Color: White/Dress blue
Intended use: All runs except trail and in bad weather.
Surfaces tested on: Road, 19° C/66° F
Upper: Spacer mesh, synthetic leather, TPU.
Midsole: Compression molded EVA, Pebax parallel heel Wave plate. 12mm heel to toe drop.
Outsole: Hard carbon rubber (X10) in heel, softer rubber in forefoot.
Weight: 300 gms/ 10.6 Oz for a half pair of US11/UK10/EUR 44.5
Widths available: Standard (reviewed), 2E.
US Retail: $ 120
Like some things in life, Mizunos are an acquired taste. Ever since the Wave plate made its debut in late nineties, running shoes from the Japanese brand came with a signature ride character uniquely its own. While rest of the market rode a veritable roller coaster of cushioning trends, Mizuno has held out on its own, banking on its tried and tested technology to being the bacon home.
For the uninitiated, the Wave plate happens to be this molded, thermoplastic component sandwiched between layers of foam. There are multiple variations of it, examples being the parallel wave ( Wave Rider 18), or Infinity Wave (Creation, Prophecy). This naturally changes the ride quality, depending on the manner in which Wave is employed.
We said that these shoes are an acquired taste, because Mizunos feel nothing like what’s currently out there in its price and category class. For a targeted neutral running audience willing to spend in the ballpark of $100, it would be fair to say that the Wave Rider 18 competes against the likes of Saucony Ride, Brooks Ghost, Nike Pegasus and the Asics Cumulus. But even in that notional framework, the Wave Rider 18 is certainly the odd one out. Where as most of the afore mentioned competitors are taking a definite turn toward increased softness, the Wave Rider is a departure from that norm. To the extent that it took us much longer to correctly ‘read’ the shoe (this being our first Wave Rider review), and be able to distil its character traits with a reasonable level of clarity.
The Wave Rider’s ultra firm ride is its most prominent element of differentiation. In fact, if you happen to transition from a non-Mizuno to one, you might be taken aback by the sheer difference. Most shoes rely on deformation of the midsole compound to achieve the desired level of cushioning. The Mizuno Wave does exactly the opposite, its Pebax sheet actually resisting deformation of the heel area. The objective? To achieve stability. This might sound like an oxymoron when we’re discussing a neutral running shoe, but that has been the original intent of the Wave system. To quote a part of the patent summary (filed in 1999) for the Wave plate used in WR-18:
“…transverse deformation of heel portion of the midsole can be prevented by the wave configuration of the corrugated sheet and running stability of the shoe can be ensured.”
So with that intention, there’s an unsurprising lack of compression when you land in the Wave Rider 18, regardless whether you’re a heel or forefoot striker. The familiar squishy feel of foam felt in other brands is conspicuous by its absence every time you land in these. What you get is a ride which borders on more hard than firm – this is replicated in the front end too, with no soft toe-offs happening.
Yet, this is the Wave Rider’s strongest suit, and the very reason which keeps Mizuno loyalists coming for more. The structural rigidity of the Wave plate, combined with layers of firm compression molded EVA, appeals to runners who want a somewhat neutral ride, only more supportive. This also helps transition, as there’s little difference in material firmness along the heel to toe gradient (12 mm drop), making the gait cycle feel much more economical. The feel is very planted, more in the forefoot than rear, and there’s a noticeable contour beneath which results in a sensation that the foot sits cradled inside the shoe, and not on it. Another way of putting this is that the ride feels lower to the ground, especially in the forefoot.
In a very non-conventional way, we found the high heel drop Mizuno Wave Rider 18 to be a good speedwork tool. The low level of compression actually helps build up pace better, compared to full foam models.
The transition being good, the midfoot base could have more supportive, by filling the under arch area of the foot instead of the recess – as pictured above.
The removable insole is overlaid atop the midsole inside, and its base is a memory-foam kind of material which is also seen in Asics and some of the Nikes. The top cloth is particularly smooth, feels premium to touch, and irritation free. The footbed is pretty thick too – our guess being around 5-6 mm and hence the only layer of discernible softness within the sole set-up.
If you break-down the rear-foot strike behavior of the Wave Rider, a couple of things come to light. Firstly, the level of responsiveness (relative to Mizuno context) varies based on where you land. Two, while the Mizuno Wave Rider is positioned as a neutral shoe, its behavior isn’t 100% so, with elements of motion control weaved into the Wave plate design. How so?
Let’s have a detailed look at the Wave Plate design used in this particular model.
The hard insert is shaped in the form of its namesake, with a pair of crest and trough visible in the midsole wall. There are twin gaps in the midsole foam, one below the crest and another above the trough. The highest level of responsiveness is achieved when you land on outside rear-foot, just above the trough+gap area. This causes the molded piece to stretch out, and rewarding you with a minuscule level of springback. However, if you tend to land on edge of the heel, it feels flat, as the material in between has two layers of foam and Wave sandwiched tight.
Rear-foot compression during foot strike ends up being laterally biased, which adds in a smidgen of pronation control. The midsole wall and Wave design isn’t uniform, being structurally asymmetric (intentionally) across lateral and medial sides. Lateral (outer) side is slightly thinner when compared to medial (arch) side, where the midsole is thicker by a few millimeters. The curve of the Wave plate is more aggressive on the medial side, with the crest pointing higher than the lateral face. This makes the medial midsole much firmer, with less ‘give’, leaving the lateral side to be more compressive.
So in short, when you land, the Wave Rider keeps the rear-foot contained laterally, and inward roll is minimized by the higher midsole wall and pointy crest of Wave plate.
