Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gear Review: ASICS Piranha SP 3

One of the coolest pairs of flats I've worn was the Adidas Adizero PR. At 3.9oz, they were super lightweight, incredibly low slung and close to the ground, and fit my foot like a glove. Unfortunately, Adidas is constantly revamping its Adizero line, and they were discontinued a few years ago. However, ASICS and Mizuno have since introduced ultralight flats, namely the Piranha and Wave Universe (There may be a few reduced shoes marketed as minimal that would also fall into this category, but I unfortunately have no idea what they are and therefore can't throw any names out for you. Maybe the Somnio Nada? I don't know). The Piranha is currently on its third iteration, the SP 3. When my PRs finally gave up the ghost, I decided it was time to look for another ultra-lightweight to replace them. When I was buying these (which was admittedly quite a while ago), only the Piranha was available in small sizes, so that made the decision as to which flat to buy very easy for me. I mentioned this shoe in the past, but never really gave it a full review. Well, seeing as that "review" was really more of an overview, here's the dirt on the Piranha.

Asics makes a few racing flats, including the Piranha, Hyper Speed, Tarther, and DS Racer, and the Piranha is the lightest and most minimal of the bunch by far, weighing in at a scant 4.6oz for a men's size 9. That's nearly two ounces lighter than the Brooks T7, which if you follow this blog, you're sure to have heard me rave about (I'll be using the T7 for comparison in this review because I'm familiar with it, and it's convenient because it's sitting next to me). According to Running Warehouse, it has a 5mm heel-toe differential, with a 21mm heel and 16mm forefoot. However, keep in mind that this is measured with the insole (which is non-removable), so it actually feels quite a bit lower than that. It is described by ASICS as such:

At 4.6 oz, this featherweight dynamo enhances road feel while providing a surprising amount of platform support and protection. The Piranha SP® 3 features slip lasting for flexibility, while the Solyte® midsole absorbs shock and innovative outsole material maximizes traction.

  • Racing Outsole
    Maximizes traction while minimizing weight.
  • Solyte® Midsole Material
    A lighter weight midsole compound than ASICS’ standard EVA and SpEVA®. Also features enhanced cushioning and durability.
  • Slip Lasting
    For lightweight and flexibility. Upper is wrapped and stitched before it is glued to the midsole.
  • Ecsaine Collar Lining
    Creates comfortable, soft fit and allows sockless option.
  • DuoSole® Outsole
    Reduces weight and enhances flexibility while maintaining traction and durability.
The Piranha has a cool understated look. It's not super flashy, and calls to mind the classic flats that were worn in the '70s. In addition to its appearance, the simplicity of the flat itself is also somewhat of a throwback, though it does utilize modern materials to achieve its incredibly light weight.

The Piranha redefines low-slung racer. For comparison, Piranha is on the left, T7 is on the right. No camera tricks involved.

The first thing you'll notice when you slip on the Piranha is that they are light. Like, seriously Light with a capital L. I know I wore the PR before this, and the PR was even lighter, but it still always surprises me when I put on a shoe that weighs this little. They are also extremely responsive. Their cushioning may be the tiniest bit softer than the PR (which again, assumes you've worn that shoe), but they are still much more responsive than anything else I've ever worn. The midsole is very thin, which also means you get a ton of road feel. The Piranha somehow makes many of my other flats feel like a trainer. All this goes towards making the Piranha feel fast. There is no way you can put on this shoe and not feel fast (unless you're out of shape, in which case you'll probably need more than shoes to make you feel fast). It almost feels like a spike...probably as close as you'll get with a road flat anyway.

