I agree with nearly everything and there isn’t a great deal more to add. Though, our good friend, nuance, has something to say.
I’ve had a couple of months on the lizard and am still learning how to ride it. It’s true. These things take time. I spent three years on a 2015 Salsa El Mariachi with way different trail manners than this generation Chameleon. I was good at riding it. I even mentioned how good here. Go me. The El Mar’s chainstay length started at 430mm; the Chameleon’s starts at 415mm. Riding with stays that short and adding increased reach of the current generation lizard, has affected my pedal timing and weight shift on slow, technical climbs. I’ve sucked, actually. What was once doable with confidence on the El Mar has only borne frustration with the Chameleon.
The 15mm longer chainstay length on the El Mar allowed for just enough time between the front and back wheels to unweight the rear and throw it over whatever obstacle needed clearing without continual ratcheting of the pedals. The short rear end of the Chameleon has messed all of that up. On the other hand, that same short rear end, among a few other things, is probably why Steve gave it a fun factor of 11/10. In its natural state, the bike wants to hop, pop, jump, and flick off of everything. It does so with ease and is universally praised for it. For me, the short rear end that gives the bike its playfulness, compromised the experience when things pointed up and got slow, steep, and technical; a part of the riding experience I like as much as the descent. A part that I pride myself on. So, I did the unthinkable. I adjusted the dropouts to their max-length for a 430mm chainstay. It’s a new, new experience.
I was hesitant to make this adjustment because I didn’t want to lose the playfulness on the descent. There was a small penalty for what many probably perceive as sin; I won’t lie. But, what was lost, was made up for in other areas. The bike has less of an adolescent immaturity, eager and oblivious, and more of a refined and intentional disposition. It is very much welcome.
Descents and tight turns require a little more input and the rhythm is different when popping off trail features. Though small, there is a noticeable increase in time it takes the rear wheel to get airborne and requires greater balance to land both wheels simultaneously. The ride retains its playfulness, it’s just different.
With the dropouts extended, the ride up changed. Though it slackened the front end slightly, it also lowered the bottom bracket and better centered me in the middle of the bike. One would expect the front wheel to wander with the slackened front, but with rider weight distributed more evenly, the front end stayed planted.
Every adjustment is a give and take. With the dropouts at their shortest setting, the rear wheel rarely spun out on on standing climbs. When seated however, it felt like low-gear pedaling would lift the front end and roll me off the back. In their longest setting, this sensation fled. And since I prefer climbing while seated, rear wheel spin-out is now rare and mostly irrelevant.
This version Chameleon, my 4th in its long history and my 7th Santa Cruz frame, is hands-down, the best I’ve ridden. With my adjustments, perhaps bizarre to some, it’s still a party on the trail. Only now, it does so responsibly. Stability, speed, and composed playfulness have taken the ride to new heights. I previously wrote that it’s the most fun I’ve had on a bike in 15 years.