Wednesday, May 01, 2019

ON Running Cloudswift Review: Rock and Roller!

Article by Jeff Beck, Michael Ellenberger and Sam Winebaum

ON Running Cloudswift ($150)


Sam: The ON Cloudswift introduces a new softer midsole Helion to the ON repertory. The upper is higher volume than the typical ON seen to date.  All ON shoes have distinctive CloudTec elements which deflect on impact and lock on push off rebounding independently of each other. Above the Cloudtec Elements ON shoes have quite rigid Speedboard plate to accentuate the rolling motion of the foot. It is for sure a unique sensation and on in prior ON I found firm especially at the heel and overly rigid in shoes such as the earlier Cloudsurfer, Cloudflow, and Cloudflyer The Cloudswift tunes the formula with the softer higher rebound foam, a somewhat less rigid Speedboard and especially a more pronounced front and back rocker.  On first seeing them at The Running Event last December I guessed that finally I might find an ON that was fun to run and not a rigid firm chore. As always the Swiss Engineered ON products have impeccable craftsmanship and especially superb looking uppers and the Cloudswift with its distinctive silicone saddle was no exception. I was eager to run them.

Michael: Comfortable upper; impressive “rocker”; handsome shoe; improved outsole
Jeff: World class upper, comfortable below foot, solid traction.
Sam: Very effective rocker. Another great upper from ON, this time favoring higher volume feet

Michael & Sam : Expensive; questionable lockdown for lower volume feet; a little hefty.
Jeff: Expensive, on the chubby side of the scale, not clear what this shoe should be used for, runs smoothly but takes some effort to get there.

Tester Profiles

Michael is his 20’s and is a 1:07 half marathoner. He runs 50-60 miles per week, generally in lightweight trainers or racing flats at around 6:00-6:30 minutes/mile.

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 3:40 Boston 2018. Sam has been running for over 45 years and has a 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the 1:35-1:41 range and trains 40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces in the 9 minute range. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.
Jeff Beck is the token slow runner of the RTR lineup as such his viewpoints on shoe and gear can differ from those who routinely finish marathons in three hours or less.  Jeff runs 30 miles per week, both roads and desert trails in North Phoenix, Arizona. He has a PR's of 4:07 marathon and 5K at 23:39.

Official Weight US9: 10.2 oz /  289 g
Sample US M8.5: 10 oz / 283 g
Sample US M10.5: 11.1 oz/ 315 g
Offset: 7mm
Available now. $150.

First Impressions and Fit
Michael: I have only limited experience in On trainers; I’ve watched the overall progression of their CloudTec technology with some general skepticism, but, having never done more than a couple miles in them myself, had no strong opinions. I have noted them more and more not just in non-running settings (especially recently, On has produced some very trendy colorways) but on the roads and trails as well, so I was excited to give the Cloud Swift a go. While the upper is more complex than we see on a lot of modern trainers - a far cry from the one-piece knit from the GoRun 7 Hyper we just reviewed, for example - it didn’t feel bulky or over-designed. The fit in an 8.5 was about right, and there were no immediate pressure points or discomfort.

Jeff: I’m in the same place as Michael, this is my first foray into On Running. I’ve been intrigued for some time about the shoe manufacturer, I’ve read numerous positive reviews (especially about the uppers), and a buddy of mine swears by them - but there’s never been a clear cut “Me” shoe that they’ve made. Fast forward to the CloudSwift, and I know see what all the hype is about (especially the uppers). If I didn’t know these were designed by the Swiss, I think I’d put it together, because these shoes feel very different from what everyone else is doing. Not just the obvious midsole/cloud pods, but everything feels a little counterculter in this shoe. The laces are soft and ribbon like, the midfoot cage is super pliable rubber, and the upper treads the line perfectly between soft and supple and very supportive. There’s a lot to like here, but in a way you have to work for it. As far as fit goes, I went my true to size 10.5 and it is dialed in. Enough extra room up front for a long run, but no extra slop to be found anywhere.
Sam: Superb looking and crafted ON trainers are truly distinctive and imitate no one. The fit is generous at my true to size 8.5. It was very comfortable on the foot on the run and for walking around but not exactly the kind of dialed in upper I would favor for fast moving in the "urban environment" as ON emphasizes in their marketing for the shoe.

