Land as soft as on sand, but push off solid like you’re running barefoot on hard ground. That’s the promise from a Swiss startup company called On, which recently unveiled an unusual running shoe with rubber shock absorbers on the sole.
The company’s line includes four models with absorbers referred to as “clouds.” The small rubber circles act as tread but also flex and cave in to absorb shock when you land on each stride.
An On company tag line is “Probably the fastest shoes in the world.” We’re confused by the probably part of the statement, but whether or not a runner is faster in a pair of On shoes they will no doubt have a unique running experience.
To that point, in the realm of running shoes, a soft landing is nothing new. But often thick-padded shoes create an inefficient stride. This brand aims to take back some of that efficiency while maintaining a level of “cush.”
The shoes are unique in the push-off phase of a runner’s gait — after the “clouds” are compressed during a step, the runner has a solid platform to push from and transfer into the next stride.
I have run about 50 miles on pavement so far over a few weeks in the On shoes. In my test runs, the shoes felt like minimal or barefoot-style footwear on the push-off, which is to say they were solid and low to the ground underfoot.
This made for quicker foot-to-foot turnover and a faster pace.
Yet unlike most minimal footwear I run in the On shoes offered substantial absorption on gravel and cement. The shoes are comfortable on long road runs where minimal shoes would be too harsh.
For a couple weeks I ran in the company’s Cloudracer and Cloudsurfer models, the former built for racing as the name implies. The absorption was more noticeable on the Cloudsurfer shoes, which are made for training, not competition.
The Cloudracer is a nice shoe but a bit stiff for its minimal build. The shock absorption is not very noticeable on this race model either, making me favor the slightly heavier Cloudsurfer model on training runs.
On my scale a size 11.5 Cloudracer was 10.1 ounces per shoe. The Cloudsurfer in the same size was 12.1 ounces. Both these weights are light though not out of the ordinary.
Neither is a zero-drop shoe. The CloudRacer has 5mm of heel-to-toe variation, and the CloudSurfer is about 7mm. I am not a zero-drop adherent for road running, and I felt the drop was dialed about right on both models.
Each of these models cost $129, but for that price you get a quality product unlike anything on the market.
One caveat: The sizing runs large. I often take a men’s 12 or 12.5 shoe, but size 11.5 fit me well in the Cloudracer model.
The clouds may sound like a gimmick at first. To me, I also envisioned the rubber absorbers impeding my stride. But after a couple weeks I was still running in the shoes almost every day and enjoying the unique, padded-but-solid experience along the way.
—Stephen Regenold is founder and editor of www.GearJunkie.com.