issue on the part of the PM, possibly because of package deals being offered. There are plenty of hubs out there that offer quicker engagement that are in the same price range. My newbie came with the latest Deore hub and I was curious about how different the 10deg was going to feel since everything else I have is in the 5deg range. Surprisingly, not terrible. I definitely wouldn't want more lash as it's noticeable, but it isn't making me crack open my wallet on a new set of wheels just yet. I point this out knowing that it isn't an apples to apples comparison due to group/freehub models. There's no doubt higher end wheels make a huge diff in how a bike rides, but if engagement is what caused discord on a new bike, there are ways for a PM to account for it without disrupting price points terribly. That it has been such a comment generator on a review should really catch their attention and provide cause to address it on the next generation of the bike.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

I think it probably matters less and less as terrain gets less technical - although I even find it clunky on pumpy trails. Plus many riders don’t care. But yes, there are budget friendly options with much better than 17* engagement they could have chosen to spec.

I do often wonder how many PM team members actually ride budget builds though. For example, regardless of whether you’re a Shimanophile or a SRAMalamadingdong no one whose ridden SX for three minutes is putting it on bikes when Deore exists. Hell, BOX and MicroShift eat it’s lunch too. Clearly SRAM build should start at the NX level and even then it’s hard to argue any value case until I’m riding GX v. XT. And I generally choose SRAM now at GX+ if I’m asked.

Reply

boomforeal
boomforeal
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

i think these days if you're careful a stock bike can work. i bought my first complete in 20 years last year: a 2020 norco optic c2. i demoed one beforehand and was pretty convinced i would be happy with it as spec'd out of the box. fast forward 18 months later and the list of changes i felt i "had" to make to enjoy riding the bike includes swapping the bars and stem (31.8mm > 35mm), upgrading the ratchet in the dt swiss 350 hub (36 poe vs. 18[wtf!]), swapping the rims (flow d's are PIGs), and buying new tires (i'm fussy). pretty happy with the way it went down

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

Nice that it came with DT 350 hubs (although DT 370 hubs are now good). Most stock bikes up to a crazy amount of money wheels are the short coming - and they’re one of the most expensive upgrades.

Did you burn out the stock tires or replace them with life left? I have lots of tires I don’t love that I can ride. But some tires just have to go and that can make a huge difference talking about value on budget bikes especially.

Hoping to review a bunch of $1200-2000(ish) hardtails this year and the range of stock rubber is a bit astounding.

Reply

NotEndurbro
Dustin Meyer
5 months ago
+3 Andrew Major bushtrucker Nologo

In my opinion the new 350 hubs have made the new 240 hubs kind of pointless. They have the original two-piece star ratchet that is more reliable than the new one in the 240, and the weight has gone down within a couple grams of previous generation 240. I do miss the engagement of I9 Torch or 1/1 that I had previously, but in my case I haven't felt like it held me back.

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

I would choose the new 370 hubs with the classic star ratchet over the newer version. Proven over decades and they don’t sound incredibly annoying (not a comment on the volume or noise but the noise itself).

Reply

tehllama42
Tehllama42
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

I'd also want to look closer at the $/gram range these would land you in.

Being well-heeled, but a big incompetent idiot, a hard line at $1/g still ends up being reasonable to spend money on weight savings if any added capability is present, and that would be another candidate for building a custom (cheap) wheelset to take advantage of that... but I'm still grinding my old 350 hubs into the ground, and they're still running brilliantly with the annual dismantle and add some random grease treatment (admittedly, dry climate helps this a lot)

boomforeal
boomforeal
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

the wheels actually worked out pretty well, between being able to upgrade the star ratchet and literally swapping the rims over to a pair of arcs

i pulled the stock tires after one ride and put them on my son's bike -- he was happy with them

you do yeoman's work with these reviews andrew. i'll be curious to see how many of those entry level hardtails outride the cashmeleon right out of the box ;-)

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

We’ll see what arrives, and I’ll continue to note that the sliding dropouts on the Chameleon add a lot of value to me, but now that some companies have figured out that more budget conscious riders benefit from good geo too and geo is ~ free there are some pretty wicked value arguments out there.

Stock Growler 40 or 50 v. Chameleon?

Reply

kcy4130
kcy4130
5 months ago
+3 Andrew Major Dogl0rd Cr4w

I get the impression that Major is a lot more picky about bike setup than I am. Not that that's a good or bad thing. I guess riding loads of different bikes he's a lot more in tune with what he likes.

