Asics’s marketing pitch: Looking for speed and versatility?
Upper: Engineered mesh, fused and stitched-on synthetic.
Midsole: Full-length, single density Flytefoam midsole. 8 mm heel to toe offset.
Outsole: Hard carbon rubber throughout.
Weight: 243 gms/ 8.6 Oz for a half pair of Men's US 9/UK 8/EUR 42.5/CM 27
Widths available: Single, D - regular (reviewed).
Remember the 33 series, anyone? A few years ago, Asics attempted to make inroads into the lower drop, minimally constructed running shoe market with its 33M, 33-FA, and the 33-DFA.
The aforementioned shoes featured a 4 mm heel drop which was unprecedented for the Japanese brand. The midsole also skipped the whole Gel-and-plastic show in favor for an all-foam one, and the outsole swapped the traditional ‘Guidance line’ layout with the ‘Fluid Axis’ instead.
It was fairly obvious the 33 series was a case of trying to force-fit a square peg into a round hole. At the time, Asics simply did not have what it took to make the 33 series successful. It neither had the lightweight chops of the Kinvara, nor a cushioned midsole platform which could compete with the likes of Hoka One One.
As one would expect, the Asics 33 assortment met with a short and forgettable demise.
In hindsight, the missing link was a suitable midsole platform. For years, Asics has relied on its Gel tech (more form than function, though) to market its running shoes rather a foam compound.
Then Asics hit a relative breakthrough with its new Flytefoam material, an EVA foam variant with fibers molded in. The $250 Metarun was the first to feature Flytefoam, followed by the Dynaflyte and several others.
The new Roadhawk FF is proof that Flytefoam isn’t tier exclusive, but rather price and platform agnostic. Even at an MSRP of $100, the Roadhawk features full-length Flytefoam, something that even more expensive models do not have.
While it is good that Asics has made Flytefoam accessible, they should exercise caution in maintaining price-value across their assortment – else, if all shoes have Flytefoam, why pay more for one shoe over the other?
And by the way, what is the Roadhawk FF?
It is a firm riding shoe which is suitable for faster training runs, and it has a seamless upper which fits well. Instead of comparing it to other Asics shoes, the identically priced Brooks Launch 4 would be a more meaningful benchmark.
Like the Launch 4, the Roadhawk FF is very lightweight with a sub 9-ounce weight and a snug fit. Despite the abundance of Flytefoam, the ride quality is firm bordering on hard, so know that the FF isn’t meant for everyone.
DESIGN AND MATERIALS
Take a cursory glance at the Roadhawk, and some elements from the 33 series jump at you right away. For example, the heel has a straight-up design, free of the plastic clip or the distinct Achilles lip which are seen on many Asics models.
In the front, the engineered mesh design appears familiar – and that’s because you have seen it before on the 33-FA. The open vented area on the top and the tighter-knitted sides are similar to the FA. There’s an internal bumper propping up the toe-box, and a stiffener gives structure to the heel at the rear.
Even the midfoot treatment is based on the 33 series; fused synthetic forms a box over the midfoot, and the lacing eyelets are punched into them. The laces are regular round types which cross over a thinly padded tongue.
The Asics logo is semi-concealed beneath a see-thru mesh over the lateral midfoot, giving the Roadhawk some nice design depth.
The inner side doesn’t have a logo and simply features a different mesh panel. The removal of the inner side logo is something we’ve seen on Asics a lot lately, including more expensive models like the Kayano.
While the heel and tongue don’t have a lot of foam padding, the lining material is very smooth and plush. That’s one of the reasons why we equated the Roadhawk to the Brooks Launch; both shoes have a comfortable lining material.
As you can see, there isn’t much going on the Roadhawk’s upper. It is a simple upper with a nearly seamless interior; nothing more, nothing less. There’re a few other design elements, like the printing over the outer heel which includes a reflective trim, or the molded Asics logo on the tongue flap.
Breathability is average on the Roadhawk, though no more or less than your average trainer. The upper might look very ventilated from the outside, but the interiors have a separate lining layer in certain areas.
