First Ride Review: Santa Cruz Chameleon C SE 29 Reserve

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There can’t be many models of mountain bike out there which can claim to have the longevity of the Santa Cruz Chameleon.

It’s been around since 1996, when it burst onto the scene as one of a small handful of hard-hitting hardtails, boasting the capability to run a then-huge 100mm of front suspension, plus super-strong, singlespeed-compatible dropouts, and quickly won over the more refined dirt jumpers and street riders.

However it was also light enough to pedal, and many of them were built up to ride more than stair sets and six packs. After the Great Wheel Size Kerfuffle of the mid 2010s, it was relaunched in 2017 as a well-received 29er/27.5+ trail hardtail. And now, for the first time in its decades-long history, Santa Cruz has decided to up the bling factor by remaking the Chameleon in carbon fibre.

santa cruz chameleon
We were originally going to Photoshop this image to correct it. But we’ve decided to leave the valves in their current position.

The Santa Cruz Chamelon C

If its existence has previously passed you by and you’re wondering what type of bike the Chameleon is, there’s a clue in the name. It’s designed to be run with a modest 120mm travel fork (130mm in Plus guise) and is aimed at the mythical hardtail sweet spot – a bike that’s light enough for XC, strong enough for jumps.

santa cruz chameleon
Clean internal cable routing up front…
santa cruz chameleon internal cable routing
…and external for the back end.

Like the alloy version, it’ll fit 29in or 27.5+ wheels, and thanks to clever modular dropouts and changing the fork travel by 10mm, frame geometry and the BB height are kept the same regardless of wheelsize.

You can also get singlespeed-compatible dropouts (in pre-Boost 142x12mm spacing) that work with an integrated chain tensioner, and should you have an alloy Chameleon already, your spare dropouts will work with the new Chameleon C.

Clever dropouts integrate the rear disc calliper mount.
Your old skool hip hop name is…

When it comes to geometry and measurements, the Chameleon C is very much a faithful copy of its alloy precursor. Reach, stack and wheelbase are identical to within a couple of mm, and the head and seat tube angles remain the same, at a middling 67.3° and 72.8° degrees respectively.

The detailing of the two frames is also pretty similar. There’s partial internal cable routing and a good old threaded BB shell, while the long-distance riders get a nod in the form of a three-bolt cargo cage mount under the downtube. Maximum tyre clearance is 2.5in in 29er mode, and 3.0in in Plus mode.

Right, so with the basics covered, now on to the more interesting stuff…

santa cruz chameleon calderdale todmorden grim winter
We’re not in California anymore Toto!

The Ride



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santa cruz chameleon carbon hardtail hope
The Tin Dragon.

Santa Cruz Chameleon C SE Reserve Specifications

  • Frame // Carbon C 29/27+ hardtail
  • Fork // Fox 34 Float, Performance Series, 120mm Travel
  • Hubs // Hope Pro 4, 110x15mm Front & 148x12mm Rear
  • Rims // Santa Cruz Reserve 27 carbon, 27mm Internal Width, 28h
  • Tyres // Maxxis Minion DHF EXO 3C MaxxTerra 2.3in Front & Ardent Race EXO 2.35in Rear
  • Chainset // SRAM X1 Eagle
  • Rear Mech // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
  • Shifter // SRAM GX Eagle, 12-Speed
  • Cassette // SRAM GX Eagle, 10-50t, 12-Speed
  • Brakes // SRAM Guide R
  • Bar // Race Face Aeffect R
  • Stem // Race Face Aeffect R, 50mm
  • Grips // Santa Cruz Palmdale
  • Seatpost // RockShox Reverb Stealth
  • Saddle // WTB Silverado
  • Size Tested // Large
  • Sizes Available // Small, Medium, Large, X-Large
  • RRP // £5,699

Review Info

Brand:Santa Cruz
Product:Chameleon C SE Reserve
Tested:by Antony de Heveningham for 1 weekend

Comments (9)

    And I’ve just bought the alloy one! Not fussed about weight as mine rides lovely and isn’t heavy. I’m glad to see the geo is the same more importantly. Now to see if my rear end cracks like so many others with the adjuster bolts. Lifetime warranty, thank god for that!

    Yikes, £5.7K for a hard tail with performance series suspension and GX groupset!!! I’d go for the self build option.

    No mention of the actual weight?
    Given that it seems to be it’s main selling point, it’s an odd thing to miss out.

    Over 5000 for a hardtail is too much. Especially for one with only a GX eagle. Give me at least an X01 eagle and a factory shock and I’ll think about it.

    Uberpod, the quoted weight for the SE Reserve build that we tested is a whisker under 26lbs, but I’d imagine that anyone prepared to spend that much who was concerned about the weight would be able to shave a fair bit off that. Frame is about 1.8kg apparently.

    is that a manual attempt?

    Lovely hope ‘indigo’ blue hubs spoilt with sram guides, get some tech3s on there ..
    My aluminium weighs around 27-28 lbs, I don’t see the point of going to carbon, I’d have preferred steel ;0)
    Agree with the ardent race great summer tyre, not for a Yorkshire winter though

    howsyourdad1, I prefer the term “shamual”.

    I have an aluminum 2019 S+ with a 2019 DVO Sapphire 34 fork and it is the best bike I’ve ever owned….. the 2.8s in the loose over hard SoCal high desert that I call home are a game changer.

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