Another thing you'll notice is that the Piranha has very little in the way of support. It has a tiny bit of a heel counter, where some blown rubber wraps around you heel, but even that is super flexible and doesn't do much to support your foot. If you try to twist it in your hand, it feels like there's some lateral stability, but that goes away the minute you actually put it on your foot. There are some overlays on the side of the shoe for the logo, but they don't do anything at all for support. This shoe is designed for the biomechanically efficient runner, and even then, is most likely best used as a 5K-10K flat. Possibly half-marathon, but keep in mind that even Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor use custom versions of the Hyperspeed for the marathon, since the Hyperspeed will offer a tiny bit more support and cushioning to help stave off foot fatigue. I've actually found I overpronate more in these shoes than in any of my other flats (including the radically curved and softer T7, as well as the ultralight and minimal PR). The physical therapy student in me can't figure that one out and wants to say that it's all in my head, but in reality, not everything is explainable with our current knowledge, so these end up being a short track interval and 5K shoe for me (whereas I was fine in even the PR for a half-marathon).

What heel counter?

As I stated before, these shoes are more flexible than they look. When you first pick them up and try to twist them around, the sole doesn't feel like it has a lot of give to it. Not so when you wear it. The thin midsole makes for an incredibly flexible shoe. The forefoot feels the tiniest bit less flexible than the PR and T7 when you're walking around, but I challenge you to actually notice that when you're actually running.

You can't tell from this picture, but the Piranha a lot of lateral flexibility.
In your hands, the Piranha looks like they flex in a weird spot. This is not a problem when running in them.

The last is curved, but not extremely so. Along with giving the Piranha a universal fit that will work for many runners, this also has the interesting side effect of making it able to accept some orthotics. Since the insole is non-removable, this will only work if you have a low volume foot, so try it on before you buy if you fall into this category. While many people may question why anyone would put an orthotic in a racing flat, the Piranha would give orthotic wearers a very flexible and lightweight option for racing (assuming they were wearing the type of orthotic that also has some support built in).

While Asics description states that the Piranha has a lining that makes it conducive for wearing without socks, I've found that the tongue and lace area is kind of weird feeling, and it's the one pair of flats that I own that I honestly would rather wear with socks (I generally race and do speedwork sockless). There are also quite a few overlays on the upper if overlays tend to bother you, but to be honest, I haven't noticed them even when sockless. The biggest thing about the fit that bothers me is that the toebox seems weirdly baggy. However, keep in mind that I'm a woman with narrow women feet so you may not have this problem. The heel cup, on the other hand, is great and really hugs my foot nicely.

As far as durability goes, I really am not sure what to say. The blown foam on the side of the shoe got wear creases fairly quickly (<100 miles), but since there already is very little in the way of cushioning, you really don't notice a difference in the ride at all. Honestly, with a shoe like this, I would expect to probably bust through the upper before I wear out the cushioning (or lack thereof). So I'm not sure why those wear creases are even showing up, or whether it matters at all that they're there (I'm kind of guessing not).

Stress lines on lateral portion of Piranha. You can also see stress lines in the heel counter picture above.

These shoes have fine traction as long as you're on the road or track. They're intended to be a road shoe, and that's really where they need to stay. The Piranha + wet rocks is not going to go well for you. Also one more complaint: replace the laces as soon as you get these. They are very sheer and are terrible at staying tied.

This shoe also seems to have garnered a bit of a following among the minimalist crowd, and I can certainly see why. The Piranha actually feels lower to the ground, more flexible, and more minimalist than the majority of the shoes actually marketed as being minimalist. Additionally, as I stated before, there is a lot of road feel in these shoes. For example, there seems to be less underfoot even than with the New Balance Minimus Trail, which is one of the more highly regarded minimalist shoes on the market, though to be fair, I don't have a bunch of miles on the Minimus...just played with them in a store. I won't post too much on this subject, since I don't presume to know what the minimal crowd is looking for in their shoes (actually I have no idea whatsoever), but if you are a minimalist, definitely check out this shoe, despite the fact that it is marketed as a racing flat rather than as a minimal shoe.

In case that first picture didn't get the point across, this shoe is seriously low to the ground. Piranha is on the left, T7 is on the right.

Moral of the story is this is a super fast shoe for the biomechanically efficient runner looking for a short distance racer, and may also be an option for the minimalist runner who is looking to put as little between their foot and the road as possible. For overpronators who need support, supinators who need cushion, or people looking for a marathon shoe, you may want to look elsewhere for a shoe with a little bit more to it.

