While we're certainly fans of many of Santa Cruz's full-suspension, single-discipline bikes like the all-mountain Heckler and the XC Superlight, investing too much in a bike limited to one specific role can be a bit, well, limiting — especially when there are options like the hardtail Chameleon D Complete Mountain Bike. The Chameleon obviously doesn't hit gnarly descents like an eight-inch DH monster, but with its huge range of fork compatibility and interchangeable rear dropouts, its colors bleed between sharp-angled XC climber, slacked out trail killer, and singlespeed session machine to provide a bit of variance across multiple disciplines and styles of riding.
The Chameleon's most radical element of mutability is definitely the pair of rear dropouts, which can be swapped for a singlespeed setup, making for one hell of a gritty lizard that's guaranteed to net gnar points on any 100-mile endurance race or while sessioning park terrain. In the advent of an XC race or just a day on singletrack, the dropouts are shipped in ten-speed mode, keeping the Shimano double drivetrain in full working order.
The Chameleon's front end is also flexible, including the ability to fade from shades of short-travel XC to the distinctive hue of a six-inch enduro fork. The D build comes spec'd with a 130mm RockShox Sektor Gold RL Solo Air, which splits the difference between the frame's min/max spread of 100mm to 150mm for a neutral tone on the off-road travel color chart.
As alluded to above, changing forks also alters the bike's geometry. With a 100mm fork, the seat angle gets steeper and the bottom bracket height drops for a forward-leaning, aggressive XC geometry that puts power above all else while virtually banishing wheel flop. As travel approaches 150mm, the bike gets taller and the head tube slacks out for stability at speed that holds lines like, well, like a chameleon clinging to a stick with its little tail coiled up. Only not as cute.
Without a solid platform, all that mutability is just a pointless gimmick. The 6066 aluminum tubing — inflated to increase diameter and stiffness in key power transfer areas — proves that the Chameleon isn't just a pretty paint job that can perform neat parlor tricks. The larger diameter of the tubes also increases structural integrity, even with thinner walls. The Chameleon's weight savings and stiffness prove that there's still a place in XC racing for alloy frames, and the tapered head tube nets all the steering precision and responsiveness-under-torque that we've come to expect from Santa Cruz.
The Chameleon D is finished with a few colorful touches meant to encourage speed, including the stiff, tapered head tube and the oversized 12x142mm rear axle — both of which are touches that we expect from such a well-engineered frame. The build kit is no less capable, including a full complement of Shimano across the drivetrain for on-point shifting that doesn't push the Chameleon D into the price bracket of a car, and SRAM's Avid-branded DB1 brakes for proven stopping power in the park or on the ragged edge.