Reply

Dogl0rd
Dogl0rd
5 months ago
+4 Pete Roggeman kcy4130 bushtrucker JT

Yeah, if my bottom bracket isn't clicking, then I am comfortable with my setup

Reply

jt
JT
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

CHORT!

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 imnotdanny

Maybe. The alt-bar makes a huge difference for my wrist and elbow comfort. It does for other folks as well - I get a fair few messages from people who’ve tried them with good results (and some who weren’t fans). 

The higher poe hub… never sure what to say in that regard. Makes a big difference for me on some bikes.

Reply

cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
5 months ago
+6 imnotdanny Pete Roggeman Cr4w bushtrucker JT Tadpoledancer

"maybe"? 

Guy. Its ok. You're waaaaay pickier than most riders. Accept it and lean in!

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

I was going to leave this alone - it seems picky to argue - but I have to disagree pretty profusely. I'm really not that persnickety about setup. I don't raise and lower my bars by micro spacers, adjust my saddle height to the mm from BB-center, I don't own a tire gauge beyond my floor pump, and I don't air up my suspension to a certain number and then know to add exactly X pumps to get it where I want it. I have met plenty of riders who do the above - just as examples.

The changes I make are fairly macro differences. I mean, any rider - for better or worse - is going to instantly notice the difference between a 7-9° bar and a 16°. Going up or down 10psi in a suspension fork. The difference between a 1°-to-17° engagement hub and a 1°-to-5° engagement hub - whether it affects their riding experience or not - is not hard to discern when ratcheting through rocks and roots.

Reply

Shoreloamer
Greg Bly
5 months ago
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman

To me this is obviously someone's experience testing a bike and then as many of us do . Fine tune the ride . 

Definitely not a sales pitch. The bike should suite the rider and Andrew demonstrated accurately how he modified the bike to fit his needs. 

Must be more affordable to buy a frame and use what you have with a mix of new parts . 

Fun read . The Growler is half the price? If you do same mods which bike feels better? 

The old 26 inch Santa hard tail was magical. Does this frame have that special feel ?  

Any one got an old Chameleon for sale . ? I think they perform better:) for pump tracks and dirt jumping . Which would you want ?

Reply

AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+2 Greg Bly Pete Roggeman

The Chameleon has the advantage of sliders over the Growler and that has a lot of value to me. I'd also go as far as to claim the frame has a nicer ride quality (nicer than any of my Honzo ST frames as well). BUT, how much that matters now in the age of 2.6" tires (vs. comparing the ride quality of two frames when we all have 30+ psi pumped into 2.1" tires) is a matter for debate certainly. 

I think it's fair to say that the last aluminum Chameleon and this one have a wicked ride quality. I talked about it quite a bit in my previous aluminum Chameleon review. I'm very happy with the geo updates, personally. 

Glad you enjoyed it! My goal here was to focus on the changes I've made (1st Look, 2nd Look) so that when I put together the final review it will be about the Chameleon instead of all this. It's one part holding myself accountable and one part keeping these pieces short enough to keep folks engaged. 

Cheers,

Reply

cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
5 months ago
+2 Andrew Major Pete Roggeman

I find this quite fascinating. I'm interested more in why the high POE hub made such a difference, beyond ratcheting and tech climbing which I can understand. Does it have some influence when you are coasting, braking, or pedalling (rather than just starting to pedal)? I feel like when I'm descending I'm doing one of those things most of the time and on Bobsled, for example, I never pedal after the start. Do you think this factor would have some influence in a World Cup DH situation or is the descending benefit specific to steep janky descents with lots of up and overs?

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+3 Cam McRae JT Greg Bly

Two thoughts… both from my perspective:

1) I think the easiest way to think about it is that the closer you are to trials riding the more POE matters. Not that I’ve ever ridden actual trials. Up and over moves, skinnies, wheel lifts… anywhere that precision pedaling matters. Even timing a quick pump-and-pedal into a shoot. Anywhere you need to add momentum to make a downhill move easier.

Downhill, I hate the feeling of going for a little pedal stroke and my level cranks are suddenly approaching 11 & 5 when the hub engages.

——

2) I don’t think any WC DH race has been won or lost because someone had a ≤5° hub versus something with fewer POE. Even in the “slow” sections riders are carrying a ton of momentum. But at the same time I also don’t buy that a random 1°-to-20° engagement from an 18t DT hub improves suspension performance, which some folks claim.

