On, a Swiss shoe company, wants you to imagine you’re running on clouds. Well, CloudTec, to be specific.
Former six-time Ironman winner Olivier Bernhard teamed with David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti to build what they believe offers the preeminent running sensation, using “clouds” on the soles of the On shoes to provide cushion without interfering with a runner’s natural motion or push-off mechanics, according to the company.
The 7.5-millimeter rubber “clouds” cushion both vertical and horizontal forces for a soft landing, but the specially engineered rubberized clouds use ridges to lock when compressed, allowing for a natural push off. On claims they provide the first running shoes with cushioning only when needed.
Acting like “tiny stability balls,” the clouds help stabilize your foot by activating your postural muscles without the need for artificial support.
Bernhard says the inspiration for the concept came from his desire to gain the sensation of running across fields and soft surfaces. His first attempt at creating the cloud-like sensation consisted of cutting up a garden hose and adhering it to the bottom of a running shoe. While that concept wasn’t practical, it launched the On idea.
“It had always been a choice between soft, but slow training shoes, or fast, but hard competition shoes,” Bernhard says. “The On’s technology blends comfort and performance into a new running sensation: landing like on a sandy beach and pushing off as if you were on an athletics track.”
He says the horizontal cushioning proves critical in absorbing forward momentum, but the locking allows for the performance aspect. The hollow pods combine with different “speedboards” in the shoe’s sole for differing levels of flex for the five lines of On running options.
The differing lines focus on high-speed performance, ultimate comfort, off-road use and more, all employing at least a dozen cloud pockets and in different patterns based on the intended function of the shoe. The shoe’s uppers match the performance needs, with differing materials focused on weight or comfort. Runners who land mid-foot or forefoot may not get the full cloud-like sensation of the shoe, which proves most pronounced in the heel.
On, which launched in 2010 in Zurich, recently opened its second office, a U.S. base in Portland, Ore., as the company expands its product into the U.S. market, seeking to make cloud running a worldwide event.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.