How does Hoka's Cielo Road measure up against its low stacked rivals?
The Cielo Road: Hoka’s entry into the modern racing flat market
Hoka launches the Hoka Cielo Road in July. Hoka didn’t only join the Peba train in 2023, it also joined the battle of modern racing flats. What is a modern racing flat you may ask. Well it’s essentially a shoe that doesn’t flirt with the 40mm stack height limit and that comes with at least a modern foam. Most of them also have some sort of foam stabiliser component (plate, shank, rods, you name it). All these shoes are actually much higher in terms of stack height than old “traditional” racing flats. The average stack height in the heel is probably around 30mm.
What are the other shoes in that space? The most iconic ones at the moment are probably the Nike Streakfly (ZoomX foam, midfoot shank), the Adidas Takumi Sen 9 (Lighstrike Pro foam, energy rods) and to a certain extent the Adidas Adios 8 (review here), the Saucony Sinister, the New Balance SC Pacer. Now entering the fray, the Hoka Cielo Road which will be available at Running Warehouse starting in July 2023.
Another great fit from Hoka in 2023
The first impressions out of the box make you wonder whether you’re actually opening a Hoka box. Hoka built its reputation around max cushion shoes and generous slabs of foam. The Cielo Road is the complete opposite. It appears as a very lightweight and minimalist shoe. It is actually lightweight (224g in my size US11/EU45). The see-through upper is also immediately noticeable.
Like very often when unboxing a pair of shoes, I was tempted to immediately put it on. The fit reminded me of the excellent fit on the Rocket X 2. Excellent in its category of course. The Hoke Cielo Road fits like a glove but doesn’t leave much free room or space for the feet. It’s a snug fit that really shines in the context of an interval or race day shoe. The shoe fits true to size. The minimal upper is more than breathable. It isn’t necessarily super soft and pleasant against the foot but it isn’t a drawback either. The only negative point about the upper is the heel cup that fits well but creates a little bit of achilles pinching. I tend to notice it early in my runs with the Cielo Road and then it disappears.
Full length Pebax midsole, no plate the Hoke Cielo Road is no joke
Unlike other shoes in a similar category, the Hoka Cielo Road doesn’t feature a “carrier foam”. Those foams tend to be used as stabilisers for less dense foams like Pebax. It’s also a good way of including a more high end compound like Pebax, without putting too much of it either, hence controlling the costs of a nevertheless appealing product.
Hoka decided to go full Pebax on this shoe, just like on the Rocket X 2. No plate or other internal part. When bending the shoe, the flexibility is really limited, which surprised me. The reason for that is the very thick layer of harder rubber outsole which acts as the stabiliser and firmer layer that adds control to the Pebax midsole. Aside from control, this also results in a very loud ride that doesn’t go unnoticed. The slapping sound of the Hoka Cielo Road against the pavement is the loudest I’ve heard in a while. Surprisingly though, the sound comes mostly from the heel and midfoot section of the shoe, and not as much from the forefoot.
A terrific ride from what may be the new segment leader
How does the shoe ride? The Hoka Cielo Road is a pure joy to run in. The dialled in, snug fit translates into that sensation of being connected to the shoe. I felt in control of my run and I really felt connected to the ground via my pair of shoes. The 31mm stack height feels like it and offers the perfect balance of ground feel but also leg protection. The Pebax midsole isn’t too squishy and feels denser than on the Rocket X 2. I think they’re the same flavour of Pebax but the firm and rigid outsole on the Cielo Road completely alters the feel of the ride. It’s not a firm ride but it’s certainly not a mushy experience (like the Streakfly for instance).
The 3mm drop is unique in that market segment and definitely contributes to the overall good experience. It gave me the feeling of being invited to push on my toes, use my calves and almost lean forward. That being said, I didn’t experience any abnormal soreness in the posterior chain like one may expect with a lower drop shoe. The ride feels weirdly comparable to the one of the Adios 8, a shoe that I really enjoy a lot. The distinction is probably the following: the Adios 8 is snappier in the forefoot and does a better job at “assisting” your toe off. The Cielo Road feels more natural but requires the runner to focus a bit and work a touch harder at toe off. That being said, they’re really close and we are preparing a Youtube comparison video.
My verdict: The Hoka Cielo Road is the best modern flat
At a $159.95/€160 price point the Hoka has a competitive price tag. If you’re looking for a great workout companion, this shoe should definitely have your attention. I’m going to use it in my personal rotation because of how well it works for me both on the road and on the track, mostly for shorter workouts with intervals. I wore it for a session a couple of days ago (two blocks of 1200m followed by 3*300m) and it did an excellent job.
What are the drawbacks of the Hoka Cielo Road? The lower drop will not work for everyone and if you’re prone to achilles or calf issues, check the Adios 8 instead. The fit can also be an issue for people that prefer more accommodating uppers. It’s a positive for me but this is really subjective. Other than that this shoe is almost flawless.
Value for money and other considerations on the Boston 12
Let’s quickly add a point on the outsole before going into the money talk. Continental rubber has proven its strength on Adidas shoes and that German partnership provides with one of the best outsoles on the market. Not much too add here other than I’m glad to see the collaboration continues.
Now the price. €160/$160 for a shoe that can technically cover most of you training regimen. In a way it’s good value for money for people considering this shoe as their allrounder. But I would argue it’s not one as easy and recovery paces don’t work super well in it. Even with an easy day shoe or a racing shoe to complete the rotation, the price tag remains correct for what the shoe does. It can be a great endurance, long run, tempo (and even race day) companion. And long run is probably how I would use it, making the most of its light stability features.
One thing that I would really like to see improved is the comfort of that upper. There are worse uppers out there but let’s compare it to the better ones. In that price range you have the Endorphin Speed 3, the On Cloudmonster, the Asics Novablast (or Magic Speed). All of these shoes are more comfortable than the Boston 12 despite most of them carrying a lower amount of technologies. My point is: the Boston became a complicated shoe. There are so many elements in it, so many updates to this version in particular – whereas the core of the shoe, i.e. the last, the fit, seems to have been abandoned a bit.
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