If anyone needs an example, the GOAT and the rest of the SCB Syndicate has been racing on King hubs for years with 5° engagement.

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hbelly13
Raymond Epstein
5 months ago
+2 Cam McRae kcy4130

"I think the easiest way to think about it is that the closer you are to trials riding the more POE matters. Not that I’ve ever ridden actual trials. Up and over moves, skinnies, wheel lifts… anywhere that precision pedaling matters. Even timing a quick pump-and-pedal into a shoot. Anywhere you need to add momentum to make a downhill move easier." 

I've never really understood this. I've ridden bikes with high engagement hubs and those without. I have a friend who swears by them and while I happen to enjoy loud hubs (yes, I know this isn't necessarily indicative of high engagement) I really never noticed a difference to the degree you've discuss here. Certainly not so much that it would make such a drastic change in the way a bike rode. I do however plan to build a new wheelset this winter and while I have a WTB hub (I think it's technically a rebranded Formula) that is crazy loud I have no clue of it's POE. Down here in Georgia Factor Component hubs have become quite popular (nice build quality, sound, colors, nice locals), but again I have no idea what the POE is for them. They are supposedly a I-9 Torch knock off with better seals and bearings.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

Just to roll back to it, I've ridden plenty of bikes with less POE and they've been fine. While I'd always rather have a faster-engaging hub I think this is the first time that I've swapped wheels and experienced such a profound improvement in my experience. 

But, given the choice, I'll always take that dialed feeling of more-instantaneous engagement for technical trails. I love being able to load my pedals at any time without my cranks rotating a bunch. I notice it even more now always riding flat pedals than I did when I clipped in as well. 

-----

The Factor hubs are interesting in that they're using EZO bearings a la Project 321 (who actually used to use I9 drive systems). Is Factor doing any of their manufacturing or assembly in the USA? It raises an eyebrow that it doesn't appear to be clearly stated anywhere on their site.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 Cam McRae

Also, in this particular case I’m looking at a hardtail with a small(er) rear wheel. It’s not as easy to maintain momentum through jank as an FS bike (never mind a a WC DH bike) or even a 29’er hardtail. I feel I’m on the pedals more often at least compared to FS bikes and 29’er hardtails for similar applications.

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cam@nsmb.com
Cam McRae
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Thanks Andrew. Well laid out.

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ackshunW
ackshunW
5 months ago
+2 Velocipedestrian Andrew Major

Well now that this has completely flipped from a bike review to a forum on good taste and high snobbery, I mean high-engagement ——— I really think you’re on to something Andrew. I’ve always appreciated high engagement, for all the trials-ish reasons you mention. Myself, I’ve spent decades building a riding style all about moves like leaping up and over things at (sometimes very) low speeds. Always have had trouble with high speed. 

For my latest build, an aluminum Megatrail, I thought I’d try a bike that fills in my shortcomings. And hell yes, speed is waaaaay easy to find on the Megatrail. But to my dismay, it’s been at the expense of my low speed skills, which I thought were totally ingrained! 

I am on an exceptionally low POE hub right now (an old WTB laserdisc which has an unusual two-stage mechanism which is super strong but means you never ever have a 1 degree pedal stroke). I think it’s time to regrease and build up the used King I found, and see if I can get back some of my old slow mojo and widen my speed window.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 ackshunW

Yeah, while there are a lot of bikes - like longer travel FS bikes - where hub engagement doesn't have the surprising added-fun effect that it did with this mullet hardtail, I'd always choose faster engagement if given the choice up to around 5°. I can straight-up notice the difference between say a 10° and 5° hub but once I go from a King to say a 1/1, to a P321, to a Hydra, to a Stealth clutch it all becomes much more academic. 

Hold on to that used King. You can't buy 6-Bolt King hubs anymore so not only is it an awesome performing piece it's absolutely worth maintaining.

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mammal
Mammal
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

This makes me feel very good about being able to have a good time on my full 27.5" hardtail with a "blasé" 18 POE. No issues with tech gnar over here.

