Saturday, April 08, 2023

ON Cloudsurfer 2023 Review: a totally new CloudTec and ride approach with a lighter, more fun "attitude"

Article by Sam Winebaum

ON Cloudsurfer 2023 ($160)

The Cloudsurfer 2023 represents an all new direction for rapidly growing and moving ON. At  long last we have a run trainer that eliminates the Speedboard plate, rethinks and re-engineers the Cloud elements in a new direction, gets far softer than any prior ON and simplifies upper design. 

While always so stylish, I found the Speedboard laden past ON overly prescriptive and rigid, the Cloud Elements not particularly effective and surrounded by often firm foam and the uppers while super well built and supportive but unnecessarily heavy due to visual design decisions. With the excellent Cloudmonster (RTR Review) we saw a more flexible Speeboard in a max cushion grade (32/27 stack) trainer with a simplified upper. 

With the Cloudsurfer we get  yet more streamlined, softer and lighter.  Using finite element analysis ON rethinks the geometry with both a pronounced rocker from heel to forefoot and CloudTec Phase angled elements designed to collapse like dominoes and rebound differentially along the way based on the runner’s gait cycle.  

Interestingly the elements are molded as continuous tubes, quite a molding challenge I imagine! This Helion foam itself is for sure not as brick hard as past ON shoes often rode with yet more firmness introduced by the Speedboard plates.

The outsole no longer has thecharacteristic ON podular elements but is more continuous rubber concentrated in 2 areas: heel and forefoot with a deep and broad decoupling groove.

And also reflecting change,  the upper is a soft engineered mesh with a semi rigid but not overbuilt heel counter and with no “saddle shoe” type  midfoot to rear overlays. 

The tongue is gusseted with forefoot support from dual stitched in webbing bands on each side tying into the last lace loop to draw in the foot and lock it down.

The resulting shoe has a 31mm heel / 21 mm forefoot stack height with a substantial 10mm drop weighing a mere 8.3 oz in a US9 so very competitive. By ON specs it is  90 g or 3.17 oz lighter than the previous Cloudsurfer, a shoe we did not bother to test,  and which as shown below, was of a completely different design.

I was eager to check out this all new design to see how it performed. 


Just darn pleasant all around for shorter runs at any pace: upper and ride Sam

Superb smooth flowing rockered yet also flexible geometry: Sam

Huge 90g / 3.17 oz drop in spec weight: Sam 

Good riddance Speedboard! Sam

Hello tuned CloudTec Phase!  A huge run shoe tech innovation . Cushioning and stabilizing elements that collapse/ rebound differently along the gait cycle as well as  differentially medially and laterally: Sam

CloudTec Phase delivers a particularly soft yet stable heel landing and easy transition: Sam

Helion foam (now without a harsh Speedboard in the mix) is soft and has decent return: Sam

A very natural riding soft shoe with great ground feel and fun energy return, also a Con: Sam

Super soft, saddle and gimmick free  upper is easy on the foot, of course stylish light and supportive : Sam


Low 21mm forefoot stack, 10mm drop and totally compressing front CloudPhase elements make the front of shoe very soft, flexible and thin feeling especially for longer runs or heavy forefoot strikers, if at same time kind of wildly pleasant : Sam

Quality is superb, as is style, but $160 pricing is up there for a lowish stack trainers with not wide enough “daily trainer” versatility for me due to the forefoot: Sam


Approx.Weight: men's 8.3 oz  / 235!g (US9)  /  women's oz / g (US8)

  Samples: men’s  8.06 oz  / 228 g US8.5

Stack Height: men’s 31 mm heel (measured) /21 mm forefoot (10mm drop spec) :: 

$160 Available now.

First Impressions, Fit and Upper

The upper is an engineered mesh and far simpler than what we are used to from ON  and dare I say more “conventional” modern. eliminating all their usual overlays..  In a nice touch and  maybe stylistic we have a band of material with partial shoe naming down the center of the lace up. This band may provide a touch more structure over the top of the laces to lock the foot or may be purely decorative!

The mesh is soft, thin and pliable with denser knit from the end of the toe box to the heel.  

