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Saturday, July 20, 2019

ON Running Cloudstratus Review: Swiss Engineered Heavy Duty Road Cruiser

Article by Jeff Beck and Sam Winebaum

ON Cloudstratus ($170)

Introduction
Jeff: The ON CloudStratus is ON’s second release of the year featuring their new cushioning material, Helion. It is also their first offering using a double stack of their ubiquitous cloud pods that are on all of their shoes. The result is the smoothest running shoe ON has made, and a daily trainer that can handle solid mileage - married with an ultra premium upper that is breathable and comfortable without sacrificing foot security. The CloudStratus is a big step forward for ON Running.
Sam: We just spent 13 days across Switzerland. We realized that along with all the mountains, cows, and green pastures it is also a very modern country with cool new architecture, very well engineered infrastructure, and many small high tech factories in just about every village and town. The Cloudstratus reflects modern Switzerland well with impeccable engineering, quality construction, and in our samples a bright even striking visual design.

Pros:
Sam/Jeff: Finally an ON without a harsh heel landing
Sam/Jeff: Superb upper with well held copious volume and innovative new lacing system which reduces flex point pressure yet holds well
Sam/Jeff: Smooth, Stable Transitions 
Sam/Jeff: Swiss quality top to bottom
Jeff/Sam: Aesthetics may be love it or hate, but I absolutely love it
Cons:
Sam/Jeff: Weight at 11.1 oz is up there and felt.
Sam/Jeff: Superb quality and expected many miles durability but price at $170 is up there
Watch Sam’s Video Review

Tester Profiles

Jeff 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 both he is working to demolish with help from his coach Dave Ames.
Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 62 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 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 on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah. He is 5'10" tall and weighs about 165 lbs.

Stats
Weight: 11.1 oz / 314 g men's 9
             12.1 oz / 343 g men’s 10.5
Stack Height: 28mm / 20mm forefoot, 8 mm drop
Available Now $170

First Impressions and Fit
Jeff: That is a good looking orange shoe, and that’s the first time in my life I’ve EVER thought that. Right out of the box, the ON Running quality comes through. I would imagine this shoe will sell very well in stores, because its step-in feel is as good as anything out there. While the midsole might not be the greatest thing since sliced bread, the upper’s quality/fit/finish/everything might be the greatest thing since sliced bread. ON continues to demolish everyone else when it comes to uppers, and the CloudStratus is no different. I tested a true-to-size 10.5 and it fit is sublime. It didn’t take much fiddling with lacing to get it dialed in, and once I did this shoe felt custom-made for my foot.

Sam: A spectacular looking shoe with a just right contrast between light gray and orange. When colors, the clearly large volume upper and the dual layer of CloudTec elements, the Cloudstratus loudly proclaims comfort and cushion. I was true to size but this is a more voluminous shoe front to back. I was just fine in fit if on the relaxed side even with thicker socks but started to swim around with thin socks even with my wider left foot. It is important to lace tightly here but given the padded tongue and unique star shape upfront a tight lace up on a narrow foot is still comfortable. Low volume narrow feet may nonetheless have issues with this upper. Those for whom wide sizes are maybe a touch too wide should be very happy as will those who often get wide sizing versions. 

Upper
Jeff: ON running and amazing uppers, name a more iconic duo. Okay, there’s many more iconic duos, but this company continues to set the bar for upper fit, comfort, and quality and I do not believe anyone comes close. In the early 2010s Mizuno went through a phase where they high dollar shoes (like the first two models of Prophecy, don’t laugh, that was a problematic shoe to say the least - but its quality was unparalleled at the time) and that’s the closest anyone has come to ON upper quality for me.
This upper is breathable and flexible, but holds the foot as well as anything else. When I saw early pictures of the star pattern lacing profile I was confused, and to be fair, I’m still a little confused. The shoes shipped with a very narrow textured lace installed, and came with a spare pair of laces that are just as thin (likely necessary considering how small each of the eyelets is) but very soft and stretchy - probably the same laces as the ones that came in the CloudSwift. Personally, I prefer the laces that came in the CloudStratus, but the complicated lacing profile meant I wouldn’t switch them out for fear of doing it wrong. That’s the only knock I can find, and it’s a minor one considering they come with the better laces anyway.