Watch Sam's First Run Impressions YouTube


Michael: Really, really impressive stuff here, from the moment you slip the CloudSwift on your feet. I understand On’s technical apparel to be extremely impressive, and I wonder if that doesn’t somehow translate here. The shoe just fits, and I imagine will fit a wide variety of foot shapes and sizes. My hesitancy arose, as I suggested in the introduction, with all of the elements of the upper - there’s close mesh, wide-cut mesh, rubber overlays, and more traditional dense pieces where the upper needs reinforcement (at the very front of the toebox, and the heel cup). 

My major concern is about lockdown; here, as I’ve noticed on a few shoes of late, the width of the lace-eyelets themselves makes it reasonably difficult to get down and snug for those days when you really don’t want to slip. I didn’t have any major issues - but it’s just a far cry from, for example, a Nike Zoom Streak or even Brooks Launch, where the lockdown feels like a more integral part of the shoe. The CloudSwift is also a fairly beefy ten ounces in my native 8.5, and while I don’t know whether that’s primarily upper- or midsole-based extra weight, I have to imagine there’s at least an ounce that could be shaved here.
Jeff: On Running and uppers is like Ferrari and engines. They just get them right. The majority of the upper is an engineered mesh, with some overlays and reinforcements in key spots to give the shoe a little more shape and support. The most polarizing aspect in similarly designed shoes is the built up midfoot cage, but On used a very soft rubber that is very pliable and conforms to your foot (instead of the other way around in the previous models of adidas UltraBoost and others). It all comes together in a very comfortable package, but the first couple of runs took some adjustment. 
The very soft laces, along with the soft rubber midfoot cage, made the foot feel like it wasn’t tied as tightly as I would like. 
I didn’t experience any heel slip, they just felt a little off. The flexibility of the midfoot cage is all over the place, and while it doesn’t hamper the comfort of the shoe, it doesn’t provide much support either, and it’s added presence just contributes to its slight weight problem. It wouldn’t be a review from me if there wasn’t praise or lamenting the toebox, and in the CloudSwift’s case, it’s kind of perfect. 

The Goldilocks not too small, not too big, it doesn’t touch the Altra/Topo profile of an extra large toebox. But at the same time, I’ve yet to feel any pressure on the toes during any of my runs in the CloudSwift. 
The profile and the stretchy nature of the upper combine to make the front of the shoe work very well.
Sam: This is higher volume beautifully crafted upper. It fits me well but is clearly a more comfort oriented fit.


Sam: The Cloudswift uses new foam Helion which is supposed to be softer and less resistant to change in feel due to temperatures. It is clearly softer and with more rebound than earlier ON midsole foams. The foam in combination with the pronounced rear rocker made for a noticeably softer, but in no way "soft" heel landing, when compared to earlier ON which were brick like in their landings. The story continues up front with a firmer toe off feel due to the Speedboard with harshness muted by the foam. 
The Speedboard is a full length plastic plate designed to accentuate the rolling motion of the foot. In prior ON there was for my tastes not enough rocker to the geometry to actually do what it promised to do. The Speedboard in the Cloudswift seems more flexible than in many prior ON and when combined with the pronounced front and rear rockers it really does accentuate a distinct rolling sensation for the first time. Unlike the Asics Meta Ride with a very pronounced front rocker here the rolling motion is more continuous. I do find at mid foot, at the "high point" in the rolling sensation.

Michael: Helion is supposedly temperature-resistant, which actually came in handy over our Chicago “spring,” where we’ve had days at 75° and days at 35°. I can’t say I noticed a difference - but that’s the point, isn’t it? To be clear, this is an issue that I have noticed before (as have many on the RTR staff), but the concerns with midsole cushioning reacting differently in different weather are few and far between.

But even when a shoe performs one way in cold, and another in warmth - Nike’s ZoomX comes to mind - it isn’t necessarily enough to discount the shoe. More of a quirk, really. In light of that, I was happy to see that not only was Helion weather-resistant, it was an overall impressive technology. The “pods” lining the outsole have been brought closer together and more in line, so that they mimic a more traditional shape, and feel identical to a “flat” (non-podded) system on-foot. Moreover, the plastic “Speedboard” that runs through the midsole gave the CloudSwift a nice pop, especially at faster paces. It doesn’t seem as if On has sacrificed performance for all-around wearability.

