Review: Santa Cruz Bicycles Chameleon

Everyone teases me about the new love of my life. “She’s kinda different,” they say. “Funky.” But the comments that sting the most are those saying, “She’s a little ugly.”

Ugly? Don’t talk about my girlfr… er, my bike that way. She’s beautiful.

“She,” in this case, is a Chameleon: A go-anywhere, do-anything hardtail mountain bike from Santa Cruz Bicycles. And she just wants to go: She doesn’t care where, she doesn’t care how. People who think she’s ugly are the same people who walk their bikes down stairs, ride around obstacles on the trail, worry about helmet hair and wipe down their bikes after every ride. They’ll never understand the beauty of the Chameleon.

She’s got an eccentric bottom bracket, which makes it a breeze to run either gears or a single-speed setup. She’ll take a fork with anywhere from 100 to 160mm of travel, so whatever your plans, the Chameleon is game. Dirt jumping? Cross-country? Hucking about? She’ll do it all.

I haven’t ridden anything so simple, yet so beautiful, since the Mongoose I had as a kid. Riding the Chameleon brought back memories of trying to BMX out behind McLain Cyclery back in the day. I was never as good as that Mongoose deserved, but it didn’t keep me from trying. The Chameleon was the same way — she kept asking me to try something new.

I commuted to work on her.

I rode to the top of Mt. Tampalais and bombed back down.

I tackled singletrack, doubletrack and no track.

I hit the bike paths.

I ran stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.

I carried her on the train.

I even took her to the beach.

The Chameleon isn’t the lightest, trickest or quickest bike I’ve ridden. But one thing’s for sure: She took the most abuse. In fact, she likes to be abused. All she wants to do is ride — anywhere, anyhow and anytime. Mix and match forks, tires and bars and she’s anything you want: a dirt-jumper, a cross-country rig or even a commuter. But I like her just the way she came: Ready for anything.

More images of the Chameleon:

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