This also gave us the sense that Mizuno’s Wave platform’s level of responsiveness increases with a corresponding decrease in thickness of the top and bottom midsole layer. The outer side is where you get more feedback from Wave’s deformation, whereas that feeling is insulated by the chunkier midsole medially. Can’t say we have much experience wearing Mizunos, but if the Mizuno Wave Sayonara 2 is anything to go by, a thinner midsole helps elevate the snapback of Mizuno Wave. This observation only applies to non-Infinity based Wave, naturally.
Outsole is split into two distinct sections. Extremely hard rubber (X-10 in Mizunospeak) lines the underside of heel in a horse-shoe arrangement, with a crash pad separated by flex grooves. In the front, Mizuno goes easy on material density, instead preferring to use a softer type of rubber.
Just how hard is the heel rubber? Enough to make a racket every time one foot-strikes, as if running in a pair of dress shoes. The crash pad also lacks a range of motion as it is stuck to the combined firmness of midsole foam and Wave. Instead of the crash pad breaking away with each landing, the end result is a somewhat abrupt contact with the running surface, an action which feels and sounds hard. We’ve started seeing signs of wear on the crash pad, but then the extra thickness of Wave Rider 18’s outsole should hold out long enough.
The forefoot is far better, with soft rubber muffling transition or foot-strike, depending on your running style. Flexibility is average, with firm materials resistant to bending. Will that aspect get better with time? Sure, and that’s true not only for Mizuno but for most EVA midsole based running shoes. Pile on 100+ miles, and the tensile+compressive response of EVA will decrease due to material fatigue.
Wave Rider’s upper relies on basic construction, with some nice visual tricks thrown in. Majority of the upper is made with three pieces of breathable spacer mesh, and twin Mizuno logos go over the seams joining parts of the upper. This delivers the illusion of a single piece mesh upper. The fabric in the back has color sublimation, with dress blue color fading from dark to light in a gradual, ebbing way. On the heel, there’s a glossy piece of welded TPU in silver (first picture in this review) which calls out the familiar model name in English and Katakana Japanese. Reflectivity is meant to be served by a blink-it-and-miss-it Mizuno Logo printed on a circular patch. Not very useful, really.
The synthetic leather has a pearlized finish which is hard to see in online pictures (we’ve tried hard to replicate the effect in a photograph here). Nothing special in the way it’s being used though, just forms the toe bumper and traditional eye-stay. The collar fabric feels premium, though with relatively spartan padding. The tongue is soft, thick and padded, and has a trick up its sleeve which we did not even notice initially. You see, the tongue doesn’t come attached to the upper, so it should obviously (and expectedly) result in tongue slide, right? It doesn’t, at least not to a noticeable degree.
It’s actually very wide, which means that the edges extends deep on either sides of the foot when properly laced up. It fills up any empty gap(s) between the upper and foot. Now tongue slide will only happen when it has some space to slide in. But with room filled up, there’s nowhere for the tongue to go, so it stays put. The lacing is fairly wide, and the plush tongue takes the overhead cinching pressure extremely well.
On the other hand, laces used are a disappointment. The Wave Rider 18 uses a two toned type which tends to twist a lot, and during our wear-tests, we noticed that they tend to come loose if you don’t tie them tight enough. Two tone laces are not faulty as such; Brooks uses a similar design in shoes like the Glycerin and the Beast. Soft to the touch, they maintain their orientation and don’t come undone either.
Wave Rider 18’s fit is worth spending some time talking about. The upper is very roomy, and that applies all across. Starting right in the heel area where there’s a good amount of lateral slack, to the midfoot which feels relaxed, and finally in the forefoot which is very spacious. The unrestricted mesh upper on sides allows generous splay area, and there a full half size extra in length too. We got a US 11 for this review, yet feel we could have done with a 10.5 too.
That said, always try the shoe on for yourself as foot anatomy will vary. And coming back to the heel area – the relaxed fit did not bother us and we saw no slippage, but it isn’t exactly confidence inspiring. If having a snug heel ranks high up on your list, make sure you try the Wave Rider on to know what you’re getting into, literally speaking.
Like some of the recent shoes reviewed, the Wave Rider 18 also suffers from barefoot non-compatibility. There are these two seams inside just under the Mizuno Logo, and they bite into the sides if you decide to run without socks. There’s another pair of soft underlay just ahead of the seam, meant to prop up the mesh upper and prevent the latter from losing shape. But these aren’t a bother, only the seam is.
That pretty much sums up the latest version of Mizuno’s popular model. A semi-neutral yet supportive ride, roomy upper, decently lightweight (300gm /10.6 Oz). If you’re into your nth pair of Mizuno, then whatever we’ve laid out in the review will sound familiar and hopefully make sense. Perhaps you can leave a comment or two to tell us how this shoe compares to 17th edition and prior, or to some of the other Mizuno you own.
If you’re new to the Mizuno club, then don’t get misled by adjectives being thrown around on the internet when it comes to the Wave Rider 18. You’ll see comments with words like ’smooth’, ‘very cushioned’ and the like used liberally. Not that they’re wrong in saying so; just that the usage of those words is highly contextualised.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 18 is a running shoe with a unique behavior set, differentiating it from the adidas, Nike’s and Brooks of the world. As long as you respect that difference, and accept the Mizuno for what it is, you won’t be disappointed.
(Disclaimer: Solereview paid full US retail price for the shoe reviewed)
Note: Starting this review, we have discontinued the practice of numerically scoring individual footwear attributes. Instead, we use the same rating methodology and arrive at a single numeric score. Some of the elements from the numerical rating have been included in the sensory scoring format.
Here’s the range: Great (dark green) – 90%- 100%, Good (light green) – 75%- 89%, Average (amber) – 60%- 74%, Poor (red) – lower than 59%