Despite the fact that I’m a diehard mountain biker through and through, I still love to delve into other two-wheeled adventures. In fact, I’ll pretty much say yes to anything that involves two wheels and my latest crush is bikepacking. To be totally transparent, I’m still pretty new to this form of adventure, but from the overnight trips I have done, I I’ve really fallen in love with the slower pace that comes with carrying all your gear on the frame of a bike (FYI: water is heavy!). For me, I’ve found that bikepacking is a great complement to the oftentimes fast and rowdy days on a mountain bike.
With the rise in popularity of bikepacking over the last few years, there’s also been a ton of bikepacking bikes that have hit the market. Like mountain bikes, there are so many to choose from, all with different features, components, geometry, and more. So while I may not be an expert in bikepacking (yet), I do know a thing or two about bikes and after plenty of research, I settled on a Santa Cruz Chameleon for my bikepacking rig. It has some really great features that work well with multi-day trips and I’m a big fan of the Santa Cruz brand. Read more about why I chose the Santa Cruz Chameleon for my bikepacking bike.
Ready for adventure? Here are 9 reasons why the Santa Cruz Chameleon is a great choice for your bikepacking adventures
(There’s a good chance that affiliate links are scattered throughout this post. If you click on one I may receive a small commission at no extra charge to you and I’ll definitely be using it to buy bike gear.)
1. It’s a hardtail
The Santa Cruz Chameleon is a hardtail, meaning that it doesn’t have rear suspension but it does have front fork suspension. Hardtails can feel more efficient than full-suspension bikes on climbs but unlike a fully-rigid bike, hardtails still absorb trail/gravel chatter thanks to the front fork.
Another benefit to hardtails is that they can be loaded with bike bikepacking bags more easily than full-suspension bikes because you don’t have to fit bags (primarily the frame bag) around the rear shock.
The Chameleon comes with a 120mm or 130mm fork depending on the spec you buy. I have a 130mm fork on my D+ model, which is perfect for both pedaling uphill and descending down moderate singletrack tech.
2. The chameleon can magically switch between 27.5+ & 29” wheels
This is probably the coolest feature of the Chameleon. Thanks to the dropout technology, the Chameleon can run both 27.5” and 29” wheels depending on your personal preference and the terrain you’ll be riding.
I personally like 27.5’s so I went with the D+ model, but I like having the option of converting it to a 29er if I so choose.
The 27.5” wheels can handle up to 3.0 tires (which is great for sandy, loose terrain) while the 29” wheels can accommodate 2.6” tires.
The Chameleon changes to suit its environment. Twenty-niner or 27-plus, geared or single-speed, this adaptable hardtail utilizes a suite of simple, swappable dropouts to convert it from aggro trail charger to single-speed racer to husky bikepacking mule, or anything in between.
– Santa Cruz Website
(Note: if you want to preserve the geometry when switching from 27.5” to 29” or vice versa, you’ll need to buy the extra dropout hardware separately, which runs about $55. This isn’t essential, but you will change the geometry slightly without it).
3. It Comes in an aluminum frame
For bikepacking, an aluminum frame can be more durable than a carbon frame. The Chameleon, like most mountain bikes, comes in both – AL and C – but I chose the aluminum because:
It’s cheaper and
Aluminum takes wear and tear better than carbon
Carbon may be lighter, but when you start strapping bags and things to a carbon frame the friction between bag and frame can start wearing away the carbon material which, you might guess, is no bueno. So for me, aluminum is the way to go.
(As a side note, a lot of diehard bikepackers will argue that steel frames are the best choice for bikepacking because they can be welded back together in times of dire need and they’re a more comfortable ride. But steel frames are also quite a bit heavier and slightly more expensive not to mention there are far fewer choices to pick from).
4. The Chameleon’s geometry is great for long days in the saddle
This is perhaps the most important consideration for a bikepacking bike, right? If you’re spending hours upon hours, days upon days in the saddle it better be comfortable AF. And the Santa Cruz Chameleon delivers on that front.
When we first bought our Chameleons, (yes Andy has one too) we went on a 26-mile, 3700ft+ day pedal close to home to test them out and the only complaint I had was that the handlebars need upgrading to ones that have more hand positions. Since then, we’ve gone on several overnight trips and the Santa Cruz Chameleon is one of the most comfortable bikes I’ve ever ridden.
The head tube angle has just the right amount of slackness/steepness to make steering a breeze and the reach is long and comfortable.
5. It comes with a 12-speed eagle drivetrain
I will never again buy a bike without a 12-speed drivetrain. If you’re not sure what this means, it means that pedaling uphill is so much more pleasant than it used to be. 12-speed refers to one rear derailleur with 12 speeds and a single front chainring. The 12th gear is a super high ‘eagle’ gear that allows you to easily pedal up (most) hills.
Whatever bikepacking bike you choose to buy, be sure that it’s a 12-speed. (There are bikes with even more gears, but you’ll be adding weight with a front derailleur). Most bikes these days do come with a 12-speed cassette but double-check just to make sure.
We also swapped the stock front ring (I think it was a 30T?) with a 28T oval chainring to make pedaling uphill even more of a breeze.
6. You can make it a singlespeed
Another really cool feature of the Chameleon is that should something catastrophic happen to your derailleur or drivetrain while way out in the middle of nowhere, you have a real shot of transforming it into a functional singlespeed. To do this, pick the gear that you want to pedal in, reattach the chain, and then adjust the dropout position to tension the chain. I’m sure there’s a YouTube video that will walk you through it better than I can explain it in words. (Also make sure you have a multi-tool with a chainbreaker).
7. It’s easy to load with bags & Weight
The Santa Cruz Chameleon is easy to load and has plenty of options for strapping on bags, bottles, and cages including an underside down-tube water bottle option.
I initially invested in a full Moosetrek set-up with a frame bag, handlebar roll, seatpost bag, and top tube bag and everything fits perfectly. (Before you buy, make sure you measure the frame since there are several size options). These bags aren’t the highest of quality, but they’re great if you’re just getting started and don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on bikepacking bags. Or if you are in that position, (sponsor me?) Ortlieb makes great stuff.
Prior to bikepacking the White Rim, we also added a Thule Pack n’ Pedal Rack to the rear of our Chameleons so that we could carry even more stuff in panniers and on the rack top.
8. Santa Cruz has a lifetime frame warranty
Yup, that’s right. Santa Cruz guarantees a lifetime warranty for their frames.
Now that doesn’t mean they’ll replace a frame that was dented from a gnarly crash with a tree, but they will replace a frame that has cracked or broken from ‘normal’ use.
9. It’s affordable
In the grand scheme of bike buying, the Santa Cruz Chameleon is actually pretty affordable. I chose the base D+ model and it ran about $1,800. I chose the base model because I don’t need the best fork suspension for bikepacking and I actually don’t want a dropper post because I’ll be using a seat post bag. The higher-end R or R+ is still relatively affordable at $2,300.
Ready To Buy Your Chameleon?
As I’ve mentioned above, we’ve taken our Chameleons out on a small handful of bikepacking trips and I’ve been super impressed in the comfort and loadability (is that a word?) of this bike. Sure, there are tons of other bikepacking bikes out there, but I know and trust the Santa Cruz brand and I really like the features of the Santa Cruz Chameleon for bikepacking purposes, namely swapping wheel sizes and being able to run a wide range of tire sizes.
Check price: there are literally no Santa Cruz Chameleons for sale right now… sorry!
Have you used the Santa Cruz Chameleon as a bikepacking bike? What do you love/hate about it? Leave a comment below!