What the Heck Are On Running Shoes (and Why Should Triathletes Care?)
We break down the background behind the Swiss brand's recent IPO and review five of On Running's top shoes for triathletes.
Swiss triathlete Olivier Bernhard, a three-time world duathlon champion, five-time Ironman winner, and seven-time Powerman Zofingen champ, and his two buddies, Caspar Coppetti and David Allemann, set out in 2010 to change the feel of running shoes. They cut up common garden hoses (yes, that’s right) to form what eventually became the brand’s “Clouds” in pursuit of the ideal underfoot running experience—one of lofty landing and firm propulsion. And so, in January 2010 in Zurich, On Running was born.
The brand got off to a great start, kicking into gear by winning the “BrandNew” award at the European sports trade show, ISPO, for their innovation. By July 2010, the first running stores had On shoes for sale and now, a decade later, the brand is available at more than 6,500 retail locations in over 50 countries. In addition to the company headquarters in Zurich, On has offices in the USA, Japan, Australia, and Brazil, and they’ve sponsored a wide variety of runners and triathletes, like Javier Gomez, Leslie Peterson, Frederik Van Lierde, Matt Russell, Tim Don, and Helen Jenkins. But that’s not necessarily why On Running is in the news right now.
Even if they’re not familiar to all triathletes in the U.S., people are buying the shoes with the garden hose background: The brand has grown its net sales at an 85% compound annual growth rate. In 2019, the running brand teamed up with Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer, who is now among its investors, and later unveiled a shoe named after him. And, just last month, On Holding AG, went public and gained a market value of $7.4 billion after filing for an initial public offering with the Securities Exchange Commission and applying to be on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ONON.
So even if you haven’t tried On shoes (or you’ve never even heard of them), the brand is blowing up in the financial world, internationally. But what about those funky-looking, unconventionally designed shoes themselves? Are On shoes any good?
The following are our favorite five On shoes for triathlon training and racing:
RELATED: The Best Types of Running Shoes For Any Type of Run
$170, on-running.com, 10.9 oz
8 mm drop
The softest of the On line, the Cloudstratus uses a double-decker version of the brand’s loops or “Clouds,” made of a lightweight foam material, Helion. The cushioning is connected to a rigid plastic speedboard for protection, energy return, midsole longevity, and control. The forefoot is wider than other On models to allow for toe splay and the fit is better for higher volume feet or feet that swell during long runs or long-course racing. The polyester upper is 75% recycled material and is quite durable.
The ride is rather smooth, and the second layer of cloud loops helps to make the transition from landing to take off more fluid and stable than other models in the On line. They are best suited for training as they are too heavy for race day—although it might be what you want waiting for you at T2, when your legs are destroyed and some long-course TLC goes a long way.
$270, 7.76 oz.
9 mm drop
Released in time to make it on the feet of On athletes headed to Tokyo and slated as an elite marathon shoe, the Cloudboom Echo uses On’s signature “CloudTec”—open pods in the sole that compress, then bottom-out— with the goal of fusing impact protection and responsiveness. This shoe emphasizes On’s rigid “Speedboard” plate for forward propulsion. The plate, which anchors the clouds and provides underfoot proprioception, is full length to give it more propulsion and improve running economy. The upper is one of On’s most meticulous designs, providing lightweight security with engineered mesh and targeted reinforcement for ventilation and hold. It also makes use of environmentally-friendly materials.
The Echo performs very well, like a cushioned racing flat, yet, in contrast to rockered super shoes, they lack the bouncy rebound and performance enhancement of their carbon-fiber-plated competitors. That said, they are certainly lightweight and responsive and encourage the rapid turnover that could help off the bike.
7 mm drop
On made some substantial adjustments with the second version of the Cloudswift and “reshaped its clouds” by repositioning and enlarging the brand’s Helion, high-rebound foam material used to form the cushioning loops sitting below the plastic Speedboard plate. In this version, the clouds toward the rear of the shoe were expanded for greater heel strike protection. On also re-engineered the rocker shape and Speedboard to optimize the foot’s roll forward from impact to toe off for greater propulsive power.
The new Cloudswift’s upper features a bootie construction and unique saddle overlay for a secure foot hold and provides a firm, stable platform underfoot for landings and launches. The feeling is one of protection—together with pep—popping you quickly off the ground and without wobble.
$180, 7.41 oz
On’s first racing flat, the Cloudflash remains a lightweight, low-profile performance vehicle that has been Javi Gomez’s go-to shoe. The Cloudflash is built on a dual layer of CloudTec for a sort of minimalist-shock-absorption-type of cushioning that is more about protection than luxury and allows for a suitable amount of ground feel. On deployed a carbon-fiber-infused Speedboard to serve up its most responsive, resilient race-day feel. It also worked with its athletes to create a new heel with a lower curve and molded padding for a secure fit.
The lightweight, single-layer engineered mesh upper is highly breathable and doesn’t retain water when you douse yourself at aid stations. The no-sew forefoot is fine for sockless running, and the metatarsal areas are built to help your feet as they tire at the end of a race. The nonlinear lacing setup locks feet in place, and a new traction pattern offers superior grip even in wet conditions.
$200, 7.9 oz
9 mm drop
This is another On shoe that uses the brand’s carbon-fiber-infused Speedboard to boost propulsion with a high-timbre ground response and semi-firm, bouncy foam for variable densities and rebound characteristics based on where on your foot you land. That and a tuned rocker help get you up and then off your toes as the Cloudboom flexes and rebounds and provides a proprioceptive platform between two layers of independent CloudTec pods of semi-firm, bouncy Helion foam.
The Cloudboom’s fit is exceptional and while “barely there,” hugs the heel and midfoot while leaving slightly more room in the forefoot. The ride feels low to the ground, connected, smooth, and speedy, while limited segments of outsole rubber optimize traction while still keeping the weight down. The shoe gives the impression of a surprisingly comfortable track spike for road racing—one that rides softly and smoothly enough to wear for long miles, a 70.3, or a 140.6, and are also well suited for tempo days.