When you look at the upper, the two different colors (gray and orange) are two different materials. The gray is much lighter and thinner, and when you look inside of the shoe it allows a lot of light in. The orange portions seem to be a second layer built upon the lighter gray (if you look through the ventilation holes in any of the orange sections you can see more of the gray material underneath), and while that may sound like a lot of extra material leading to a hot shoe, it really isn’t. I tested this shoe in Phoenix and Flagstaff, on some very hot days in both cases, and never once did it cross my mind that my feet were on the verge of overheating. It probably does contribute to the weight problem this shoe has (not to fat shame, but 12.1 ounces in a men’s 10.5 is a little concerning), but for the comfort it provides it is probably worth the extra heft. 

Lastly, the heel counter is a little odd, with the asymmetrical rubbery plastic overlay with the higher medial side I assume providing additional support, but like so many other parts of the shoe, it simply disappears when you start running.
Sam: Jeff has described the upper well. It is extremely comfortable and effective in overall design.  The combination of the star lacing and soft gray mesh just ahead of the saddle eliminates the usual “eyebrow” shoe design speak the curved often stiff piece at the end of the lacing arrangement. The result is great top of foot flexibility which I felt greatly assisted transitions making the still fairly stiff Speedboard plate more propulsive ( in a smooth but not explosive way) than other ON where the board really has to be actively engaged with the foot less able to flex in the usual upper designs. I would amplify on the quality construction. 
What looks like a very high quality high rebound EVA insole is so perfectly fitted that at first I thought it was glued in. 
It also features some subtle arch ribbing designed to, if you will, notify the nerves and senses of pronation via the pressure on the ribs. I can't tell if it works or not and didn't really notice it one way or the other

Midsole
Sam: Finally an ON without a super hard harsh heel, or accentuated rocker such as the CloudSwift has. The Heliion midsole is not the softest, the feeling is dense and very stable but incredibly shock free, and especially so for an ON at the heel. One can clearly feel the effect of the dual layer of CloudTec Elements at the rear with the cushion effect and movement forward coming very distinctly for me, not so much from the foam itself, but from the elements compressing and releasing in a continuous chain during the gait cycle. There is a fantastic Swiss bank grade consistency of cushion, support and motion forward, albeit not with the lightest or snappiest of midsole feels. Faster paces felt more dynamic than slower paces with this midsole and I would imagine heavier weight runners (I weigh 165 lbs) could get more rebound and better activation of the elements and Speedboard plate than lighter ones. 

Jeff: It is hard to believe that a shoe that looks so complicated runs so simply. The midsole is ON’s first to introduce a double stack of their cloud pods, and maybe the second stack is the missing ingredient in making a shoe run smoothly (full disclosure: the CloudSwift was my first experience with ON running shoes). I am certain that it is the primary reason that the shoe is so heavy, but it only weighs one ounce more than the CloudSwift and is a world apart. This is ON’s second shoe featuring their Helion cushioning technology, and while the CloudSwift left me unimpressed, the CloudStratus is their redemption. I’ll get more into it during the Ride portion, but this shoe runs very smooth, if firm. 
The shape of the midsole is much more substantial than a number of ON’s previous shoes, and as a result is more forgiving. My local running store is starting to carry ON because of the CloudStratus - the owner was not impressed by how narrow a midfoot the other versions have, but the profile/silhouette will work for many more runners.

Outsole
Jeff: The CloudStratus outsole sticks with ON’s standard design language of capping most of the pods with a very durable rubber. In this case they capped every single pod on the lateral side, and only left three pods on the medial side exposed. As a habitual supinator those three pods (starting mid-heel and working forward to the midfoot) will go largely untouched, but they do feel dense enough that I can’t imagine what type of runner would wear those down in less than 350-400 miles. There is more than ample rubber protecting the front half of the shoe, but it still follows the pods and is segmented in a clean way. There isn’t much lateral twist to be found in this shoe (likely due to the Speedboard between the midsole and insole) but the segmented rubber up front allows for a lot of vertical flexibility.

