Wednesday, March 09, 2016

ON Cloudsurfer: Swiss Engineering Meets Run Shoe. Precision,Quality, Innovation. Cloud Like Ride?

Article by Peter Stuart with Sam Winebaum

The ON Cloudsurfer is a neutral trainer weighing in at 10.4 oz/ 295 g  men’s 9, 9.1 oz/258 g for a women's 8. $150 and available now.
The stack heights are 29mm in the heel and 22mm in the forefoot. The shoe uses ON’s “Cloudtec”® system of “clouds”, which are essentially hollowed out rubber pods. The marketing around the ON shoes suggests that you’ll be “running on clouds” and describe the Cloudsurfer as a “cushioned yet highly responsive training and competition shoe”. Does it deliver on these lofty promises? Let’s find out.

First impression
Peter: ON has a terrific design department—these shoes look great! The aesthetic reminds me a bit of Assos cycling gear. It’s sleek, simple and stylish. Step-in is luxurious, and despite all of the tech, they feel remarkably simple.
Sam: Having lived and run for 3 years in Switzerland I totally agree with Peter. The Swiss go all out for quality: from cheese, to immaculate trails, textiles, and fine watches and mechanical things. "Swiss Quality" engineering here for sure with a spare modern design and careful attention to every detail.

Upper and Fit 
First and foremost, these run big! A half size big for sure. I had to size down in both the Cloudsurfer and the Cloudflyer. No doubt about it. I never have to size down in any shoe and I’m a half size smaller in the ON shoes.
Sam: They do fit big although the Cloudsurfer less than the Cloudflyer where at my true to size I had to revert to a fairly heavy hiking sock to make them work. With the Cloudsurfer a heavier run sock worked fine for me but I do wish for a snugger fit.

As I mentioned before, the step-in is super-deluxe. The materials are plush and footbed is very comfortable. The fit took a little while to dial in. I think the super thin laces have something to do with this: It’s difficult to get the laces to hold in place while tying a knot. I had to adjust them several times on my first run. Finally I just used the lace lock system and the problem was solved. Once I got them dialed in, they felt great and I haven’t worried about fit since. The heel is nice and snug, there’s no tightness in the mid-sole and the toe box has a nice amount of room.
Sam: The thin laces don't help wrap the foot as well as thicker laces might especially given the single density upper.

The upper is made of a single layer of mesh with various densities. It’s nice and breathable, the texture is soft and feels plush.

There’s a very thin, perforated tongue, which does its job, stays in place and provides enough protection. The ON Cloudsurfer has a pull-strap on the back of each shoe to help pull them on and off.

There are some terrific design details, like an O on the left shoe and an N on the right shoe, and very tasteful logos on the toe and the sides of the shoe. Design-wise it’s sort of the Tesla of shoes. It looks classy and expensive.

Midsole and Outsole

The midsole and outsole are where the ON starts to get trickier to describe. Essentially there’s a midsole of EVA, making it much like many other shoes out there. Once the pods are done compressing, you’re basically taking off from this midsole. It’s perfectly fine and is a decent feeling midsole.

The outsole is made of thirteen hollowed out chambers or pods that ON calls “Cloudtec”® or Clouds. There are similar ideas going on in other shoes, such as the Altra Impulse (review here) with air chambers under the forefoot or the Newtons with their lugs covering the air chambers (on some models).

What really stands out about the ON shoes is that the ground connection is all made with these cloud pods. So, does this totally change the running experience? Does it reinvent the running shoe? Short answer is no. They feel like running shoes. There’s a little bit of give upon ground contact, but that quickly gives way to the compressed pods hitting the midsole. There isn’t really enough push coming off the ground to feel any considerable propulsion up or forward. That said, at certain speeds you can get into a certain bouncy rhythm that feels good.

The other downside to the pod layout, is that there’s a tendency to pick up rocks and small items from the road—not in the pods, but in-between them. I pulled a couple of things out of the center channel on my run this morning.

Okay, the big test for these shoes—how do they feel? Well, it’s a mixed bag. There’s nothing bad about the ON Cloudsurfer. That said, they are not the reinvention of the running shoe that the marketing might have you believe.

First there’s the weight. They are a bit heavy for my taste. For a shoe to be described as lightweight and agile, I’d certainly like it to be under 10 oz, which they are not (in men’s size 10.5). They’re not clunky, but it’s a fair amount of shoe to carry around considering the word cloud is in the name.

