Review: ASICS Roadhawk FF

Disclaimer: This shoe was provided to me at no cost for the purposes of a review

Athleisure shoes have been popping up for a while now, and are aimed at bridging the gap between casual fashion and performance running shoes. This athleisure market has been slowly gaining traction in recent months, and with the likes of Nike and Adidas doing very well with their sneaker sales, it was only going to be a matter of time before the other brands got in on the act. Brooks, for example, will be releasing an athleisure version of its ever-popular Launch in the near future. The first dip in the pond by ASICS probably started with the Gel Quantum 360 Knit released earlier in the year, though it was quite heavy and consequently was not very versatile as a running shoe. Now, they've come up with a far more versatile shoe in the Roadhawk FF which has garnered a lot of positive feedback thus far. I was very excited to try out this shoe, after finding a real diamond in the rough with the Noosa FF earlier in the year. Without further ado, let's delve into it.


Let's start with the basic specs.

Heel stack: 25mm
Forefoot stack: 17mm
Drop: 8mm
Weight: 236g / 8.32oz (US9.5)
(Update: the above stack numbers include insole stack and the true numbers provided by ASICS are actually 20mm in the heel and 12mm in the forefoot. Special thanks to Sascha Robitzki for pointing that out. )




UPPER


The upper here is a seamless knitted construct, that is a bit on the thicker side and not quite so ideal for warm weather running, but seems to breathe a little better for me than the Dynaflyte. You can judge for yourself the density of the mesh from the pics below.

Now compare that to what you can see in the super breathable Noosa FF (reviewed here), and the difference is quite obvious. 

The knitted mesh upper inself is fairly inelastic but of a decent volume in the toebox. At the midfoot, the mesh is accentuated by more rigid overlays that provide more than adequate foothold and wrap, but this comes at the expense of breathability as the overlays are not perforated. 

I like how understated and simple the design is though. This makes it very easy on the eyes, and easy to match with any smart casual wear without sticking out. The seamless construct also allowed me to run sockless without any issues in the shoe. In fact, once I tested it out in a short 40min jog without socks and confirmed that there would be no risk of abrasions, I pretty much did all my running in this shoe sockless, regardless of distance. 

The heel collar is not overly padded and the opening is sctually quite big by ASICS standards, reminding me somewhat of the Adidas Adios, where the shoe doesn't wrap very high up the ankle. This is complemented by a semi-rigid heel counter to create a medium to high volume fit in the heel, which is probably directed towards achieving more of a comfort-fit.  

The Roadhawk also comes stock with a thinner Ortholite sockliner that minimizes heat build-up, while still providing a fair good cushioned feel to the shoe. 

Overall the upper is one of the most comfortable ones I've tried in a running shoe, and apart from slightly hampered breathability from the density of the mesh, I don't have any complaints about the upper here. 

The upper is stitched to a Strobel last with a layer of SpEVA foam instead of the usual fibreboard. This is visible upon removing the insole, and further contributes to a softer underfoot feel, and is quite a premium for what must surely be considered a budget price point for ASICS.

MIDSOLE

The midsole here is composed of a single density layer of FlyteFoam, that rides up pretty high on either side of the heel. This serves not only to enhance aesthetics but also stabilizes the heel somewhat by performing a cradle function. 

I have had good experiences with single density FlyeFoam thus far with the Dynaflyte and Noosa FF, and fully expected the midsole of the Roadhawk to perform in similar fashion, and by that, I mean that it takes a while for the foam to soften up and get to the nice bouncy vibration-dampening sweet spot that I have come to enjoy. I'll touch a little more on this later on.

OUTSOLE

The outsole here is composed of very firm wear-resistant ASICS AHAR carbon-injected rubber. I think this is one area where cost savings became more apparent. Most modern running shoes would go with blown rubber to soften up the forefoot feel, but ASICS decided to put AHAR across he whole platform. My experience with AHAR is that it is pretty much bullet-proof with almost zero wear on the outsole of my Noosa FF after nearly 400km on roads. 


With such a firm material, the first consideration would naturally be how to achieve decent flexibility in the shoe. ASICS did a decent job here by strategically segmenting the rubber pads across the forefoot, and lining up the breaks in the rubber with the toespring of the shoe, thereby allowing the shoe to flex a little more naturally through toe-off. 

They also appeared to incorporate a little bit of medial stability in the shoe by putting a continuous slab of AHAR rubber along the medial border of the outsole to prevent excessive pronation. 

IMPRESSIONS

The Roadhawk straight out of the box feels very light and the upper just disappears on the foot. The breathability was always something I was cognizant of during my runs but it didn't seem to affect the ride much at all. 


One thing people should know is that the shoe seems to be on the firm side. Despite having higher stack numbers across the board than the Noosa FF, I did find that there was more ground feel in the Roadhawk and the transition just wasn't quite as smooth in this shoe. I have attributed this mostly to the very firm AHAR rubber outsole, which seems to be significantly thicker in the Roadhawk than the Noosa in the heel, and naturally harsher than the blown rubber forefoot of the Noosa up front. My longest run in the roadhawk so far stands at 20km, and I felt pretty beat up at the end.