The lacing system includes external A straps stitched in to the upper upfront to secure the toe box tying into loops at the last lace up which are effective while not requiring a stiff band at the bottom of the laces although there is an underlay there.  

Further up we repeat the orange stitched in elements and cords at lace up. Looks cool and obviates the need for a lace hole at lace up allowing the tongue to sit flatter and wrap a bit more directly with the upper while connecting to the rear of shoe pulling the heel forward. 

Both approaches, front and back, are super effective especially in this soft unstructured upper to lock the foot to the platform with no pressures and a very seamless feel and a wild contrast to most prior ON with their heavy mid foot saddles.

ON has one more trick to insure some stability. The sockliner rises vertically on the medial side far more than most I can remember. This soft wall is I think in place of the now commonly seen rising midsole walls with the foot sitting down. By using this approach no additional stiffness is introduced into the platform at midfoot that can get in the way of transitions.

The upper has some sustainability elements including to “save on water, the yarn is colored using a dope dyeing process that requires 90% less water than standard techniques. We've also ditched the plastic overlays and bumped up the shoe's total recycled content to 30%.”

The fit is true to size, precise and comfortable for my narrow to medium feet.


The new Cloudsurfer has no Speedboard plate and is based on a new computer optimized midsole geometry design called CloudTec Phase. ON asks us to think of the CloudTec Phase as “collapsible dominoes”  Each element is tuned for its place in the gait cycle not only collapsing differently as the foot progresses in the direction of travel but also having at the rear of the shoe less collapse medially than laterally for a touch more support while at toe off more collapse medially than lateral. 

This is a significant innovation as now ON can tune midsoles for firmness and stride flow characteristics the length of the shoe during the gait through the shape and geometry of each element while using a single foam, Helion in this case.

Helion foam has gotten progressively softer and here it is much softer than say the CloudStratus and is softer than to the Cloudmonster’s Helion. One cannot separate, given the CloudTec Phase construction of elements and rocker geometry, the foam feel from the overall feel of the shoe as all elements clearly are designed to work together to deliver what is here a soft ride with an excellent flow forward due to the rocker geometry. All super pleasant and smooth even if a bit low stack and high drop overall.

The heel is well and softly cushioned. in fact I felt, given the action of the CloudTec elements more cushioned than the heel stack of 31mm would indicate. The rubber plus the rocker, drop and deep decoupling gave me no sense of oversoftness mushiness or bottoming out at any pace despite the softness and my tendency to heel strike at slower paces. A very nice and lively heel rebound and just enough stability as well credit I think to the CloudTec Phase geometry and also of course the great upper lockdown heel to front.

Things go somewhat off for me up front. I am mostly a heel striker at slower paces moving more to midfoot at faster paces. The front of the shoe while energetic and fun is very, very soft. See pictures below of how much the front  compresses to even hand pressing. 

Lateral Side

Medial Side 

Opposite of the heel area where the medial side’s smaller channel opening lead to a bit less compression for support, up front the medial side is slightly more compressive to drive to toe off but even hand squeezed but on neither side there is not much stack on the way down to cushion as the elements compress but  there is a nice spring back if a bit of wild one due to the softness.

I do note the final toe off area (without channels)  is firmer and that was clearly felt and welcome. Things started to feel a bit shaky and thin in later miles of my test runs. Stability up front remained quite decent due to the outsole but you really sink deep upfront recalling that before compressing the front stack height is a low 21mm. 

Given the capabilities of CloudTec Phase to essentially tune ride characteristics the full length of the shoe through geometry and no add in plastics or different foam densities , I think ON should revisit the CloudTec elements’ design up front here, slimming them down, potentially eliminating some near the front or firming up the Helion overall.  More front stack height of foam by moving some height from heel to forefoot could also potentially improve the front of shoe as we are at a 10mm drop. 

The beauty  of the CloudTec Phase approach is that all the elements: the CloudTec elements, the foam, the rocker, the decoupling groove, and the outsole can be analyzed and optimized which is in my view a huge innovation for what is a single slab of foam construction. 