Jeff: I was intrigued with the Helion midsole, which was supposed to give the shoe a softer ride. Not being familiar with how other On shoe’s ran, I have to assume that they are big fans of firm cushioning like Mizuno has been for years. 
The midsole is made up of nearly twenty hollow cloud pods, and they work together pretty well. I’d read that On shoes have had a problem with the midsole collecting rocks, but with one exception (I wore them to play on the playground with my five-year-old daughter) all of my runs ended without any stowaway rocks coming home with me. That said, this shoe feels its absolute best when the heel hits the ground first. I am typically a midfoot striking runner, but the shoe has a very jarring ride when you land center or in front of center. During several runs I focused on getting my heels down, and when I did, the shoe opened up. That’s less than ideal, but not the end of the world - especially since most runners land heel first. The midsole has good lateral flexibility, considering all of the missing material underneath the foot you might think it would get very bendy, but it doesn’t allow too much torsional twist. The hard plastic Speedboard that can be felt in between many of the pods likely gives it some extra support, but definitely contributes to the shoe’s weight. It isn’t a beast, but over 11 ounces for my 10.5 makes it far from a lightweight trainer.

Keep in mind that the forefoot might not make the best transition, at least, if you start there, but it is well cushioned. The combination of very thin traditional midsole and then cloud pods provide a solid, if firm, platform underneath the foot. I could definitely see this shoe being at least a half marathon shoe, and some runners might take it for a full marathon.

Michael: I was pleasantly surprised was the outsole On has packed in here. Yes, as with any space between outsole elements, the gap between the pods can become a rock repository. And yes, there are instances in which the narrowness of the pods and their collective rails, especially in slick conditions, leads to a sensation of instability. But largely, I came away impressed with the durability and the traction on the CloudSwift. There’s enough blown rubber to suggest they’re readily withstand 400-plus miles, and across a myriad of surfaces, I had no substantive concerns as to the grip underfoot. I wouldn’t take the CloudSwift on a technical trail - but that’s more because you’ll spend hours de-rocking and de-mudding the pods.

Jeff: The outsole is well designed. All but six of the cloud pods have rubber reinforcement, and the six exposed pods do not show much more wear than the rubberized ones. I didn’t encounter any rain during any of my CloudSwift runs (hooray for living in Phoenix) but this shoe feels very surefooted, and I’d be surprised if they had an issue in the wet. As I mentioned previously, the sole has been refined enough that it does not pick up many rocks, a problem that has plagued most of On Running’s offerings, so that’s a bonus. One non-running experience I had in the shoe was wearing them into the commercial kitchen where I cold brew coffee. The kitchen floors are clean, but there’s been enough grease spilled on them over the years they are a little slippery, and the right shoe is imperative when moving around. The CloudSwift felt great in the kitchen, plenty of grip on floors that are easily more slippery than a wet road.

Michael: With a responsive-but-not-too-firm Helion midsole and a stiff “Speedboard” locking up the back-half of your foot, I think the CloudSwift makes for a competent, if not impressive, faster-paced trainer. It’s not the lightest shoe in its class - far from it, in fact - but it gives enough of the illusion of speed to make me think this shoe has range. I’d imagine that heavier runners, or those who want a plusher ride, especially on recovery days, may want to look elsewhere. But nearly anyone seeking a firm but not hard trainer will find delight in the ride of the CloudSwift.

Jeff: As I mentioned above, this shoe runs very smoothly, both at fast and slower speeds provided you are getting your heel involved. My most recent speedwork session was in the CloudSwift, and after warm up involved six 800 meter intervals nearing 5K pace - and despite its extra weight (I usually do these runs in the 7-8 ounce Skechers Razor 3 Hyper, Hoka One One Rincon, or Nike Zoomfly Flyknit) they felt great. No rubbing, no hotspots, nothing. But, running in this shoe well requires me to constantly tell myself to use the entire foot, and doing that for ten miles at a time can be exhausting in different ways. This is one of the few shoes I’ve worn that really seemed to need a break in period. The first two runs were very unimpressive, and made me think that the CloudSwift should have been left on the cutting room floor. After that, the shoe felt substantially better. Maybe nothing changed in the shoe, and I was able to appreciate a good firm but cushioned ride, or maybe it took fifteen miles to open the shoe up. Either way, if you take them out for their maiden run and don’t like them, don’t give up quite yet. Give them a few more chances.

