The Mizuno Wave Rider of today is a much different shoe than it was just a few years ago. Is this a good thing, or bad?
See the verdict below.
The Distant Past
Back in 2013, it appeared as if running shoe companies were divided unevenly into two camps. Most were producing lightweight minimalist shoes; others, overly cushioned and expensive trainers. That was when I discovered an outlier in the Mizuno Wave Rider 16, a shoe which felt like firmness had found a home.
The Wave Rider 16 seemed to have an increased level of firmness compared to other Mizuno models, and much more than the offerings from other brands. I enjoyed using the Rider 16 as a trainer because it provided a one-of-a-kind ride.
This is a Mizuno running shoe?
Fast forward to today and Mizuno states: “We are transforming running with a redesigned Wave technology for softer cushioning.” And Running Warehouse notes that the Mizuno U4icXHeelWedge “delivers a soft, pillowy underfoot feel for cushion upon impact.”
“Pillows” is the first word that came to mind when I took a test run in the Wave Rider 21 at a running specialty store. “Shock” may have been the second word, as the Wave Rider 21 offers a vastly different running experience than was provided by version 16.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 21 weighs 10.1 ounces and provides a 12mm heel drop. Yes, that’s high but on a test run, it feels like an 8 or 10mm drop. The Wave Rider 21 is a neutral trainer; however, all Mizuno running shoes incorporate the wave technology which makes them inherently stable.
The Wave Rider 21 provides a near perfect fit in one’s standard running shoe size, although it may be a smidgen long up front. (Better a tad bit long than too short.) There’s plenty of room for the toes to splay away at will and there’s a decent amount of headroom over the top of one’s feet.
As is usually the case these days, the insole is thicker than it needs to be, so I removed it and replaced it with the midsole from a now classic pair of Wave Sayonara runners.
The Wave Rider 21 has an engineered mesh upper, blown runner in the forefoot, and durable carbon rubber in the heel. The thermal plastic wave extends from the heel to the midfoot. And, according to Running Warehouse, “Flex controllers placed in high flex areas on the outsole act as miniature wave plates.” Thus, we have waves upon waves. Structure upon structure.
The heel counter on the shoe is firm but well padded. The laces on the Wave Rider 21 are semi-elastic and once tied, they stay tied.
On the Road
I first walked in the Wave Rider 21 and it was quite comfortable. The shoe is downright bouncy in jogs on both concrete and asphalt. And the surprisingly soft cushioning feels even softer on faster runs.
On fast pace runs, the Wave Rider 21 feels much lighter than its listed weight; this is especially true on asphalt. The shoe feels so light at speed that I almost wondered if I was wearing a pair of New Balance 1400 v6 performance trainer flats or the excellent Mizuno Wave Shadow.
The Wave Rider 21 is also well suited for medium to fast-paced runs on light trails. Although the sole of the shoe looks anything but sticky, it provides for good, secure traction on a dirt and asphalt trail.
One interesting issue arose with the Wave Rider 21. On initial runs, I felt stiffness in the shoe due to the wave plate in the midsole and the shank in the sole.
It felt as if I was doing two-point landings – first, hitting the soft heel on striking, then landing halfway between the midfoot and forefoot. It was not painful or uncomfortable, just unnatural. But by the third day, this stiffness was gone and I realized I was back to standard foot strike form: heel, midfoot, and forefoot.
The hard plastic shank that runs from the heel to the midfoot in the Wave Rider 21 does more than ensure a modicum of stability. It also provides a protective wall that shields both one’s heel bone and midfoot from absorbing punishment on hard surfaces.
And the wave plate in the midsole, extending to the rear of the shoe, acts as an effective shock absorber. Yes, this shoe is intended to be used as a daily trainer, but it also serves well as a post-event run, recovery shoe for tired and achy feet.
The 3 Ms?
For Mizuno fans and loyalists, the Wave Rider 21 can serve as the central shoe in a three-shoe rotation. The 21 will serve as the everyday trainer, while the exemplary Mizuno Shadow can be brought out for race day. And in the days following a 10K to marathon run, the Mizuno Wave Sky is a perfect recovery shoe.
On the other hand, one does not actually need three pairs of shoes. The Wave Rider 21 can very competently fill all three roles: daily performance trainer, race day fast shoe, and protective post-race recovery shoe. All at a very reasonable price of $120.00.
Wave Rider 21 Issues and Recommendations
Every shoe, no matter how well designed and executed, presents an issue or two. For me, the heel-strike on this version of the Wave Rider borders on being overly soft.