There are more non-traditional to ON changes underfoot as the famous podular combination of Cloudtec elements doubling as outsole are replaced with two full contact rubber areas. These rubber areas play a key role in stabilizing the softness above and are effective in doing so but can’t quite overcome the front softness as outlined above.

 I also note the effective deep decoupling groove and the continuous bars of exposed midsole on both sides of the midfoot which help with stability. With the rocker and the groove it is very easy to flow off the soft heel and forward here and at any pace. Wear and durability should be excellent but more miles are needed to finalize outsole durability conclusions.

Ride, Conclusions and Recommendations

Soft and energetic, the Cloudsurfer flows along beautifully with its only hiccup for me that it has a very soft and thin feeling forefoot which manifests itself as the miles pile on. For shorter runs in the 3-6 mile range no problem for me, a joy to run  but beyond that and as an all around daily trainer it doesn’t quite have enough for me as I prefer a slightly firmer ride. The outsole does what it can to provide some clearly noted response but the midsole just compresses too much upfront even if rebounding nicely if a bit wildly. Strong or heavier weight forefoot strikers may struggle yet more. 

Finally, we are sure to see more of CloudTec Phase. To be able to tune the characteristics of a single foam midsole through finite element analysis: the shaping of each element for specific parts of the gait cycle (most importantly)  the decoupling groove, rocker, and outsole is truly innovative, very promising, and largely well executed here. I am really glad ON is moving away from their often rigid, prescriptive, firm approach to run shoe design here with this innovative approach which retains their CloudTec DNA and evolves it.

With some caveats and if you want a super fun and energetic more natural and softer run training ride with front ground feel, are “light on your feet”, need a shoe for shorter “fun” runs and seek that trademark ON beautiful styling and impeccable quality the all new Cloudsurfer is well worth a close look. Looking at the Cloudsurfer as a “lifestyle” and walking shoe ON now has a super light weight, more flexible, softer option which, as always from the brand, I think also has beautiful styling.

Sam’s Initial Score: 9.1 /10

-0.5 for thin and soft forefoot, -0.4 for run training versatility value at $160

😊😊😊😊It is for sure a big smiles shoe!


Index to all RTR reviews: HERE

New Balance Fresh Foam 880 (RTR Review)

The old school geometry NB 880 v12 comes immediately to mind as does the newer and firmer rubber and firmer riding v13 (RTR Review soon). They share a nearly identical stack height and 10mm drop with the ON. The v12 has a softer forefoot similar to the Cloudsurfer due mostly to soft forefoot rubber and of course no Cloud elements while the v13 is considerably firmer than the v12 and for sure the Cloudsurfer as it gets firmer rubber upfront.  Neither NB is as much fun or as fine fitting as the ON with the v13 a better choice than the ON  if you want a firm old school ride and lots of response.

Saucony Kinvara 14 RTR Review

Far lighter at 6.8 oz  / 193g (US9) the 4mm drop vs 10mm here Kinvara has a bit less heel stack height but at 24.5 mm upfront +3.5mm more of the forefoot stack that I think the ON is lacking. The Kinvara even without much outsole at all,  ends up a bit firmer and more front stable and cushioned. It is more practical but less fun .

ASICS GEL-Cumulus 25

As soon as we have our samples we will compare as my sense is these will be close competitors with both sharing softer midsole foams and fairly similar stack heights and drops.

The ON Cloudsurfer 2023 is available at our partners below

Sam is the Editor and Founder of Road Trail Run. He is 65 with a 2018 3:40 Boston qualifier. 2022 was Sam’s 50th year of running. He has a decades old 2:28 marathon PR. These days he runs halves in the just sub 1:40 range if he gets lucky,, training 30-40 miles per week mostly at moderate paces on the roads and trails of New Hampshire and Utah be it on the run or nordic skis. He is 5’9” tall and weighs about 164 lbs, if he is not enjoying too many fine New England IPA’s.

The samples were provided at no charge for review purposes. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased via shopping links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'.

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1 comment:

French Phil said...

Hello Sam

Thanks for the reviews

How would you compare the CloudSurfer to the Clifton 9 ?

(I'm mostly a midfoot striker looking for a durable soft and stable daily trainer)