Sam: For sure the ride is distinctive as the guys said. Fairly firm ( I think from the effect of the Speedboard in the mix more than anything) but well cushioned  with a distinct rock and roll. I am a heel striker at slower paces and as such could take nice advantage of the geometry but do wish for  a bit less of a mid foot "high point" in the ride.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Michael: What can I say? I came away impressed with the CloudSwift. It’s not a perfect trainer, by any means - I had trouble really getting the laces snug to where I prefer, and the upper, while comfortable, can’t be the lightest option available -   but it’s undoubtedly a polished and impressive option. As with many of On’s offerings, the CloudSwift also totes a hefty price tag at $150. Is it worth it? A lot of trainers have creeped past the $120 barrier and nearer to the $150 mark, but it doesn’t always feel justified. For a handsome and all-around shoe, many will find value in the CloudSwift - but know that there are other, more affordable options that may fit the bill.
Score 9.0/10 Ride: 8 Fit: 8 Value: 7 Style: 10

Jeff: A great shoe with a major caveat - I hope you are a heel striker. The upper is truly in a class by itself, and the midsole is firm but still very comfortable and protective. The outsole provides great grip as well as durability, and the shoe runs well at all paces, provided that you get a few runs in, and land near the back of the foot.
Score 8.6/10 Ride: 8 Fit: 10 Value: 7 Style: 10
The shoe rides well , eventually, if you land near the back of your foot. The fit and upper are top notch, but the shoe is hard to pin down. Big mile daily trainer ? Maybe. Easy run or recovery run shoe ? Not really. Speedwork? Possibly, but not ideal. Random junk miles? You bet, but how many other shoes in your rotation fill that gap? They are easy to look at, but at $150 I would prefer a shoe that can do more than just random mileage.

Sam: Beautifully crafted and distinctive with as always with ON a superb upper and this time higher volume than prior ON for me focused on comfort somewhat more than performance. The new Heliion cushion is more than adequate and now has some welcome non brick like slight rebound feel to it especially at the heel. The rock and roll from heel to toe is effective but I wish for it to be a touch smoother at mid foot. If you are more of a heel striker and have been intrigued by ON, but never tried, this is probably the model to try as prior ON trainers were quite firm and stiff with a harsh flatter feeling heel geometry which took quite a bit of effort to get off of.
Score: 8.75 (Ride: 7, Fit: 9, Value: 9, Style: 10)

On Running Cloudswift vs adidas Solar Glide (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes weigh the same, and both outsoles are top notch. While the adidas has a great upper, the On wins handily there. The Solar Glide has about the same level of cushioning/protection, runs smoother, and doesn’t require any thought to foot placement to make it run smoothly. I’d take the Solar Glide.

On Running Cloudswift vs adidas UltraBoost 19 (RTR Review)
Jeff: The CloudSwift weighs just a hair less, and I’d put the UB19 upper right alongside On’s latest. Very similar shoes, but if you are a heel striker, save $30 and go CloudSwift, if you land in the middle to front of your foot, go adidas.

On Running Cloudswift vs Brooks Glycerin 17 (RTR Review)
Jeff: The Glycerin is a half ounce heavier, but it feels like a much more substantial shoe. The Brooks doesn’t look as cool, but it feels much better. Glycerin might not be the unique cool shoe, but it is the really good one. More than a thousand people every day buy a new Camry, and there’s a reason - it’s a really good car. Buy the Glycerin, the Camry of running.
Sam: Love the Glycerin 17 for daily steady miles. For a bit more snap and speed the Cloudswift.

On Running Cloudswift vs New Balance 1080v9 (RTR Review)
Jeff: 1080v9 is a half ounce lighter, but feels more cushioned and supportive. While the upper isn’t quite as good as the On, it’s still very comfortable and with a little creative lacing can lock down the foot nicely. No question, take the New Balance.
Sam: Concur with Jeff 100%.

On Running Cloudswift vs New Balance Fresh Foam More (RTR Review)
Jeff: Another New Balance that weighs less than the CloudSwift, the Fresh Foam More has a substantial stack, with very little rocker/toe spring. The On has a solid firm cushioning, the Fresh Foam is incredibly plush. Two very unique shoes, and while the On requires some form changes for me, it’s my choice of the two.