Long before I’d every put an ON shoe on my foot I knew the whole thing - cloud pods under the foot that were divisive among runners, but everyone knew that they collected rocks with every step. The CloudStratus breaks that mold completely, especially in the rock collection phase. Not a single rock of any notable size every came home with me, and two of my Phoenix-based runs included some time on a groomed desert trail. Whatever foibles the earlier models had, the CloudStratus has not inherited them.

Sam: Jeff describes the outsole well. I will say that small stones lying over pavement surfaces are still caught by the outsole although fewer than previous ON. Traction on light sand over concrete sidewalks is comparatively poor ( I test all shoes on the same route more than once)  as there is no real outsole profile and pads are large. Traction in wet conditions was fine,

Ride

Jeff: Smooth, and surprisingly snappy when you pick up the pace - that’s the snapshot of the CloudStratus’ ride. I was very surprised when this shoe disappeared on my foot, considering how much effort it’s sibling CloudSwift took to feel right. That said, it is not nearly as soft as the double stack of cloud pods would suggest. The ride is firm without being jarring, with the recently released Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3 feeling more soft and plush underfoot - which is a sentence I never thought I’d write. The front portion of the shoe only has a single stack of cloud pods, but it never felt under cushioned by any means, but its firmness meant that toe off, especially at a tempo pace, felt great.

Sam: Jeff assesses the ride well. The forward motion is very smooth at most all paces, no hangs ups at the heel or mid foot and an easy if not exactly with explosive toe off. I wish the Speeboard was more flexible. While firm in feel from the foam, due to dual layer of CloudTec Elements overall the ride is also remarkably shock free, very well cushioned. and very consistently stable heel to toe off. I agree they are much more fun to run when the pace picks up, somewhat. This said the Cloudstratus is best run at conservative Swiss paces, in other words no lazing around but without over rushing.

Conclusions and Recommendations
Jeff: The ON CloudStratus is smooth riding daily trainer that comes in on both the heavy and firm side. Its upper is second to none, and while aesthetics vary from runner to runner, I think the upper look as good as it feels. Not for the runner looking for a plush and cushioned ride, but the firm and responsive nature makes it at home on easy runs or a more uptempo pace. Maybe not speedwork, but more for those group runs where someone pushes pace and everyone else follows suit. The $170 price point  is hard to swallow, but I can see the argument being made that the premium upper would warrant the $10-20 increase over most of its contemporaries. If you can stomach the price and are looking for a firm yet cushioned daily trainer, you could do much worse than the CloudStratus.
Jeff’s Score 9.1 / 10
Ride 9, Upper 10, Value 8, Style 8

Sam: A “showpiece” of a shoe with superb engineering and design, the Cloudstratus is a very competent if heavier, highly cushioned, firm and stable “premium” daily trainer. I hope the dual layer elements sees its way into lighter versions as I think they would really shine there. The fit is very generous and comfortable, nowhere sloppy but may challenge narrower low volume feet especially if you insist on thin socks at true to size. The ride is in no way boring or plodding providing an intriguingly smooth consistent ride especially at moderate daily training paces. It clearly has some pop potential (if hamstrung by weight and I think an overly stiff if far better flexing Speedboard) to go with the smooth flow from that dual layer of elements compressing and releasing as needed. 

The landing is in sharp contrast to earlier ON where one landing pattern had to fit all and it didn’t do so well for me as heel striker. The harsh very firm ON heel landing is gone here, although overall the Cloudstratus is not a soft shoe. Runners trying to move away from posted pronation control shoes will find a stable and considerable less “forced” stability here as will heavier runners who seek a stable well cushioned and durable ride. Shoes in its class are often plodders and the Cloudstratus is not a plodder although unfortunately its weight at 11.1 oz  is felt and I would say is its main downside. 
Sam’s Score 8.7 /10
Ride 8.5, Upper/Fit 9, Value 8, Style 10

Comparisons

Asics Metaride (RTR Review)
Sam: The Metaride has the most similar midsole feel for me. Dense, quite firm but at the same time incredibly well cushioned. The Metaride is a completely stiff shoe while the Stratus has some flex. The zero drop Metaride has a very pronounced front rocker. It is really really easy to drop in and get to toe off in it at any pace, leading to a highly stable and repeatable gait cycle.  The Metaride upper is superb and more conventional. It will fit a narrower foot better than the Stratus. I was true to size in both and the Stratus is border line to roomy. As with the nearly identical weight Stratus the 11 oz plus weight is noticed and the $250 Metaride price tag is way, way up there superb craftsmanship, durability, and unique ride aside. 