The Asics Piranha SP3 retails for $110, and retailers can be located on the ASICS website. Sizing is unisex (so women should go down 1.5 sizes) but fairly true to size (I have these in half a size smaller than my T7, which runs small, but the normal 1.5 sizes smaller than my trainers).

Full disclosure: I bought these shoes myself, so there is nothing to disclose. The opinions expressed in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of ASICS or anyone else.


  1. Looks like they don't come in 4E? :(

  2. I don't actually know, you'd have to contact ASICS, but my guess is probably not. They've got a pretty roomy forefoot, but whether that would actually be wide enough to accommodate a 4E is probably unlikely. Definitely try on before you buy, or go with somewhere with free return shipping.

  3. I just thought about this some more. Mike, do you need the wide just to make room for your toes? Or is your entire foot wide? I'm wondering how doing a little surgery and cutting out pieces of the forefoot would work. A while ago, I saw someone who did some surgery on a pair of Nike Frees to cut out openings in the side of the shoe to give them a wide forefoot. On the downside, $110 is a lot of money for a pair of shoes that don't actually fit right...but I guess if it works and they feel good.

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  6. Thanks for this review! As an owner of the Piranhas your description is spot on! I'm finding that I can gain a little speed in road races with slightly more shoe. Even though I am comfortable running in these, I think that running in such a light shoe simply wears me out a little quicker. I'm going to give the T7s a try based on your other post. Thanks again!

  7. T7 is a super cool shoe, though if you're coming from the Piranha, it's going to feel really high/soft. Which might be a nice change, actually...that's part of what I like about it, that it's a less drastic change from a trainer than something like the Piranha.

  8. Hi, im in 8th grade as a middle school track runner. I do middle distance events including the mile and 800m. Im at a 5:15 mile but going for a sub 5 and a 2:20 800m and im looking for a light and fast flat for my meets since the track we run on is asphault. I have 2 options in mind the Adidas Adizero Hagio or The Asics Piranha sp 4 which shoe would reccomend?

  9. Asphalt track? Yeah, you're limited to road shoes rather than track spikes, as it looks like you've guessed. Try on a couple different flats and see what you like, you probably want something as spike-like as possible. Either of the options you named are good choices, as are the Mizuno Wave Universe and New Balance RC5000, which are both actually lighter than the Piranha and Hagio.

  10. Yeah we dont have a lot of rubber tracks in my area for our meets thats why. I was thinking of the asics piranha for it doesnt have much cushioning and its light weight lik a spike. How's the grip on the asics piranha? And yeah i have thought about the NB rc5000 but thought it lacked even more support due to the weight. But anyways Thanks for the help.

  11. The Piranha's grip is just fine on asphalt, has those little black nubs. It looks like the RC5000 has them too, actually, so I'd assume they'd be fine too.

  12. I own the pair of shoes Piranha SP4. My foot size is 11,5,but this shoe has a weight of 145g!!! It is the one only high speed shoe, which I recommend you, after 2hours running you feel so like you wearing no shoes! Fantastic!:)

  13. You are absolutely right about sockless and the laces. I switched to elastic for fast transitions in the SP3's. I've destroyed my pair with dirt and mud, but the left one also ends up covered in blood from rubbing the top of my toes. Fast, light shoes are great, but they also can't rub holes in your feet. It has to be the stitching for the tongue. What are your sockless suggestions for 10k and up?

    1. Depends on what qualities you like in a shoe. I suppose since you wear the Piranha, you like light, low-slung, and on the minimal side? Possibly the Saucony A5...that one's low to the ground, fine sockless, and has a little more to it than the Piranha, so it may be better for longer distances. If you're an ASICS fan, the Piranha has been replaced by the 3.8oz BlazingFast and the Noosafast marathon flat, but I haven't worn either. If it's the minimal quality you like, the new Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is 2.8oz...the Universe 4 is fine sockless, and I'm trying to get my hands on a pair of 5s, but can't comment on the 5 quite yet. Personally, for longer races I wear the Brooks T7, which is 6oz and comfortable sockless, though that one's a bit higher slung with a 12mm heel-toe drop (if you care about such things).


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