(Update: It was pointed out to me that the stack numbers were wrong. The true stack numbers of the Roadhawk are actually 20mm in the heel and 12mm in the forefoot, as provided by ASICS. These are actually pretty low numbers. ASICS advertises the very firm DS Trainer 22 at 20mm in the heel and 10mm in the forefoot, by way of comparison. Thanks to Sascha Robitzki for pointing this out!)

The shoe seems to work best in the aerobic to uptempo sort of pace for me, in the 4:00-4:30/km sort of range; in this range you start to appreciate the subtle bouncy qualities of the Flytefoam, especially in the forefoot, and the firmness of the heel becomes less obvious as your feet roll through the shoe just that little bit quicker. However, the moment I start lagging into, the 4:40s and 4:50s, I start to feel that i have to work a bit harder to roll through the shoe, and the firmness of the heel becomes more palpable, such that i find myself forefoot landing a lot more just to avoid landing on the heel. 

For a pure uptempo shoe, I think most people who be better off in the DS Trainer, which for me has a similar ride, though the DS Trainer is even firmer still. 

This is not the first shoe I've worn with the firm heel/soft forefoot combination (even though this shoe technically has a uniform single density midsole). The New Balance Zante, and to a certain extent the Nike Zoom Fly, have similar characteristics, and the Zante in particular makes me want to land more forefoot at slower paces too. Perhaps people who like the
Zante would enjoy this shoe more as a daily trainer, as it is closer to the Zante than the NB Boracay or NB Vazee Rush in feel, even though the Roadhawk doesn't transition as smoothly as the Zante. 


On a less sanitary note, one downside i picked up from all this fancy knitted mesh uppers is that they really trap sweat easily and my Roadhawks started to smell of stale sweat after just one or two runs. In the Singapore context, this would probably make it difficult for the Roadhawk to work double-duty as a casual shoe and runner.

In terms of durability, I only have some minor scuffing on the lateral heel on the left shoe and the medial forefoot of both shoes. (This wear pattern is normal for me) They should be good for easily another 500km. I actually expected the outsole wear to be worse, because when the shoe doesn't transition as smoothly, there is more friction against the road, but the outsole as held up very well here. 





Overall, I was a little bit underwhelmed by the Roadhawk's ride. It has a decently flexible ride, but this occurs within a fairly narrow pace window, which makes it less versatile than i would like for a daily trainer. I would categorize the Roadhawk as more of an uptempo lightweight trainer. Perhaps my expectations were a little too high coming off my last FlyteFoam shoe in the Noosa, which is still my go-to everyday trainer for everything from 4:00/km pace to 5:00/km pace. 

As a casual shoe, the Roadhawk ticks all the boxes as a nice understated sneaker that is immensely comfortable to walk around in. On the balance between leisure and athleticism, the shoe leans more towards leisure for me. I think perhaps for recreational runners who want a do-it-all shoe, the Roadhawk at its current price point would be a very attractive option, but for more dedicated enthusiasts with multiple weapons in their arsenal, this shoe may stick out as sort of an oddball, not shining enough in any particular department to justify its use as a pure runner. 


COMPARISONS

Skechers GoMeb Razor (reviewed here)

The Razor has a somewhat softer ride overall, despite its lower-to-the-ground feel, and I think is the more versatile shoe. Despite having a knit upper, the Razor is also significantly more breathable. the main area that the Razor loses out is grip. ASICS AHAR rubber has superb grip, and this is really telling on wet surfaces. The outsole on the current batch of Razor/GoRun/Speed, however, have a tendency to be found wanting on wet roads.The Razor, surprisingly, has not made its way to Singapore, and may never will at this rate, so the comparison may be moot for people not willing to buy from overseas.

ASICS Noosa FF (reviewed here)

No question the Noosa FF is my favourite trainer of the year, even more so than the Nike Zoom Fly, simply because of its durability, breathable upper and versatility across a wide variety of paces. The Roadhawk wins in terms of aesthetics, and outright durability of the outsole, but the Noosa FF for me is by far the superior runner, and that of course comes at a price premium. You get what you pay for. 

Nike Zoom Elite 9
                         
The Elite 9 has been the sleeper hit of the year for many people, after somewhat uninspiring rides from earlier versions of the Elite range. The new ZE9 is softer and smooth, and a heck of a lot lighter than any previous Zoom Elite, and indeed the Roadhawk FF. The only potential Achilles heel of the ZE9 comes from outsole durability, and I think that is again where the Roadhawk has the upper hand. The ZE9 is also built on a fairly narrow and very neutral last, and so anyone who wants just a little bit more stability in their trainers will find the Roadhawk the much more favourable option. 


VERDICT

3.9 / 5.0
-0.3 for poor ventilation
-0.8 for harsh ride and not-so-smooth transition at easy/moderate paces
Very nice aesthetics, but this shoe could do with a thinner mesh upper
It scores relatively highly because of the very competitive price-point


The ASICS Roadhawk FF retails at S$149 and is available at selected ASICS Singapore retail stores now.

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