What does On Running's sustainable shoe actually perform like?
Cyclon is On Running’s sustainable footwear program - recyclable shoes that you get access to via a subscription. When you’re done with them, you send them back to On and they recycle 100% of the shoe. It’s a wild, innovative program which you can read more about here.
If you’ve already read about the program, stick around. This feature is a dive into the footwear itself - because no one’s going to buy the shoe just for the environment, right? It still has to function.
Let’s get stuck in.
We’ll start with the upper, which is cut from a single piece of fabric (thereby eliminating waste in the manufacturing process). It’s soft to the touch (unlike some knit uppers), double layered with a thicker fabric in the right places (such as toward the midfoot and heel), and looks to have just the right amount of stretch.
It’s not completely ventilated but this is not a big bulky upper so I don’t think you’re going to run into any unexpected issues in peak summer - Cyclon would perform very similarly to most fabric uppers on the market in this area.
It’s not a stiff upper by any means. It does have more structure around the collar and the heel, but doesn’t possess the firm heel counters or heel cups that we see on some shoes.
The tongue is very thin and exactly what I think most people would want in a shoe like this - it is a gusseted tongue which adds an extra level of comfort.
There is nothing unnecessary or extra about this upper; everything you need, nothing you don’t.
Let’s move down the shoe now, and before we talk about the midsole, I do find it odd that there’s no inner-sole. I do have the only sample pair in the country and I’m not sure if the inner-soles just got taken out at the office before I picked up the shoes, but inner-soles would have been a nice addition.
The midsole is where the shoe shines - where most shoes shine, really. There’s zero compromise here - the Cyclon sits on a bed of Pebax foam with On’s patented Speedboard technology wedged between two layers.
Pebax is a relatively new foam material in the running shoe world - replacing traditional EVA, it’s generally softer and lighter than the old stuff, and when a brand gets the recipe just right it can be darn impressive.
On are most hyped about the energy return of this midsole. According to On, the Cyclon has an energy rebound rate of over 65% - in other words, every time your foot impacts the ground, the shoe gives you back 65% of the energy you create. That means you have to put in less and less energy to get where you’re going.
It’s also important to understand that not all Pebax foams are the same. Just like if you gave 5 people the same food ingredients, the meal wouldn’t turn out the same. On use something they call ‘Super Critical Foaming Technology’, which is a super nerdy way of saying the way they engineer and manufacture this midsole foam allows them to tune it to the performance characteristics they seek- in this case, responsiveness.
We also need to talk about On’s not-so-secret-weapon in their midsoles, the Speedboard. Every On shoe has a Speedboard, which is a hard plastic board not dissimilar to the ‘plates’ we’re seeing pop up in shoes from most other brands. The Speedboard is there to make the shoe even more responsive; to give you that pop that you’re craving at toe-off.
The outsole is clean - that is, there’s a section on the forefoot and the heel that appears to be a more durable outsole material, while the midfoot is exposed midsole - not just to save weight but presumably to save unnecessary resources going into the shoe. This isn’t the outsole to take to Western States, but you knew that already. For everything else, you’ll be fine.
When you look at all of those ingredients - a lightweight upper, a Pebax midsole that has a great energy return rating, and a Speedboard, you realise what this shoe is. It’s not some token of sustainability, made for a quick headline but without any practical market. It’s a fast, light shoe made for whatever you can give it. You’ll wear yourself out before you wear Cyclon out.
It’s also a fun shoe. What does that mean? It’s a shoe you can do a bunch of different things in. You could do hard training runs in the Cyclon thanks to its responsiveness and lightweight. You could also comfortably roll 20k on a Sunday morning, or 5k after work on Thursday night. It’s truly versatile - and, and this might be the sealer, it actually looks good. It’s not draped in 4 kinds of neon or with over-the-top branding; it’s understated and modern, and would look right at home in social situations or on the track.
It’s kinda wild to hold this shoe in my hands and know that every piece of it is 100% recyclable. It gives me hope that we’re headed in the right direction and that technology and innovation are catching up with our ideals, in a sense.