The Swiss are really good at a lot of stuff. Watches. Chocolate. Housing stolen art. Army knives. Cheese. Conventions. Nutella isn’t Swiss, but I love that shit. I’m pretty sure there are many other things that the Swiss do well, but I’ve grown wearing from toggling back and forth between this and Wikipedia and so we’ll leave it at that.
And now, apparently, they make legit running shoes.
I first saw the ON shoes about two or three years ago, I think. I don’t really remember because I was pretty unimpressed. When you’re a shoe connoisseur like myself, and your cell phone is literally on fire with designers and reviewers and shoe presidents and shit1 calling you all the time, you get pretty jaded, so unless the wear test shoes they send you are hand delivered by En Vogue with the promise of a loofah bath, you don’t even notice the shoes. Mostly, I think I remember, they looked a bit boring and I thought the technology was, I don’t know, gimmicky.
For those of you who don’t know, or maybe you just don’t care, I prefer shoes to be a little on the simpler side. I’m generally not a fan of most of the technologies2 you find in the modern-day running shoes. Half of the stuff you see on a shoe has probably zero function other than to make you feel sexy in your pants area and then open your wallet and throw your cash in the street. But that has some validity too, in that you are more likely to lace ‘em up and go for a run if you feel sexy in your pantsal region. To each his/her own. And throwing your money in the street of course just drips validity because the CEO’s or prime ministers of the shoe companies can have more Bugattis, because business.
But the ON have grown on me since I first saw them. Not, like, rub-some-penicillin-on-it grown on me, but more like, yeeeaaaahhhh, I’ll-run-in-that-shit grown on me. Honestly, it was just a case of me being a dick when I didn’t want to try them. I think I was tired of reps telling me how cool their shit was and trying to explain some, ahem, assistance line on the outsole of the shoe. So, mea culpa.
The Cloudracer is ON’s racer. Well, duh. But I’d scoot it over on the spectrum to marathon racer. It isn’t really lightweight—there are daily trainers that weigh as much or less. It’s a bit under 9 oz. in a men’s size 9, which isn’t bad, but the new Rider 17 will be lighter; the 890v4 is lighter. But neither is as responsive, and this is where you get the racer part.
The focal point, the technology of the shoe, is what ON call “Clouds,” or Cloudtec. They’re these little bubbles, these little pods, on the bottom of the shoe that compress when you land on them, attenuating shock and making touch down through toe off much smoother. With other ON models, the Clouds are a little more pronounced, a little more prominent, and the feel is kinda bouncy. The Cloudracer’s Clouds are a little flatter, much less boingy. Overall the offset is about 5-6mm, which is what I like, but you shouldn’t worry too much about the numbers. The Cloudracer feels more, I don’t know, solid, which then leads you to a really responsive toe off. They’re really pretty firm. Not Adios 2 firm—not jarring—and not reactive like the Newton, but it’s more of a sense of having a really good platform at push off. After about the third run in them, I thought that maybe if they added some Clouds under the midfoot—complete ground contact—they’d have a better shoe. I kinda sketched out what I thought it should look like, because that’s what I do3, in case anyone ever asked.4 And then about a month later, the ON rep showed me the shoe they’re introducing in the new year, and it was pretty much the exact same thing, except without the Eddie Van Halen guitar paint job that I’d added to mine.
(And the word I get from the ON folk is that when they update the Cloudracer, and by update I mean change the color, they’re going to add a Speedboard to the midsole. The Speedboard is a flat insert—plastic, I think—in the midsole that increases the responsiveness, that gives it pop, kinda like the Torsion extensions in the Adios 2 or the graphite plate in the old FILA Racer. That’ll be some good shit there, is what that’ll be.)
After my first run in them, my initial thought was that they were nice, but that there was a little too much something underneath. The upper is super light—it looks almost like tissue or cheesecloth or some shit, on top of some practical strapping to hold the midfoot—but the Clouds weigh a bit too much, and so on an easy run they feel just a teensy heavy, at worst noticeable. The tongue is just a flat piece of fabric—no padding or anything, which keeps weight down too. You want your shoes to disappear on your foot; that’s when you know you’ve got the right shoe. During easy runs, I’m not so sure the Cloudracers do that entirely. Anything faster than easy, though, and they do what they are supposed to do—disappear.
The fit is moderately narrow. I’m not sure that anyone with anything more than an average width foot, or with a high instep—the American-sized foot—will be able to feel really comfortable. But I’m also not sure that ON need to do anything about that. (Maybe a little tweak here or there, but they shouldn’t go chasing numbers, because almost invariably when you do that you end up making average product.) I feel secure in them at all speeds5 but it isn’t that 1600 socklike fit that makes you want to light some scented candles and lock yourself in your room with Barry White on the turntable. I think that if the fit were less snug, the shoe would feel even heavier, but we don’t have to worry about that.
ON say that durability should be about 5 marathons worth. So, like, about a buck per mile? That doesn’t sound real good to me, but I’m about a hundred miles over that in my pair and they still seem to be legit. So, I don’t know but that seems like something they might need to work on, if durability is really going to be an issue. Also of interest is that ON classifies their shoes by the pace in which you expect to be using them (the Cloudracer is 4 minutes per K), not unlike how the Japanese classify their shoes—beginner, intermediate and advanced.
I find all of that really fascinating because it seems to me that it’s a bit less, I don’t know, democratic, a bit less populist. And it seems like there isn’t a whole bunch of marketing bullshit in there either. It’s pretty cut and dry: You run 20K per week? Wear this. You run 200K per week? Wear this. It also seems to me to put all of the “science” and “studies” and shit kind of over off to the side.
So it’s kinda weird. I’ve got these Cloudracers, and I can think of all these ways I want to improve them, yet I keep finding myself wearing them. I think I’ve become so used to seeing all sorts of fireworks and lasers and shit when a new shoe is introduced that it’s easy to get caught up in all of that. When I first wore the Cloudracer, there was none of that, yet I’m still wearing them, and wearing them more frequently. They just feel good on my feet. I’m not going to try to qualify any of it. Yeah, I’d probably add to my list of improvements that they should consider some colors that are a little more, I don’t know, primary, but I’m cool with the mostly monochromatic thing. It’s Euro-cool understated, which is better than the alternative: Our running shoes currently are pretty much adult versions of those kids’ blinky shoes that you see kindergartners wearing all over the place, with the My Little Ponies on them and shit. That tells you how much fashion plays a role in running shoe design.
ON are going down the right path. I like their stuff. I like that they’re understated, both in look and in feel. They remind me that running shoes are not gonna fix your shit, they’re just there to let you do your thing. ON are just really good design—form follows function—which is the way it is supposed to be.
1 Actually, never. Just creditors. College and shit.
2 Marketing crap.
4 Yeah, right
5 Or, in my case, two.