On Running Cloudswift vs Nike Pegasus 35 (RTR Review)
Michael: The CloudSwift is a little flashier than the ‘Peg, but the ground-feel of the two is reasonably similar. There’s a little more “squish” to the Pegasus, and I think it’s probably a more well-rounded trainer for logging the big miles, but they’re both competent shoes in this category. The Nike can also be found for (often literally) half the price. That said, if you want something different from everyone else on the Lakefront Path, the On is worth a look.

On Running Cloudswift vs Nike Pegasus Turbo (RTR Review)
Michael: Both trainers are technology-packed, but the similarities largely end there. The Turbo is soft as a cloud and polarizing as can be, whereas the CloudSwift is firm, and should be inoffensive to the vast majority of runners. Both have similarly-constructed uppers, with lockdown coming from the lace-locked cables, but the finish of the On is a little more comfortable (if a little more hefty). Here, I think the decision tree is clear: Want soft? Go Nike. Want firm? Go On. Simple as that.
Jeff: I’d agree with Michael, with one caveat. Regardless of your soft/firm choice, if you have wide feet (especially at the front) avoid the Pegasus Turbo. The profile or the stripe, or a combination of the two, makes it a tight squeeze up front, which isn’t what you want for a big mileage trainer.
Sam: The Peg Turbo is a short, slow easy miles shoe for me. Not nearly as stable it requires too much discipline to run compared to the Cloudswift which comes alive as the pace picks up. No question the Cloudswift's upper is superior and far more "problem free" if you have a wider forefoot.

On Running Cloudswift vs Salomon Sonic RA Max 2  (RTR Review soon)
Jeff: Another shoe that comes in nearly a full ounce lighter than the CloudSwift, this is a showdown between two slightly flawed shoes. The On isn’t great for midfoot landings. The Salomon upper pinches up front and caused big toe blisters, an anomaly for me, during every single run, regardless of socks and lubricant. Slight edge to the On, the Salomon picks up rocks in the outsole like the On’s predecessors did.

On Running Cloudswiftvs Salomon Predict RA (RTR Review)
Jeff: The Predict RA feels like what On wanted the CloudSwift to be. Nearly a full ounce less weight, with an upper that feels just as good as the CloudSwift, and a midsole that’s smooth no matter where you land, this one is easy. Take the Predict RA.
Sam: Predict also as has superb more comfort oriented upper with a touch more lockdown than Cloudswift. The ride feel contrasts couldn't be more striking. While both fairly firm the Predict is designed to follow the foot in motion geometry while Cloudswift resolutely directs the foot via the rocker and Speedboard.

On Running Cloudswift vs Saucony Triumph ISO 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Yes, it is nearly two ounces heavier (1.8 to be exact), but the Triumph ISO 5 embraces being a heavy duty daily trainer with no apologies. It doesn’t look as good, but it feels every bit as good and more. Take the Saucony.

On Running CloudSwift vs Topo Athletic Ultrafly 2
Jeff: With the same weight and similar cushioning, the UltraFly 2 has a leg up in toe box room, but ultimately doesn’t feel as well cushioned. Unless you have full on Hobbit feet, go with the On.

On Running CloudSwift vs Topo Athletic Phantom (Review soon, first impressions video here)
Jeff: A lot more underfoot at the same weight, the Phantom makes up for its sibling UltraFly 2 with a little extra squish underneath the foot, and an even more comfortable upper. Topo has a winner on its hands, and in this matchup is the easy choice. Take the Phantom.
Michael: I’m with Jeff, as surprised as I may be to say it. The Phantom is a terrific trainer in a package that feels more sporty (albeit less good-looking) than the CloudSwift.
Sam: More conventional in ride with a superb roomy upper with no compromises as to hold for a variety of foot shapes as Cloudswift may have for narrower feet, the Phantom has a softer more plushy cushioned ride better suited to slower paces for me.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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Anonymous said...

How does Cloudswift comparing to the Hoka one one Rincon? Seems both shoes are towards a firm cushioned design.

Sam Winebaum said...

Anonymous, not really much of a comparison. The Rincon (review at link below) is much lighter has no plate to enable a bit of a rocker and has an actual front flex point which Swift lacks. Both well cushioned but given plate I feel Swift is both “firmer” and also more stable For me Rincon more exciting to run if more minimal in support. . Swift upper will fit better for higher volume feet
Sam, Editor
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