Saucony Triumph ISO 5 (RTR Review)
Jeff: CloudStratus fits true-to-size 10.5, the Triumph is a half-size up 11. Perhaps the only shoe on this list heavier than the CloudStratus, the Triumph comes in $10 less, a half ounce heavier, with a similarly comfortable - if not quite as premium - an upper. While the Triumph is a monster of a daily trainer, with one shoe on each foot its dull ride emerges. The Triumph is more plush underfoot, but not nearly as fun to run in as the ON. Spend the $10, get the CloudStratus.
Sam: I agree with Jeff. At these weights and prices Cloudstratus any day. The Triumph is much more of a chore to run and not nearly as pleasant in either cushioning or ride smoothness 

Brooks Glycerin 17 (RTR Review)
Jeff: CloudStratus is true-to-size 10.5, Glycerin is a half-size up 11. These two shoes are the flip-side of the same coin. Both premium daily trainers, the Glycerin is the plush and the CloudStratus is the firm. The Brooks is a half ounce lighter and $20 less, with a slightly more narrow toebox (but not even remotely narrow - the ON toebox is just very wide), and a great upper - compared to the CloudStratus amazing upper. As much as I enjoyed the CloudStratus, it isn’t going to find a home in every runner’s rotation, but the Glycerin 17 could work in some way for every runner. Countless first time marathoners and half-marathoners cross the line in the Glycerin series, and while the CloudStratus could be enough cushioning for that distance, you can’t say it with certainty. There are a number of elements of the CloudStratus I like more than the Glycerin, but unless you are looking for a firm daily trainer, stick with the Brooks.
Sam: If the Cloudstratus weighed what the Glycerin does it would be my choice any day. I prefer a firmer dense and shock free ride and while super comfy to run Glycerin is on the soft side for me. I agree with Jeff that the Glycerin is more versatile given its weight and bouncier softer ride that can bridge over to pretty much all daily training uses for many runners.


adidas Solar Glide (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both fit true-to-size 10.5, with the adidas having slightly more room up front. The Solar Glide is an ounce lighter, $30 less, and more plush, while the CloudStratus upper is better (and the Solar Glide upper is worth writing home about) and the ride is firmer, it also feels overall more cushioned. While I really like the CloudStratus, it is hard to ignore the difference in price, especially with the first wave of Solar Glide colorways getting discounted to ~$70 bringing it to a full $100 cheaper shoe. CloudStratus is the better of the two shoes, but not $100 better.

adidas UltraBoost 19 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5, but the adidas’ knit upper is much tighter in the forefoot. The adidas is an extra $10, a half ounce lighter, and one of the best knit uppers out there, while the ON is firmer, smoother running, and an upper that puts the UltraBoost 19 to shame. By comparison the ON toe box could be an Altra or Topo it has so much room. The UltraBoost 19 is a little more plush, but head to head with one shoe on each foot, the quality and comfort of the CloudStatus becomes very clear. CloudStratus by a country mile.

Mizuno Wave Sky Waveknit 3 (RTR Review soon)
Jeff: Both fit true-to-size 10.5, but the CloudStratus has a little more room in the toe box. The Mizuno has a similar but not quite as premium feel, and shockingly is more plush and bouncy underfoot. Weights are similar, but the ON’s upper breathes substantially better. For only a $10 price difference (Mizuno is $160) this comparison comes down to personal preference of ride style. If you like a truly firm yet cushioned ride, CloudStratus is your shoe, but if you want a somewhat firm but still plush ride, go with the Mizuno.

ON CloudSwift (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5. Big Brother vs Little Brother and this matchup isn’t even close. The CloudSwift is a little lighter and $20 less, but unless you are buying the shoe to wear casually, don’t think twice - just go CloudStratus. Both uppers are great, I think the CloudStratus breathes better, but beneath the foot it is a tale of two worlds. CloudSwift is blocky and hard to run on, and the CloudStratus is a smooth yet firm ride. Best $20 you can spend, get the CloudStratus.
Sam: Concur with Jeff. If ON is for you Stratus over Swift. This said if you are a true mid foot striker and can take advantage of its rocker the Swift will move you along faster than the Stratus.