As I mentioned above, there is a little bit of give when you hit the ground of these—it softens the landing just a bit. It will be interesting to see how this holds up as the pods thin out over time. After the initial compression, the shoes move through the gait cycle nicely and push through liftoff well. There’s no noticeable spring from the pods un-compressing. The ride is a little bit firmer than I might have expected, but I’d say it’s right down the middle. The Cloudsurfer isn't a super-firm shoe, and it’s by no means mushy.

The Cloudsurfer shines at a moderate to tempo pace. When I’m pushing them just a little bit, they tend to feel just a little bouncy and are really fun to run in. They’re a little heavy for me to push really fast and they don’t flow quite as well when I’m going really slowly. One other caveat is that they are a tad slippery in the rain. I found myself sliding a little bit when cornering in the rain in these.

Sam: While I found the ride very pleasant it is somewhat disconnected from the road. I agree there is a give on contact and a nice roll to transition. The heel was firmer than I expected maybe because the first pods are forward of my landing at slower paces?  I also tend to prefer a firmer full road contact at the forefoot, followed by some give such as provided by the Altra Impulse's (review here) hollow chambers running through the midsole and not through the actual outsole pods as in the Cloudsurfer.
I agree they are more ponderous at slower paces than at tempo. I look for trainers that can handle slow and fast paces.

On Cloudsurfer vs. Skechers GoRun Ride 5
I find the Cloudsurfer to be a little smoother than the GoRun Ride 5, and aesthetically in a whole different league
On Cloudsurfer vs. New Balance Zante V2
Zante is more affordable, lighter and runs super smooth.
On Cloudsurfer vs. Brooks Launch
Sam: The Brooks Launch 3 has a somewhat firmer more agile forefoot, with more ground feel, while the Cloudsurfer has a somewhat blockier firmer heel. Size issues aside the Cloudsurfer upper and fit is more comfortable particularly in the toe box.
ON Cloudsurfer vs. Skechers Ultra Road
While these are both a bit heavier than I like to run in, the Ultra Road serves as more of a cushy recovery day shoe for me. It rolls through the landing smoothly and is more padded in the forefoot than the Cloudsurfer. The Cloudsurfer feels more like a traditional trainer and is a little bouncier at speed.

Peter: The Cloudsurfer is a really nice luxury liner. More 747 than SST, they are plush, comfortable, stylish and enjoyable to run in. They don’t completely thrill me, but I like running in them. I had some problems with durability in a former ON shoe (“the cloud”), but these seem to be very solidly built and I don’t anticipate any issues. I’d certainly recommend giving the Cloudsurfer a try, just temper the expectations you might get from the marketing a little bit.
Sam: A beautifully crafted and distinctive shoe. Probably the finest fit and finish of any shoe I have run in recently. You get what you pay for here, Swiss quality design and attention to detail and the price is not out of line for "premium" shoecategory. Cloud like these are not. Fairly firm, with a distinctive and yet not unpleasant disconnect from road feel after a firm heel landing, if you have one as I do! It is the relative lack of a distinctive "feel" to the ride or sense of presence of the road surface, this due I think due to the nature and placement of the pods in the outsole and not the midsole, where I struggle a bit. Best suited to moderate and faster tempo with forefoot striking and where a protective, comfortable shoe is what you are looking for. 

Peter's Score 4.6 out of 5

-0.1 super thin laces—hard to get tied right
-0.1 slippery when wet
-0.1 high price point compared to similar shoes
-0.1 unknown durability of the Cloudtec® pods

Sam's Score 4.6 out of 5
-0.2 for some disconnect from road feel and firmer heel
-0.1 for weight, under 10 oz my goal in a faster run trainer
-0.1 for the thin laces and sizing

The ON Cloudsurfers were provided free of charge to Road Trail Run. The opinions herein are entirely the authors.

Peter Stuart's Running Bio
My running career got off to a slow start…in high school I was told I ran like a race walker and was thus relegated to race walking on the track team. I got back into running about 15 years ago and then into triathlon. Triathlon really rekindled my love for running, so about two years ago I hired a coach and really focused on the half and full marathons.  I broke a bad habit of putting in tons of moderately hard miles (and no easy or hard ones) and after plateauing at 3:25 (with some disastrous marathons in there), this past year I brought my marathon under 3:00 and my half under 1:25. Along the way I’ve developed a bit of a shoe problem.

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