Saturday, July 07, 2018

ON Running Cloudace Review: Serious Business. Impeccably Designed and Built Swiss Run Machinery!

Article by Sam Winebaum

On Running Cloudace ($200)

The mighty Cloudace is marketed as a significant evolution for ON Running on multiple levels (including a $200 price point) while at the same time the brand does not abandon their distinctive CloudTec channeled cushioning elements and superb upper construction.

ON says about the Cloudace:
"The objective was clear: deliver the ultimate cushioning sensation without slowing you down. The sole of the Cloudace is the result. Our most advanced application of CloudTec® delivers the smoothest ride you've ever felt. Experience extreme heel comfort and protection thanks to rear Zero-Gravity Clouds and still get an agile push-off thanks to the rubber landing zone in the forefoot."

The statement above, if proven true, even without the hyperbolic words of "ultimate" and "extreme", addresses what I have found in my previous testing of the original CloudSurfer and CloudFlyer to be major handicaps for me in truly enjoying running ON shoes. These handicaps were: a firm high heel and a stiff awkward transition from the Speedboard plastic plates embedded in the midsole. I did enjoy the Cloud and Cloud X, stripped down, flexible and firm ON shoes designed for faster shorter runs. So please read on to find out what I found, but I'll give you a hint. Mission accomplished in terms of an agile push off but I think still some work to do with the heel landing on those "Zero Gravity Clouds".

Weight:     US M9 11.6 oz./329 g US W8 9.8 oz/278 g
   Sample:  US M8.5 11.2 oz /318g
Stack: 30 mm heel/23 mm forefoot, 7mm
$200. Available now.

First Impressions and Fit

The Cloudace fit me true to size at my normal 8.5. The upper appears voluminous and seemingly sloppy towards the rear of the foot but fits securely everywhere with no pressure points beyond some first run slight pressure and narrowness over the toes at the very front center of the toe box under the fairly substantial bumper.  
This pressure was gone by the second run. The overlay materials throughout are so refined and well placed and the lace up and wrap so well balanced between support and comfort that a wide range of feet should be able to fit here if the front of the toe box works,

The look is serious and heavy duty, very Swiss (I lived there three years) with a combination of black, gray, Swiss Army uniform green gray for the overlays and bright near Swiss orange red on the tongue, collar and for the midsole Speedboard. Carefully placed ON branding serves as the reflective elements. The right shoe on the lateral side sports a Swiss flag and "Swiss Engineering" while the left stays plain there. Much visual design thought went into the Cloudace, tying in, and never straying from the solid, supportive functionality and purpose of the shoe for the sake of looks.  The detailing of every aspect of the Cloudace is quite remarkable.

The front upper is a soft dense engineered mesh with some breathability holes. The rear is made up of solid mid foot panels with a narrower panel on the lateral side and thus more mesh forward of that for flexibility at toe off.
The medial side has a broader panel for support and stability. On the run the upper just works but this is a substantial upper. You know its there. There is no sense of excess pressure anywhere be at the arch, the toe box or at last lace up just solid consistent support.
The engineered mesh up front is lightly lined for some breathability, but given the solid paneling elsewhere I found the rest of the upper I found it quite warm. I like the touch of Swiss Army green gray for the overlays. It provides a gentle contrast to the gray and black. The overlays are perfectly assembled ,balancing pliability and support just right with the upper with the only stitching that I could find in this shoe is at the front of the lace up.
The heel counter is external and firm as far as up as it goes with slightly more pliable material higher up. The heel hold is very solid if a bit high and stiff for my tastes.
The Cloudace has a bootie tongue construction with the bootie tying to the midsole a touch stretchy. There is no under arch bite for me as sometime is the case with bootie constructions for me. The tongue is lightly padded with a clever slightly more padded center red section above at the logo so no lace bite with a great wrap of the foot as the black wings nest down perfectly. I found there was no need to over tighten the Cloudace on my narrow/medium foot and I would imagine this would apply to most foot shapes, a relative rarity and a tribute to the combination of stout support yet foot conforming wrap here.
The ankle and achilles collar has a dense and quite springy modular padding system. There are a total of 12! separate "modules" including subtle bumped out ones at lace up and at the front of the sides of the achilles. The foot is perfectly and gently held but this is no pillow like premium shoe hold. All serious business the Swiss!
And as the Swiss are all about the details, I think I  have mentioned that before... the sockliner is a sight to behold
The sockliner is made of a total of 4 different materials and is very flexible upfront with a deep dense yet soft rear section which is foot moldable memory foam. For all the materials involved it remains light. Below the sock liner is a conventional mesh and glue Strobel board. A bit surprised as a lighter, softer board might be in order here. 