There are no fancy bits and pieces on the midsole – no shank, no Gel, no nothing – except for the Flytefoam compound in a full-length avatar. The midsole is compression molded and is firm to the touch. The foam has the characteristic Flytefoam texture – you can see a wrinkly surface with embedded fibers.
Like any other foam, not all Flytefoam is the same. On some shoes, it can be of a softer density, while shoes like the Roadhawk FF get a firm kind. This is something you should know – the Roadhawk is NOT a soft shoe, no matter how thick the heel looks.
Speaking of thickness, the midsole is rear loaded. The heel stack of 20 mm is nearly double that of the 12 mm forefoot. And if you’re performing mental maths right now, then you must have realized that the Roadhawk has an 8 mm drop. This is slightly lower than the usual Asics gradient of 10 mm.
The only soft components are the removable Ortholite insole and the foam lasting below it. The insole is a soft, blown-foam kind used in other Asics shoes, and is one of the reasons why the Roadhawk is great value – this is a premium component.
The midsole sidewalls have a very balanced design. There are just some fine ridges running over the surface, and no deep groove which can cause a ride bias. The Roadhawk’s midsole also has pronounced edges which flare on both sides of the rearfoot, and this helps produce a cupping base for the foot to rest within.
Unlike many Asics shoes which have a softer blown rubber forefoot, the Roadhawk’s outsole is covered with hard carbon rubber throughout. While there are a few areas of exposed midsole foam, most of the outsole is overlaid with rubber. At the same time, there’s plenty of flex grooving and articulation.
The product page for the shoe might not mention the ‘Guidance line,’ but there is one – it begins under the Roadhawk’s heel and splits the forefoot into two distinct halves.
Regardless of its affordable price tag, the Roadhawk is no slouch when it comes to durability. The entire outsole is made of hard rubber, so sections like the forefoot will last longer than their blown rubber counterparts.
It’s not just the material, but also the design which plays a part in increasing lifespan. Despite the guidance line, the edges of the rubber slabs fare better. The edges along the Guidance line are tapered, and this lessens the potential damage from abrasion. Also, the pieces are better inset (or flush) with the midsole, so that helps too.
The firmer Flytefoam compound will perform better than regular EVA compounds, so that’s one thing less to worry about.
The upper forefoot mesh might be a concern for runners with a wide forefoot. This might lead to the bodyweight rubbing the mesh against the midsole edge, resulting in gradual wear and tear.
As with all blown-foam insoles, the Ortholite will gradually flatten and lose its squishiness over time.
UPPER FIT AND FEEL
There are no complaints with the Roadhawk’s fit. There are no overlays over the toe-box, but only engineered mesh and the internal bumper in the front. So the toe-box isn’t vertically challenged; the height feels just right.
The interior fit is smooth as expected of an upper which features no stitched overlays. However, the round laces tend to apply top-down pressure over the thinly padded tongue.
There’s a small problem with the upper design. When you lace the Roadhawk tight in the front, the forefoot mesh tends to pucker up – though this is not so much a functional flaw, but rather a visual eyesore.
While there are no hot spots, a slight sense of tightness is felt from the fused bands between the forefoot and the midfoot. The engineered forefoot mesh has enough space; it is only over the forward midfoot where the upper feels a bit snug. There are no optional widths for the Roadhawk, so trying before buying is recommended.
The insides of the heel have a soft lining, so the collar fit has a soft feel. The grip isn’t tenacious like how fully-padded collars are, but it gets the job done, with no slide of any kind.
RIDE QUALITY AND BEHAVIOR
Don’t let that thick stack of rearfoot Flytefoam fool you – the Roadhawk is a very firm shoe. Sure, the Ortholite insole feels soft underfoot, and the area of exposed foam under the heel also produces a cushioned effect. But once you get past that, the rest of the midsole is firm.