Nike Zoom Vomero 14 (RTR Review)
Jeff: CloudStratus is true-to-size 10.5, Vomero is half-size up 11, par for the course for me with Nike. CloudStratus has more room in the toe box. This Vomero is a massive change for the line, much less clunky big mileage trainer and more uptempo trainer that can go big mileage - which means it’s very similar to Nike’s other offerings (Pegasus, Pegasus Turbo, Zoom Fly, Epic React - they compete with themselves a lot). The Vomero is $30 less and lighter, and while it isn’t sloppy or mushy, it’s level of firmness feels like it comes from lack of material, specifically underneath the forefoot. While I like the Vomero quite a bit, I’d opt for the CloudStratus unless you hate a firm ride.
Sam: Vomero 14 all day every day for me. A stable heel and more flexible, thinner lively forefoot is what I like and Vomero 14 has that in spades. While the Stratus is more balanced in feel front to back and smoother it just doesn’t move along nearly as well for me when the pace picks up. Vomero is truly a heavy duty "performance" oriented trainer while the heavy duty is more limited to moderate paces in the Stratus.   It’s upper both at true to size is far more performance oriented and fits me perfectly. 

Topo Athletic Phantom (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5, and the Topo has a bigger toebox, but not by much. Both daily trainers, but the Phantom is very plush to CloudStratus very firm. And the Phantom was a big step forward for Topo in materials quality (they feel even better than their $130 price tag would suggest) but I’ll keep banging the drum that the CloudStratus is one of the top uppers made. All that said - $40 is a big difference in cost, especially since the Phantom is a great cruiser in its own right. Unless you like things firm under foot, save the money, get the Phantom.

Altra Torin 4 Plush (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5, and the Altra has a solid edge on toe box size. This comparison is very similar to the Phantom’s head-to-head. The Torin is incredibly plush, true to its name, while the CloudStratus’ firm ride is evident. Upper quality is a slam dunk for the CloudStratus, but the price difference of $30 can’t be ignored. I’d give the same advice as I would with the Phantom, save your money unless you need the firmer ride.

New Balance 1080v9 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5, and the CloudStratus toe box is larger. The 1080v9 was one of the biggest surprises of last year, and as a result was my runner-up for shoe of the year for 2018. The only knock I had against it was its heel slip, which was solved with a runner’s loop. The 1080v9 has a fantastic plush but firm ride, while the CloudStratus has a firm but plush ride. Similar but different, ultimately I think the New Balance runs a little smoother, and while it has a great upper, the ON upper is the king. You could flip a coin between these two, though I think most would favor the $20 cheaper 1080v9.

Salomon Sonic RA Max 2 (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5, and the CloudStratus toebox is larger. The Sonic surprised me with how great it ran, but my first version was a pre-production model that had an issue with underlays up front causing big toe blister on every run (literally only shoe that’s ever done that), but once I got a release version the fatal flaw went away and the great shoe that is the Max 2 could shine. I thought the Max 2 was a great firm ride, and head-to-head, the Max 2 and the CloudStratus run very similarly with a firm but well cushioned ride. The difference? The Salomon’s upper is good, not legendary, and costs $40 less and weighs nearly a full two ounces less. CloudStratus is great, but not enough to overcome the cost and weight difference, give Salomon some love on the most underrated shoe on the market right now.

Salomon Predict RA (RTR Review)
Jeff: Both shoes fit true-to-size 10.5 and toe boxes are very comparable. These two shoes line up very well. Both are premium price points with the Predict RA coming in $10 cheaper at $160. Both run smoothly, with the Predict being medium firm and the CloudStratus being a little more firm, and both have uppers that are top-tier. The most surprising Sophie’s Choice of this list, I’d say flip a coin and know you are getting a great, if not expensive, running shoe.
Sam: Predict RA is on the firmer side but plenty cushioned. It is lighter and has much better ground feel.
Read reviewers' full run bios here
The product reviewed was provided at no cost. The opinions herein are the authors'.
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