New to the scene Down Under and even to trails, it’s perhaps surprising that On Running – a Swiss company more well known for road and tri footwear – has cranked out a decent first up offering for the dirty mob. Surprising that is until you realise the chieftains at On are actually trail runners… Review: Chris Ord
Velcro. The modern zip. Nescafe coffee. Aluminium foil. The Rex vegetable peeler. The World Wide Web. You could say that the Swiss have a knack for inventing things that stick around because they are quite perfectly and reliably functional (we’ll just have to forgive them for Nescafe, it works but it’s like Velcro shoelaces – entirely unnecessary and indeed downright offensive).
Proper milk chocolate, watches, knives, muesli, trams that run on time, banks finely attuned to the needs of the insanely wealthy. The Swiss also have a knack for perfecting things.
Now they have turned their attention to the trail (they have a few good ones in their small landlocked but mountainous patch, so no wonder!). Swiss company On Running has been playing in the foot-shodding field for a while now, most notably in the triathlon scene where they garner a fair following. Now the boffins have realised that bitumen is boring and are trying to apply their design skills to dirt.
Looking at their debut trail offering, the On Cloudventure, you’d think it was a little loud and most certainly too gimmicky for the usually demure Swiss sensibility. Gimmicks worry me: they shout for attention but rarely work. Those loopy lugs loomed large as both the visual selling point and, most likely the weak point. The orange paint job did little to instil any further confidence. He who shouts loudest and all that…
It’s a failing of my personality to pre-judge contents based on visage and I admit to assuming these would last barely an outing in the Aussie bush. Those hollow lugs would be ripped to shreds, fall off and likely be wholly uncomfortable, let alone deal with the inconsistent surfaces of the trail, right?
The first brick to fall in my wall of preconceived negativity: slipping the On Cloudventures on to my foot and waltzing around the lounge (where all good testing begins, let’s be honest), the comfort factor was immediate. They were smooth, giving good cushion, yet felt lightweight. My mind began to question: maybe those huge lugs would give good bite? Would the podlets posing as grip ‘over-bounce’ or give some trail feel in amongst floating my running boat?
The upper cuddled comfortingly around my foot. It felt like a typically Swiss-made product: precision built. Now, I have a foot that you would call a ‘Goldilocks’ example (if such a thing exists in podiatry world in terms of shape – not too fat, not too thin, regular arch, ignore the foul toenails – they are more brown bear-like). So ‘fit’ is subjective. If yours sits in the median that most shoe companies, especially European ones, design for – you’re in luck. But these aren’t for fatter feet.
The loungeroom is not a testing ground. So what did these things do in the Down Under dust? I was worried given the pedigree of On is road and specifically in the triathlon scene. Indeed, one of the founders, Olivier Bernhard, is three-times World Duathlon Champion and multiple Ironman Winner. What would he know about the vagaries of running rough? Turns out, his training ground is the Swiss Alps and favourite run is the ridge trail to Säntis–Schwebebahn summit. “I’m convinced it (trail) influences my work as a shoe developer very much,” he says, melting my cynic heart.
But what does the shoe run like? Firstly: the undercarriage. The shoe is engineered around a classic chassis but with an undersole comprising 11 separate cloud ‘pods’. The thinking is similar to the idea of compartment-sprung mattresses, where the objective is to give an independent suspension action, along with energy return and greater grip and comfort. Like (Swiss) clockwork, it delivers these with every tick-over of the legs.
The lugs give amazing grip on pretty much any surface. And while others found the lateral bite a little iffy, I found the pods to offer great confidence in zipping around hairpins and tight corners, uphill and traversing. Downhill they gave excellent absorption in the mid and rea, delivering increased confidence to bomb. And the micro-grip seemed to add the finishing bite to grip on smoother rock surfaces.
One question mark resides in the wear. Barely 150km of testing and the detailed grip shows faster than normal abrasion. On a particular grade of pebbled ground, the deep gullies underneath can catch the odd rock, but usually only momentarily before dislodging.
Impact comfort is furthered by a good balance of protection and consistent force of flex through the mid-sole ‘Speedboard’ which gives a smooth transition through the step, transferring the energy flow in unison with the pods’ spring-back and firm toe-off feel, delivered by micro-teeth inside the loop pods. Overall, trail feel is good, however the pods as hollow springs do numb the ground feel somewhat, meaning reaction impulse on technical trails where you need to dance is compromised, if only minimally.
Versatility is a key selling point – the sublime comfort means the Cloudventures are able to punch away easily into 100km outings (I believe ultras would be a sweet spot for these), but being lightweight and fairly nimble, their short, fast, punchy game is still strong. In the mountains, their ability to tackle the technical rates highly, durability the only lingering doubt (we need to do more mountain kays to really get to grips with this).
For me, the Cloudventures were a revelation that broke my cynicism towards shoes shovelling gimmicky adaptations. They became a shoe I wantedto wear beyondthe testing – simply because I enjoyed running in them. Where I did find minor issue was in more prosaic elements. Super thin laces weren’t ideal – finicky, and difficult to find the balance of tension. That led to another issue – heel slip. I tested the ‘summer version’ which features a lower heel cup. I found the hold-down lacking, my heel slipping often and no matter what I did with laces, I never found the sweet lock-down point. There is a mid-top version, that may solve the issue.
On balance, the On Cloudventures well earned their ‘running on clouds’ badge, and as On’s first trail offering, the sky could well be the limit for future trail offerings.
The Low Down
Great for: all-round trails, all distances, comfort, grip, racing
Not-so-great for: fat feet, long-term durability, shy people
Test Conditions: technical singletrack, some fire road, 10-25km runs. Approx 135km all up.
Tester: Chris Ord, Editor
Tester Mechanics: mid foot form that falls away on longer runs; loves technical and downhill
RRP: $239.95AUD / $269.99NZD
Conditions: shoes were provided for wear test by On Running