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cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
5 months ago
+2 Andrew Major Tadpoledancer

I gotta say - as someone with my own very odd points on bikes I'm persnickety about - having freehub POE being a total gamechanger is... well. Interesting? We're all different humans. hahahah

(All that to say, I LOVED my time on clutch hubs, but that was more a silence thing than a POE thing)

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

Strokes for folks maybe. It could be I'm simply very used to ≤5° of engagement going back to around 2002 and not fully open to relearning the timing of a 1°-to-20° engagement system. It could be because I stand a lot when I'm riding and that makes the float in the crankset much more noticeable. Could be I'm just not that great a technical rider and I need all the help I can get. 

I mean, when I bought my first fast hub it made perfect sense to me. All the trials riders I knew were obsessed with fast-engaging hubs and I've felt that up-and-down the janky Shore trails require a lot of similar moves, albeit usually with momentum.  

I was thinking about this quite a bit on my ride today. Yes, Cooper, Pipeline & Lower Crippler. I lightly ratchet and preload my cranks all the time. Every hump on the Lower Crippler roller coaster for example. Or controlling speed into rock rolls. It was really pronounced today because many of the ladders were icy so there was a great deal of crawling in, surfing down them, and then hard braking when back on a surface with some friction. In other words, I think a high POE really helps me with speed control. 

I load and unload my pedals all the time searching for traction up greasy roots too. Much more so on the hardtail of course and I think much more so with the smaller wheels which is why I've gotten by with, for example, DT 18t (20°) hubs with those bikes. 

Anyways, on the Chameleon having a higher (and again, any ≤5° would have been suitable) absolutely made the biggest difference between really enjoying riding the bike and not, so that's what I wrote.

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cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

I'm with you - to a degree (puns!!!!). Hubs with crazy low POE numbers are detrimental. But I can't say I have a range at which i'm suddenly like "this is acceptable"? 

I also wouldn't say... I can imagine hub POE being the difference between enjoying a bike, and not (I'm aware you made other changes here, too.). 

I'm mostly just interested/amused at what different people zero in on for their own preferences; we're all different humans and its neat. I know you've been on the High POE Train for a long time.

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pete@nsmb.com
Pete Roggeman
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

That was nicely explained, Andrew, and makes much more sense after reading those thoughts.

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doodersonmcbroseph
doodersonmcbroseph
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Tell me more about this 8 speed setup. I am always looking for options to get rid of gears.

It looks like the cassette pitch for SRAM 12 speed is 3.65mm and Shimano 10 speed is 3.95mm so I am guessing with less gears and a more forgiving chain width it happens to work?

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+2 Velocipedestrian ElGenerale

It's the stock NX Eagle drivetrain including a 12-speed chain. It's a stock Shimano 10-speed cassette with two cogs removed out of the high end (bigger jumps in the gears I use less). It's so good I suspect I could shift all 10x without setup issues, but I prefer to run 8x in order to get a really nice chainline in my grinding gears. 

I mostly gave up trying to math my way through inter-compatibility. I do 95% of my experiments by trial and error. If you like different-drivetrains and haven't seen it, check out my Titan review or SB104 piece. On those bikes I was using a 9-speed XTR shifter, Wolf Tooth Tanpan, 11-speed Zee Derailleur, and 8-speed cassette setup 1x8. The Titan piece also has links to my 2x7 and 2x8 experiment. I'm working on another edition to my series 'Does The Future Have Fewer Gears' as well. I love playing with this stuff.

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doodersonmcbroseph
doodersonmcbroseph
5 months ago
+2 Velocipedestrian Pete Roggeman

Awesome! I will check out the Banshee review, I did read the SB104 piece but did not catch the drivetrain part.

I think we live in that same universe where there is some enjoyment in optimizing bike setup for it's use case. It is very fun to tinker.

What I am hoping to end up with is a way to get less gears/shifts on my setup. I really love the shimano rapid release shifter, I am currently on 12spd XT. I'm just looking into how I can optimize a cassette to get 3 clicks to go from lowest to highest gear which means 7 cogs DH style. Just getting the right 7 gears and making a spacer for to fit microspline would be nice (I do have machine shop access which helps). 

I miss HG for the sheer number of available cassette combos as I could still maintain 1 climby-ish gear but I am happy with my current wheels. I suppose I could backdate the driver body or buy a second one easily (thanks DT). Hopefully I can get it right and maybe tweak front chainring to taste. 

I really love this type of parts experimentation you do, it doesn't seem like any other site really has a tech editor(?) that talks about this stuff. Maybe there just aren't as many of us who sometimes daydream up weird tech stuff to try on their bike. I am sure the majority would say 'just ride your damn bike' but it's my hobby and I shall do what I want lol!

