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On Test: On Cloudracer (2012) & Cloud (2014)

by Tim Heming
Thursday 7th August 2014
Tags  Tim Heming   |   On   |   On Cloud   |   CloudTec   |   Cloudracer   |   On Cloudracer

Product feature: Tim Heming takes a closer look at the Swiss-engineered sports shoes

If the pace on the trails matches its speed of penetration into the multisport market, we should all be pulling on the Ons. Rarely does a long distance triathlon start without at least one pair of the Swiss-engineered sports shoes emerging from T2 at the front of the field, and given its founder, Olivier Bernhard, is an eight-time winner of the POWERMAN Zofingen duathlon (a testing 40km of running sandwiching a 150km bike ride) and has finished fifth in the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, it’s little surprise On turned to swim, bike and run to find its niche.  

Minimalist shoes offer less weight and a lighter, faster feel, but there’s a huge market in cushioning for those striking further back on the foot and looking for a more comfortable ride. So, with the long distance triathlete in mind, the Ons work as a hybrid of both and after a prototype was launched barely four years ago to battle the marketing might of Nike, Asics and adidas, it has been some success story.

Bernhard has patented a unique CloudTec™ system where a series of prominent lugs underneath the sole of the shoe compress for a softer landing, but provide a solid push off for the next stride. The question is whether it actually works, or is just a marketing gimmick? 

Initially the choice lay between the Cloudsurfer and the Cloudracer, with the former providing larger lugs, a softer landing, 2mm more heel-to drop and you pay for it with about 60g more weight. Now, the range has extended to include The Cloudster, an introductory shoe, the Cloudrunner, an endurance/stability shoe, and the Cloud, a general purpose multisport or gym shoe.

I’m testing a pair of the latter, which at 198g for a UK size 8 are the same weight as the Cloudracer, the lightest in the range. There is also now a kaleidoscope of 14 colours to pick from, be it lavender to lime, mandarin to methyl or sulphur to salmon. I’m probably causing the least fashion crimes with a navy/white combo.

The easy-entry lacing system means the foot slips in with ease and feels comfortable and secure. The 16 lugs, four more than the other styles, are more enclosed, so although it does not look like a traditional run shoe, it has also lost the uniqueness of the early On models.

Billed as having maximum lightness and flexibility but superior cushioning, it provides a smooth ride on the treadmill belt. The 6mm heel-to-toe offset just about accommodates my heel-to-midfoot strike, but with the new design actually giving increased rigidity through the mid-sole there is less encouragement to come up on the ball of the foot than in a typical shoe this light. Those with more of a front-foot running style might find this inflexibility an issue, but remember this is the multipurpose gym shoe of the range..  

For this test, it was a reversion to the traditional On Cloudracer. Would Olivier’s lugs be forgiving enough for my biomechanics, which utilise far more knees, quads, and hips than lower leg? The course was mixed terrain and flat with a few bridge steps crossing the Thames, but it was a plush ride and there was little soreness afterwards.

The Cloudracer’s durability was tested on the fast and flat tarmacadam of Lancashire. The transition from landing to take-off in every stride is seamless and the miles were ticked off in a resultant personal best. It’s telling  that much of Ons big ticket wins have been through Ironman athletes, such as reigning world champion Frederick van Lierde, and Caroline Steffen, twice a runner-up in Hawaii. Both are strong cyclist and strength-based runners, who race with a body type several kgs heavier than elite marathoners.

Overall: Paying over £100 for a shoe that looks different, has a minimal upper and is not billed as a robust high miler, might seem too much of a leap of faith. Yet after a hard swim and bike,  it makes sense to keep the footwear light, and more muscle damage to a minimum, which is where the On range is worth exploring for race day. 


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