Sunday, July 02, 2006

Santa Cruz Chameleon

History: The original Chameleon frame was released in 1996, and 10 years later, is still going very, very strong as the original, do-it-all freeride frame. Dirtjumpers loved its light weight, but super tough build, slalom riders loved it's super stiff back end, and corner hugging handling, and everyone else loved it for all of the above reasons....

Fast forward to 2003, and I've decided that the old Saracen Jump bike is not suited to riding anything else other than trials or jumps, after spending quite a lot of time researching different frames, reading reviews, I decided to go with this, in a medium (16") size. A little on the small side, I even considered the 14" but I knew this would be ridden long distance so I compromised a little and went for the 16".

So I finally decided to go for it. To be honest, a lad in the village had one of the '97 ones, (still does) and I had fallen in love with it and always wanted one.

After a couple of lucky bargains I ended up with a build like the pic above (not the original build but it's the earliest pic I could find! - (original spec had LX rear mech, Race Face Prodigy Cranks, triple rings and a different bar stem combo)

Despite not being built up most suited to road riding, it managed a 140mile C2C ride within weeks of first having it with utter ease.

One of the first thing you will notice about this bike when you first get on it is just how stiff the back end really is. With 1inch square chainstays, you can imagine why! It overwhelms the engagement on hubs, makes you run out of gears really quick, and really shows up flexibly crank arms. It really does accelerate THAT quickly. This stiff back end does have one draw back though, it isn't the comfiest in the business, BUT, it does track the ground exceptionally well.

The second thing you'll notice is just how good it feels ripping round corners. The short back end and really helps in this and carving around berms is a pure joy: you feel as if you are a dual slalom racer, and puts such a massive smile on your face when you exit the berm faster than you entered it.

Oh yeah short back end: makes it sooo easy to pop the front end up over obstacles and off drops, some bikes just feel dead when you try and lift them, this comes alive when you lift it up, you can find yourself wheeling/manualling out of corners, manualling doubles in 4x race, and just generally getting the front wheel out of the brown smelly stuff with a the slightest of flicks.
That said, it's reinforced front end is very stiff, and makes for superb tracking when the descending and pounding your fork into various rocks, roots and general trail mischief.

Frame highlights :
Headtube: cut away at the front to save weight, but left massive at the back to give a massive weld area for maximum strength: a lot of top/down tubes join behind the headtube, on this, they wrap around half of it. That headtube isn't going anywhere.

"Bi-Ovalised Downtube" I suppose you could call it, not that Santa Cruz have ever made any fuss about it, but I know Cannondale, for example make a big deal about it.

It's shaped so that at the headtube it gives maximum weld area and maximum resistance against deflection by having a tall profile, it changes shape at the bottom bracket to be wider and give again, maximum weld area and a stiff shape for pedaling etc.

Those Massive chainstays, and the big ol' dropouts. Which are horizontal, by the way. Yup, the wheel goes in back wards - a bit of a pain if you aren't used to it - there is a reason for it and its so you can run singlespeed without the need for those silly tensioners that replace the rear mech.
And if you were worried about the wheel popping out backwards, some nice strong lips prevent this should your back wheel slip. And I've only ever had it happen when I had a rubbish QR fitted that didn't hold the wheel properly.
Both dropouts are also replaceable, little black adapters slot in to give perfect position for geared duties, and also the hanger for your spangly mech.

It's had a few (cough - say nothing uphilla!) Spec changes over the years, several forks, but the frame itself, despite being alu, seems to be going on forever....
Weight wise, you could easily make it lightweight, I've had it down to 27.5lbs with Mavic DH wheels and Vanilla forks, but I think I've finally found a good compromise between strength and weight.

Downsides? Only one: with the back end being so short, it has a tendency to want to wheely up every steep hill you come across, so a travel adjust fork or a longer stem is a must if you like to go up a lot. (Well, I suppose you have to at some point if you wanna come down;) )

Kit highlights:
2003 Marzocchi Z.1 Freeride Pro's (QR20)
Full XTR Groupset
Saint Cranks
Mono M4 brakes (fully tarted out with black bore caps and levers, + g'ridge) not sure if this was a highlight, though, to be honest.
2002 Marzocchi Shiver USD forks (these were the nicest forks I've ever had, just too flexy)

2005 Fox Vanilla RLC's
Now with full X.0 Groupset.

It's just a whole bunch of fun really, you can do what you want with it, and it'll always leave a smile on your face for it:

To sum up: It does it's namesake lizard proud, truely is a bike of many colours (literally, too). Perfect handling, perfect geometry, top quality finish.

Not bad either at the new lower price of £400!


Dan Howell said...

Isn't it amazing how, as soon as our illustrious leader heads away for a weeks holiday, the responses/comments to threads activity drops right through the floor :) ?

Hell, he even posts the first comment to his own articles!

;) ;) ;)

Farqui said...

I had no idea that you'd ridden much XC stuff, the CTC must have been a hell of an introduction.

The Santa does look good with some neat touches. You've obviously become very a-tuned over the years 'cos you're nuts on her :p