Midsole and Outsole
Of course, ON uses a very distinctive midsole outsole construction with its CloudTec Elements. Each element can compress individually on contact then decompress "returning" energy when downward forces are removed from each during the gait cycle. The rear four elements are clear and smooth all the way through while the front two have a profile grid which interlocks with a matching grid in the midsole through the Speedboard so that on compression lateral shear forces are controlled and to provide a secure stable toe off without the relatively soft rubber of the channels deflecting sideways. 

The very front toe off surface is filled so no CloudTec element  per say there making the toe off feeling very smooth and fluid.
Above the channeled CloudTec Elements we have the Speedboard which is a red plastic plate. In the Cloudace, it is wider than in previous ON to provide more stability and to guide the foot and as far as I can tell more flexible as the front of the shoe is admirably flexible for all the elements and layers.
The Speedboard has "windows" through to the midsole above each CloudTec element  I imagine without the Speedboard, the softer Cloud elements here would be unstable.  This particular Speedboard is for all intents "invisible" to me, not the case with previous ON where I could sense it was there and quite frankly overly stiff and in the way. The Speedboard is called out as "liquid injected" but I am not sure what that means.
The Speedboard provides stability and support to the system and guides the foot as it rolls through transition. In the Cloudace, ON talks about the shoe being more on the "support"side given the upper construction and role of the Speedboard. I mostly run neutral shoes and occasionally light stability and I had zero sense of any overt stability elements here such as a firmer medial post, midsole sidewall bump out or an over snug upper.  The midsole feel is indeed well cushioned and very stable with the heel firmer feeling than the very sweet feeling and toeing off forefoot.
As I hinted at the beginning of the article, there is an issue for me with this midsole at the heel. I sensed somewhat of a "high heel" feel, almost a feeling of an abrupt high rear landing that takes a bit of effort to get past, especially at slow paces and despite the 7mm drop, which should in theory make the heel feel lower. Closely examining the profile of the CloudTec Elements (see photo above) and  low and behold I see that the two rear CloudTec elements are considerably higher than those forward with a quite sudden drop off to the 3d. Exactly what I was feeling as odd and high. Those landing further toward the mid foot may notice it less than this heel striker.
When placed on a flat surface the shoe has a pronounced front and rear rocker with Cloud elements from the rear, two through five, in contact with the surface and the rear and front two in the air. This rocker design clearly assists in smoothing transitions at all paces for me, high heel feeling aside.
The front geometry, with its more flexible Speedboard, lower profile Cloud elements then full coverage at the toe without hollowing of the elements works very well at long last in an ON shoe for me with a smooth, soft and responsive transition, a snappy decent flex and then soft and sure toe off.

The rear landing seems a touch off, leading to a somewhat stilted and firm just post landing feel from the projecting higher second from the rear second lug. If you land further forward than I do, more directly on the second lug I imagine this height would be less or not noticed.
The firm feel could also come from the very extensive and firm layer of red rubber covering the elements at the rear. All the black areas of the outsole are the rubber elements themselves without any additional rubber covering.
This red rubber layer also wraps the center line heel at the rear as a plate rising up, I assume for stability. This said the Zero Gravity rear geometry is a distinct improvement in cushioning over what I often found were very firm heels in prior ON models.

For most of the on the road surface, the black rubber elements are the outsole.

The front black elements are softer rubber than the red rear where firmer rubber cover the elements. The front  Rebound Rubber elements have a more relaxed shallower geometry  and provide a softer feel up front than the heel. I found the front elements to provide a very fine balance of response and cushion for such a big shoe. The toe off very front of the shoe has no channels.
I expect plenty of durability from this outsole for my style of running which tends to be a rapid, quite far back heel strike then quick transition. I am curious what wear those with a forefoot/mid foot outside landing and foot roll will see from the front two channeled lugs as forces will be on the very outside edge of the lugs

The Speedace delivers a distinctly responsive yet well cushioned ride for such a big, heavy shoe. There is no sense that all (beyond the 2nd heel element height issue) that the various components get in the way of a smooth, well cushioned and lively ride as is often the case in shoes in this weight class. These shoes in my experience either are mushy soft for my tastes such as adidas Energy Boost 4, Supernova or Brooks Glycerin 15 (but it seems not 16) or somewhat dead and stiff such as  New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v8 and Saucony Triumph ISO 4.  The forefoot transition to toe off is particularly fine: soft yet energetic. The Speedace is as comfortable to run slow as well as moderately fast with a consistent experience at all paces. While the excellent design does everything it can to deliver a great ride, and it does, there is an elephant in the room, the 11.6 oz /329 g weight, almost 2 ounces heavier than what I prefer to daily train with. An in the end for me, as physics can't be denied, the weight starts to labor the ride here.

