I used to naively think that hardtails were only for cross-country racers. Moving to Colorado from the Pacific Northwest led me to discover a biking subculture of hardtail riders that can rip down technical trails that I find challenging on my dual suspension bike. I was in serious awe and had to check out this hardtail obsession myself. Why not add some more challenge to my ride while improving my technical skills? It seems to be the Colorado way. The redesigned Santa Cruz Chameleon came out this Spring, and knowing that I fit well on Santa Cruz bikes, I went for it, choosing the 27.5+ tire option with the Fox Rhythm 120 mm fork ($1999).
Bottom line: The Chameleon is a solid, stable and super fun hardtail that is highly adaptable to the technical terrain that the Fort Collins area is known for. It was quickly obvious that this bike will hold a line on trails that may not traditionally be seen as suitable for a hardtail. While I was nervous at first about the 120 mm front fork, the long, low slack geometry, 67.5 degree head tube angle, low bottom bracket, and long top tube immediately made me 100% confident in this bike's ability to tackle all the tough rocky sections that I have been riding on my 140 mm travel full suspension. Of course, upgrading to a dropper seat post will only increase your trail aggression.
Another major piece of this bike that was totally new to me are the 27.5+ tires. Plus tires really shine on loose rocky terrain, which I find the most frustrating part about riding in Colorado. I'm sure that my high speed cornering technique needs improvement, but for now, plus tires pick up any slack that my skills lack. The grip is mind blowing. No more worries about washing out going around loose corners at speed. Let it rip. I'm totally sold on plus tires, and they no doubt will be a part of any new bike purchase in my future.
The bottom line is that this bike is simple, affordable, and downright fun. Of course, hardtails are good climbers, but be prepared for the Chameleon to deliver when you point this bike downhill. New, intermediate and advanced riders alike will be all smiles when they rally on this solid, adaptable companion.
by Catherine Salisbury, Weekend Girl Warrior