You might have worn other Asics shoes featuring Flytefoam which might have felt softer, but the Roadhawk is not one of those. The compression molded Flytefoam has a higher density, leading to a firm feel from heel to toe. It must be pointed out that the forefoot feels far stiffer than the heel.
The forefoot is rigid due to a few reasons. The front thickness is only a mere 12 mm of Flytefoam, so that’s certainly a contributing factor. The rubber used underneath is a hard variety, and that adds to the firmness too. The forefoot hardness also leads to an undesirable side-effect.
The front outsole makes a slappy noise during runs, and this is going to be more noticeable for forefoot strikers than heel loaders. This might not have a negatively functional impact, but the sound is distracting.
You need to give the Roadhawk’s forefoot at least 50 miles to break in. Initially the midsole has a very stiff feel, but it gains marginal flexibility in the weeks which follow.
There is an upside to the lack of cushioning softness, and that’s the superior stability. The combination of a stiff midsole and a balanced sidewall design make the Roadhawk extremely supportive. There’s no bias on the heel, and the raised sidewalls keep the foot locked in.
Forefoot transitions are great. The midsole might not be very flexible, but this character allows the weight to load quickly and economically all the way to toe-offs. Asics advertises the Roadhawk as a speed trainer, and we must say that’s a fairly accurate marketing description.
Like the firm Brooks Launch 4, the Roadhawk is best used for fast training runs, and even long distances if you’re accustomed to a firm ride. The shoe is very lightweight at a mere 8.6 ounces, so that helps make the Roadhawk feel fast too.
As far as responsiveness or the springback quality is concerned, it is nearly non-existent on the Roadhawk, except for some mild feedback from the rearfoot.
PROS AND CONS
The Roadhawk is excellent value for money, with it’s $100 MSRP offering a lot. There’s a full-length Flytefoam midsole under an engineered mesh upper, and the plentiful rubber coverage makes the shoe durable. There’s little softness to be found on the Roadhawk, but that makes the ride very supportive, and the transitions quick.
There are a few things which we didn’t like about the shoe. The rigid forefoot is noisy, making a slappy sound during runs. The hard rubber also delivers average grip performance on damp surfaces. And then there’s the lack of additional widths. The Roadhawk fits snug, so it would be great to have at least a 2E (wide) available as an option.
The 2017 Asics Roadhawk is what the earlier (and unsuccessful) Asics 33 series aspired to be – a well-mannered and an affordable lightweight trainer with a comfortable, no fuss upper.
All that said, the Roadhawk isn’t for everyone. If you’re expecting the Flytefoam midsole to be an epitome of softness, then you’re likely to be disappointed. Instead, what we have here is a firm trainer which shines during fast-paced workouts.
So what if you wanted a couple of other shoes to rotate alongside the Roadhawk? We’ll cover that in the next section.
For an Asics shoe with a softer ride, the Cumulus 19 fits the part. It is softer than the Roadhawk, though the toe-box fits shallower. For race-days involving 5K and 10K’s, the Hyperspeed 7 is the shoe to rotate.
If you want an all-foam, non-Asics cushioned trainer with the same heel drop, then we recommend the New Balance 1080 V7. The ride isn’t particularly soft or responsive, but there’s plenty of consistent cushioning.
For shorter races, get the New Balance 1400V5.
SIMILAR ENTRY LEVEL NEUTRAL SHOES
We can think of a few shoes which compare with the Roadhawk, but the Brooks Launch 4 is the closest – both in terms of the $100 MSRP and the ride quality.
Both the Asics and Brooks models are firm, though the Launch 4 has a better padded forefoot due to the use of blown rubber. The Launch 4 has a more comfortable heel collar too, but happens to be slightly heavier – by 0.4 ounces to be precise.
If we had to choose between the Roadhawk and the Launch 4, our money would be on the Brooks shoe.
The Roadhawk can also be loosely compared to the $15 more expensive and cushioned Hoka Hupana and the 4 mm drop Skechers GoMeb Razor. At some level, even the Nike Elite 9 is comparable, if you just consider the intended use-case.