Conclusions and Score

This beautiful piece of Swiss Engineered run machinery delivers what it sets out to deliver: a stable, responsive, even fun ride in a heavily cushioned and highly supportive shoe . This said, all the engineering effort, elaborate functional design, and I must assume manufacturing complexity and highest quality materials, makes this a heavy at 11.6 oz and pricey $200 shoe. The value is there but is it overbuilt and over engineered? 

With the exception of the weight, but to a lesser extent than many in its class, and the strange heel height issue, I very much enjoyed running the Cloudace. 

The Cloudace is a strong option for those seeking a highly protective ride with some unusual for the class life and snap with a decent ability to transition to faster paces. It can be great choice as a daily trainer for neutral runners seeking a supportive ride, heavier runners, and those seeking to transition away from traditional pronation control shoes but still have a more inherent less overt element of support and stability. It is extremely well polished and tuned top to bottom so if "serious" quality and a great industrial and visual design aesthetic is an important consideration it is also very much worth looking at. 
Sam's Score 8.25/10
-1.0 for weight: complexity and potentially overbuilt upper leading to heavy weight
-0.25 for somewhat awkward high heel feel, although vastly improved over prior ON's overly firm heels,
-0.5 for price. While of the highest quality and for sure a difficult shoe to make $200 is way up there.


ON Cloudace vs. ON Cloudsurfer (2016) (RTR review)
Big, big improvements over the very awkward and firm heel of the Cloudsurfer and its difficult stiff transitions and lack of road feel. While heavier by more than an ounce, the Cloudace has a wider pace range including slow at which the Surfer really struggled. The forefoot feel and toe off is notably better in the Cloudace.

ON Cloudace vs. Brooks Levitate 2 (RTR Review)
At approximately equivalent weights, these two innovative big shoes offer a fairly clear choice. The Levitate has a smoother, softer, easier ride but is less responsive one than the Cloudace with a more pneumatic feel and less snap.  It's midsole construction is far simpler yet its PU midsole with TPU skin high tech. As for uppers, if the slightly narrower toe box of the Cloudace works for you its upper and particularly its totally secure but less high and aggressive ankle to heel collar is superior to Levitate's.

ON Cloudace vs. adidas Energy Boost 4 (RTR Review),Supernova (RTR Review), Solar Boost (RTR review)
The Cloudace is more responsive and fun to run than these two although the Energy Boost comes close or is maybe is a touch better at faster paces with its energetic bounce, decently supported by Torsion plastic. At slower paces the Cloudace is superior in its stability, response and ability to move along without a sense of sinking into quick sand of the two adidas. The Cloudace is distinctly superior in its overall fit and comfort with none of the rough edges of the adidas "cage" at mid foot. Cloudace is clearly better for me than the overly soft front to back UltraBoost. Although the upper does not work for me as well as Cloudace's I would pick the Solar Boost's lighter wait and more dynamic ride over the Cloudace. 

ON Cloudace  vs. New Balance 1080v8 (RTR Review)
While the 1080 is lighter,  has a simpler yet just as effective upper, the ride is more work than the Cloudace as the 1080 is not only stiffer but flatter with no real rocker as the Cloudace has. The combination of FreshFoam midsole and extensive coverage outsole just feels flatter and deader in comparison to the Cloudace. All of this said the 1080 is lighter in weight and price. 

ON Cloudace vs. Hoka EVO Mafate (RTR Review)
The brand new EVO is a full ounce and $30 lighter. It's zero overlays, simple design but gaudy supportive upper is highly breathable and draining and stands in sharp contrast to the heavily engineered and classy Cloudace's. Underfoot the EVO even with its maximal stack is as flexible as the Cloudace and yet more responsive. Wait you'll say it's a "trail" shoe which just won the Western States in record time. True, but this rocket is also fantastic on road if at bit more a rally car than the smooth luxury sports sedan the Cloudace is. 

Reviewer Bio
Sam Winebaum is the Editor and Founder of RoadTrailRun. He has been running trails and roads and run shoe and tech geeking for 45 years. As he turned 60 in 2017 he was thrilled to clock a 1:35.24 half as well as 2 days after his 61st birthday a 3:40 marathon.  He also runs trails in rocky rooty New Hampshire and smooth Park City, UT. 
The Cloudace was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are entirely the author's.
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Javier Ojeda said...

Is this a good choice to run a marathon considering the weight of the shoe?

Sam Winebaum said...

To train yes. To race unless you need the support something lighter ideally in the 10 oz or less range.