Want to run on Clouds? Straight-shooter John Schrup tells you what On’s “Cloudtec,” aka little rubber pods, feel like.
RUNNING SHOE: On Cloudsurfer
Category: Neutral, Maximum cushioning
Best for: Training, Racing, Running, Roads
Weight: 10.2 oz. (men’s size 9)
Heel-to-toe drop: 7 mm
The Swiss are really good at a lot of stuff. Watches. Chocolate. Housing stolen art. Army knives. Cheese. Conventions. Nutella isn’t Swiss, but I love it. I’m pretty sure there are many other things that the Swiss do well, but I’ve grown weary from toggling back and forth between this and Wikipedia and so we’ll leave it at that.
And now, apparently, they make legit running shoes.
We get many questions about the ON. Some people see them and ask to try on the “OC” shoe. Most, I think, see them and think they look pretty cool and then ask, “What’s up with these?”
And that’s what I thought, too, when I first saw them a few years ago. My first reaction was that this was another gimmicky shoe that really didn’t deserve much beyond a first look. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d see them around much longer, anyway.
But they’re still here, and for good reason.
ON is kind of a sleeper. They’re not flashy — c’mon, they’re Swiss — they don’t make each model in eleven different colors. They’re not that big yet. They have that Euro-cool monochromatic thing going on, not the traditional space-shuttle-super-tech look of so many of our favorite models. They’re subtle, both in appearance and in ride.
The ON technology – called “Clouds” – is the midsole/outsole, the rubber “bubbles” on the bottom of the shoes. These little pods compress when you land on them, attenuating shock and making touch down through toe off much smoother.
There’s nothing fancy to the EVA midsole, and the Clouds don’t look particularly technical, but the feel is surprising. Upon landing, wherever you land on your foot, the feel is moderately soft and then as the foot moves through the gait cycle, the Clouds compress and deliver a welcome responsiveness.
This responsive feel is a uniquely active sensation. It reminds me of walking in one of those bouncy houses that you see at kids’ birthday parties. It’s much more stable than that, thankfully, but there is a sense of being immune to the ground. The feel isn’t marshmallowy by any stretch of the imagination. When you run in them, and the faster you run, they are much more responsive.
Indeed, the first word out of one customer’s mouth once he laced up the shoes was “Whoa.” And that’s pretty much the response across the spectrum of customers trying them for the first time. Ultimately, some like it; and, of course, there are always going to be those who aren’t ready to try something new.
The fit is comfortably snug, from front to back. Those with Flintstonian feet will likely need more width than ON offers, but if your feet are of average width or narrower, the swaddled-snug fit will be right on. The uppers are almost entirely overlay free, so the foot can move unrestricted, yet there is the sense that you are well supported.
ON designs their shoes to allow the feet to move uncorrected. They aren’t “minimalist,” but they aren’t over-engineered either. The sensation when you’re running in them is almost – almost, but not really – like being barefoot, except of course that you’ve got tiny little bouncy houses under your feet. If you can imagine that, that’s kinda what it’s like.
The one gripe I have, other than that the width thing, is that they are just a bit too heavy for what you’d expect them to feel like. They’re not brickish at all, but most go-to neutral shoes these days are well under 10 ounces in a men’s size 9, and the Cloudsurfer — a neutral training shoe with a 7 mm heel-to-toe-offset — comes in at just under 11. So they aren’t heavy, but they aren’t feathers either. Really dense clouds maybe? They’d feel heavier, I suspect, if they weren’t so responsive and if the fit were not so snug.
On the one hand, the upper fits so well that it gives a sense of it being lighter than it is, which helps, but the technology is concentrated on the outsole. On the other hand, when compared to a Nimbus or a Glycerin, it’s is 3/4 oz. lighter. It’ hard even to put into words: They should be lighter than they are, that’s all.
Other shoes in the line include another Cloudrunner (also neutral trainers designed for daily runs and high mileage training with a 7 to 8 mm heel-to-toe drop, but with beefier Clouds for a more stable ride), the Cloudracer (a marathon-style racer with a 5 to 6 mm heel-to-toe drop), and the Cloudster (a moderate-featured trainer with a 7 to 8 mm offset).
The more I’ve worn mine, the more I’ve liked them. And I suspect you will too. The first few times I ran in them, they felt good, but I wasn’t really blown away. Though after about fifty miles in them, I began to miss them when I was wearing other shoes — I missed that responsive toe off. I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of the upcoming versions, and there are improvements that will certainly help to spread the ON love.