On’s approach to the Cloudflyer is simple, freedom of movement with added cushioning while still maintaining a touch of stability. The Cloudflyer is a lightweight, flexible trainer that has characteristics of both a minimalist shoe and stability trainer. Most suited for lighter runners who appreciate a less-restrictive shoe that rides close to the ground, it lacks the structure most comfort trainers have. The flexibly and minimal design decrease durability, causing it to be one the least durable shoes tested.
Born in Zurich, Switzerland, On is quickly gaining popularity and finding themselves on the selves of more and more specialty running stores across the US. Founded by three-times World Duathlon Champion and multiple Ironman Winner Olivier Bernhard, Oliver sought to create running shoes devoted to a basic concept – cushioned landing, firm take off. This concept lead Oliver and a Swiss Engineer to develop, ClouldTec, On’s unique midsole design. Highlighted by individual clouds or pods with holes, this midsole concept “acts like tiny stability balls, responding to every movement of your foot, helping activate your postural muscles and enable you to stabilize your foot strike without artificial support, you are back in control.”
A natural, almost barefoot feel gives the On Cloudflyer a very light and sock-like level of comfort. The Cloudflyer is an easygoing, flexible shoe, free to move naturally with your feet. Twelve individual hollowed pods or “clouds” as On describes them, puts a mild level of cushioning and stability between your feet and the ground. Underfoot, it feels unlike any other midsole tested. On’s marketing pitch for the Cloudflyer is “Runners looking for a supremely cushioned and stable shoe that retains a light and agile running feel,” however compared to other cushioned shoes the Cloudflyer felt the least cushioned with very little if any stability built in. Our testers did find the shoe very comfortable, it’s flexible build moved naturally with your foot.
At first glance the upper looks very engineered, with several layers and varying textures compared to most of today’s simple engineered mesh uppers. The anatomically cut collar insinuated by a high Achilles tab fits lower on the ankle and is well padded. The sock liner is smooth and more then comfortable enough to run sockless if needed. A removable insole is super cushioned and provides most of the softness felt under foot.
Built on a semi-straight last, the Cloudflyer tends to favor runners with long and narrow feet, which seems to be consistent with shoes made by On. Compared to other same-sized shoes tested there was nearly an inch of excess space that would certainly warrant exploring a ½ size smaller to get a proper fit. The upper fits extremely snug, especially along the metatarsals. A unique lacing system called the star lacing system is anchored to the forefoot by two cables and when synced tight pulls on the upper even tighter.
Once in the saddle and laced up the upper is low cut, low volume, sitting lower then most shoes we’ve tested. This leaves the ankle exposed contributing to a less restricting fit and more natural feel.
All of testers were pleasantly surprised with how responsive the Cloudflyer felt. Tempo runs, progression runs, track workouts and even on slower runs the shoe seemed to beg to run a little faster. The faster the pace the better the CloudFlyer preformed. The ClouldTec midsole, while not the best for those seeking a soft cushioned ride, felt springy and quick to get off the ground. The unique design of the midsole, where each cloud is separated by deep groves fostered a seamless and effortless transition from heel to toe-off. With a 7mm drop, the Cloudflyer prefers forefoot runners.
Of all the shoes tested in the comfort category the Cloudflyer is one of the quicker shoes, light and easy to get up on the toes and push off. Weight is a huge factor why the Cloudflyer feels so fast. At 8.9 ounces for men and 7.5 ounces for women the Cloudflyer feels more like a lightweight trainer versus a cushioned trainer, making it one of the more versatile shoes in the cushioned category. It’s perfectly suitable for fast tempos or slow recovery runs when you want a little cushioning to soften the impact.
The Cloudflyer runs very different then your typical full-length midsole running shoe, its segmented pod or “cloud” midsole as On coins them, with deep grooves allow the shoe be extremely flexible. No restriction of movement allows the shoe to move naturally as your foot moves over the ground.
The Cloudflyer is certainly not for runners looking for structure in a shoe. There were very little firm structural elements built into the shoe and despite being advertised as a mild stability shoe, it’s very hard to feel the shoe adds support. The best way to describe would be a minimalist stability shoe. While the deep grooves allow for complete flexibility they also pick up rocks and debris very easily, making the Cloudflyer only suitable for smooth road and concrete.
For those that enjoy a natural feeling and flexible shoe, the ride is quite smooth, light and begs to run faster. Runners who like to ride close to the ground will find the 20mm forefoot stack height to be quite sensitive with excellent ground feeling. The downside, heavier runners will completely bottom out, compressing the “clouds’ flat.
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HOW WE TESTED
Each summer and winter when shoe companies release their latest models Gear Institute receives the top shoes and puts each through an extensive testing process. A team of five male and female testers put each shoe through the test of miles over terrain such as concrete, asphalt, grass, dirt and track. Each shoe is judged on five categories: Comfort, Fit, Responsiveness, Speed and Ride Quality and given a score of 1 to 10, with 10 being perfect.
Testing protocol for road running shoes involves an extensive hands-on process across multiple testers over a period of at least two months. Each tester is avid runner, running over 30 miles per week over varying terrain including but not limited to concrete, asphalt, grass, track and dirt. The testing team is structured with a team lead and several wear testers.