Why You Should Lease, Not Buy, Your Next Pair of Running Shoes
Back in September 2020, the Swiss running shoe company On announced a potentially industry-changing environmental business model called “Cyclon.” The program finally launched in fall 2022 with the release of the Cloudneo, a fully-recyclable running shoe that consumers don’t ever own.
Instead of spending $120 to $200 on a single pair of shoes, running in them until the cushioning is shot, and then (hopefully) donating them to a good cause, runners “lease” the Cloudneo road running shoe for $30 per month. Whenever runners want a new pair—as long as it’s been at least 90 days since they received their last shoes—they log onto their account and request the recycle option. Days later, a brand-spanking-new pair of Cloudneos arrive, along with a FedEx return label. Subscribers then have 30 days to send back their old pair, which is cleaned, ground down into recyclable components, and made into new pairs of Cloudneos.
It’s a circular, closed-loop process that costs subscribers roughly the amount they would spend to buy three new pairs of $120 running shoes per year—with zero-waste. The whole shoe, except for small elements like glue and the sock liner, is made out of a material called PA11, which comes from castor bean oil and pebax elastomers (also bio-based from castor beans). This mesmerizing video on the On-running website—which I couldn’t help but watch a few times—illustrates the process.
I got my own pair of Cloudneos early in fall 2022, anxious to test the shoes on the road—they’re touted as “performance running shoes,” after all—and the subscription program as a whole.
Upon opening the box, the first thing that stood out to me was the stark whiteness of the shoes and the white bag (made out of polypropylene) they come neatly packaged in. The color is on-trend with what the “cool kids” (my college-aged nieces and family friends) are wearing, and the kicks could pass for lifestyle shoes, look good with jeans, and “go” with everything. But how do they run?
On a four-mile jaunt around my neighborhood, I immediately enjoyed the snappy, supportive ride produced by what On calls a “Speedboard.” This full-length, semi-flexible plate is sandwiched between two layers of pebax-based foam, with three small “Cloudtec” pods—one above and two below the plate—under the midfoot. I’ve tested plenty of shoes with carbon and composite plates of various shapes in recent years. This plate—and the midsole overall—felt less turbo-boosting than those found in a supershoe like the Nike ZoomX Vaporfly Next%, but did give me some extra pop. And, while most On shoes have felt on the firmer side to me—aside from the soft and cushy Cloudmonster—the combination of bouncy foam, responsive plate, and minimal Cloudtec pods on the Cloudneo feels energetic.
On subsequent runs on paved roads and smooth dirt paths around Boulder, I felt capable in the shoes, whether running slowly or upping the pace. I did one-mile pickups up and down a slight incline during a six-mile run and felt like I was in good shoes for the job. The slightly rockered shape of the shoe seemed like it encouraged forward propulsion and a smooth stride, and the under-eight-ounce weight for my women’s pair moved with me. For runs longer than seven-or-so miles, however, I’d likely choose to run in a cushier shoe.
The upper, which is constructed from a single piece of undyed, recyclable, bio-based yarn, wrapped my feet comfortably. It’s soft and flexible, like a sock, and I didn’t feel any pressure points when I pulled the laces tight around my narrow feet.
I took the shoes on a trip to San Diego, figuring I’d wear them both casually and on runs with friends. I ended up on a hike, and the traction wasn’t great on the sandy, dusty terrain, but I wasn’t expecting it to be. These are road shoes through-and-through, not intended for trail. That said, I managed in them just fine on the trail, and appreciated that I could wear one pair of shoes for all activities over a three-day trip.
Over the months I put them to the test, I got them super dirty, which made receiving a brand-new pair that much more satisfying when they arrived. As promised, the box arrived just a few days after I hit the “recycle” button on my On-running Cyclon profile page, and the pre-paid label made the return process simple.
Bottom line: The Cyclon subscription process is promising on many levels. The Cloudneo shoes run well for me and, in my opinion, look good…and they’ll always look good because I’ll always get a new pair once they start looking shabby. On says the shoes should last around six months or 375 miles of running, but subscribers can request new (clean) ones after three months. The closed-loop, zero-waste process of the Cloudneo will hopefully inspire other brands—even across industries—to follow.
On Cloudneo Specs
Weight: 9.0 ounces (Men’s 8.5), 7.2 ounces (Women’s 7)
Stack Height: 33.6 mm heel / 24.6 mm forefoot (9 mm drop)
Upper: 100% Bio-based lightweight breathable knit derived from castor beans
Midsole: Two layers of lightweight, bio-based pebax foam
Outsole: Injected bio-based pebax
Price: $29.99+ tax/month
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