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
0

Ha, I don't even think of it as "optimizing." Experimenting, yes. Mostly just daydreaming up what could work and seeing how I like it. 

I am much preferring my 8-spd 11-36t stack compared to the stock Eagle setup. Optimize the chainring size for legs and terrain and go. But I would never (come right out and) claim that it would be a better choice for anyone but me.

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tehllama42
Tehllama42
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

I think you nailed the ideal configuration, but to me the real benefit of optionally running a mullet configuration on a hardtail:  the 2+2=4 setup.  You can run a light, carbon, lithe wheelset with quicker rolling tires that you can primarily home on the hardtail for going fast, and have the trailbike predominately run the beefier mullet wheels, but if you're covering a lot of ground on the FS trailbike, make the swap - ditto in winter, run the hardtail full mullet mode when it's wet and sloppy, or you just want more tire volume.  Basically, when the conditions dictate that you're not carrying momentum anyway, make the hardtail an absolute laugh and it absolutely works.
Hub selection would play into that too - some nice baller ones on the lighter/narrower wheelset, and you can honestly run cheap chonkers on the mullet wheelset.

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+1 Vik Banerjee

I like the idea of having two bikes and three wheelsets that are all inter-compatible. I could do dual 29" if my FS bike was shorter travel or mullet if my FS bike was longer travel - that just comes down to my height. 

Say it's my Walt V2 and a Fall-line Boy or a Spurduro. My Walt would normally have my 29x2.8" Vigilante in front and a faster rolling 2.6" in the rear (really liking the Purgatory lately). I run an i40 + CushCore Plus fr and an i35 + CC Pro rr on that bike. 

The Fall-Line Boy/Spurduro would normally be shod in an aggressive pair of tires since it would be geared. 2.6" Vigilante Light/High Grip front and 2.4" DHR2 rear are a current favourite. An i40 CC Pro fr and an i30 CC Pro rr. 

Then I'd have another wheelset that was much lighter with really fast tires that I could run on either bike. For snow rides, I could also swap the wheels from the Walt to the FLB as I'd be running a lowered SR Suntour Durolux fork that could clear the big rubber.  

Yeah, I never think about this stuff... hahahahaha

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enduroExpert78
Rick M
5 months ago
0

The way I see it, the components are receiving the majority (no pun intended) of the attention.  At this point, the 'bike' is no longer what I'd ride from the manufacturer.  Have you considered just swapping the frame with all the stock components?

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AndrewMajor
Andrew Major
5 months ago
+4 Velocipedestrian LewisQC mikeynets Michael

I'm not clear what you're saying Rick. Are you suggesting that I shouldn't have made the changes because now I'm not reviewing a stock bike or are you suggesting I should just review the frame?

I think (my opinion) that frame-only reviews - as unwieldy as they are, frankly - have the potential to create the most value for a reader since that's the part of the bike we're buying from the manufacturer. The NX drivetrain performs like an NX drivetrain unless if a frame is delivering some specific value riders could just compare spreadsheets and come up with the best spec/$. 

I've attempted to have this discussion via article a few times - my Trek Stache Re-Trial is probably the best example - and have come to the conclusion that my bike reviews will never satisfy even a small majority of readers. At the end of the day, I write the sort of bike review I'd like to read. My goals for these pieces are to entertain and inform and focus on what's unique or interesting about the specific bike I'm looking at. 

But, I'm also not interested in having shitty rides for the sake of reviewing a stock bike. So I change the components necessary for my comfort (grips, bar) and my fun (tires, sometimes brakes). Now that I'm having fun on the Chameleon I feel I can properly review the frame, which is the unique component here. I think (my opinion) that's much more valuable than putting months of riding onto an OE SRAM hub. 

That said, most bike reviews aren't done this way and there are plenty of reviews out on the new Chameleon complete already, so I think folks that prefer that are probably well situated with a quick Google search.

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velocipedestrian
Velocipedestrian
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Chapeau!

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geraldooka
Michael
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Yes 🙌

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cooperquinn
Cooper Quinn
5 months ago
+1 Andrew Major

Eh, none of these changes alter the fundamental nature of the Chameleon - they're basically all just rider and regional specific modifications. 

Whether or not the frame is viable/worthwhile is the most important part here; its the part you'll carry over for years. And DrewBob will have to chime in, but it seems like the takeaway here is that... yes. The frame is worthwhile.

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