Indistinct heel striking is not a plus in a trainer and may become tiring on long runs. I would like to see a somewhat firmer heel pad on the shoe by the time the Wave Rider 23 is released.
While the Smooth Ride blown rubber is indeed soft and also flexible on the front of the Wave Rider 21, it does show some wear pretty quickly. The forefoot rubber appears to have visibly flattened out in certain sections. I’d like to see more firmness on the forefoot rubber, which would add to durability and also serve to protect sensitive metatarsals.
A Note on the Issues
Note that the formerly-firm Wave Rider shoe has become so soft and comfortable that both of my recommendations involve the use of the word “firm”! The world of Mizuno running has indeed changed.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 21 is a better shoe than earlier iterations because it is well-rounded enough to meet the needs of a broad running audience. It’s a shoe that can take one from training days to race day and beyond. It would be a great “first shoe” for the person new to running.
The one hesitation with version 21 of the Wave Rider is that Mizuno may have bumped up against the limits of softness and pillowy cushioning in this model. Returning some firmness to the shoe may not be the worst of all possible things. Nevertheless, the shoe is highly recommended.
- Most of the updates were made on the upper of the shoe. The material was swapped from the triple mesh zone to the slightly tweaked engineered mesh. The change resulted in better ventilation and fit anterior fit.
- Additional padding was placed in the heel area of the upper to provide extra cushioning and protection to the Achilles heel. The pad prevents irritation as well as minimizes pressure and impact on this part of the foot upon landing.
- Lastly, a premium anatomical sock liner was provided to boost the comfort from within the shoe. Because this sock liner is soft and follows the natural curves of the underfoot, the runner will experience a more pleasant in-shoe environment.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 21 comes in standard sizes. Those interested to purchase the shoe will be able to utilize their usual preference in running shoe lengths. Regarding width, male runners will be able to choose from medium and wide widths (D and 2E). Females, on the other hand, will be able to choose from medium and narrow widths (B and 2A).
On the outsole is Mizuno’s X10 carbon rubber. This type of rubber covers the heel area at the bottom of the shoe. The heel is a zone which receives impact when landing. Because of the X10’s presence in that section, durability becomes more pronounced. This outsole material is also used in other running shoes from Mizuno such as the Wave Rider 22 and Wave Prophecy 8.
The forefoot, on the other hand, is covered with blown rubber. This material is air-injected, making it lighter and more flexible than traditional outsole rubbers. Blown rubber enhances the shoe’s cushioning and helps dissipate the force the foot garners. It also aids in providing the runner with the right amount of responsiveness and energy return.
To make the bottom of the shoe more flexible, Flex Controllers were incorporated into the design. These controllers function as miniature wave plates placed on high flex areas underfoot. They allow the shoe to move together with the foot with ease.
Most of the midsole is made up of a lightweight material called U4ic. It has been specially formulated to be 30% lighter than Mizuno’s other midsole materials. Despite being light, it retains its soft response and performance. It also aids in shock absorption and in delivering a resilient ride.
Runners will have a highly responsive ride with the U4ixC Heel Wedge. It’s very similar to the U4ic technology, only that it delivers a softer, pillow-like experience underfoot. This wedge enhances the cushioned feel on the heel and assists in distributing the impact felt by runners upon landing.
The Cloudwave is a redesigned thermal plastic wave that runs from the heel to the midfoot. More specifically, it is sandwiched in between the U4ic midsole foam and the U4ic Heel Wedge. Its primary purpose is to deliver a softer and smoother ride while giving more energy back.
SmoothRide is a curved platform design that creates a rocking chair motion with every stride. It promotes natural movement by smoothening and easing the accelerating and decelerating actions of the foot during the running session.
A premium anatomical sock liner was introduced to the inside of the shoe. It acts as an additional layer of cushioning. It plays a small role in adding a bit of responsiveness to the ride while providing the underfoot with optimal comfort.
The upper of the Mizuno Wave Rider 21 bears the Dynamotion Fit design. The upper combines different features that allow it to emulate the movement of the foot during the gait cycle. This mirroring response is mainly due to the stretch mesh with which this shoe is covered. As the foot stretches, twists or bends with each step so do the mesh material. It also delivers ventilation as it allows air to pass through effortlessly.
Making the mesh sturdier is Mizuno’s logos which have been embedded on the lateral sides of the upper. They ensure that the midfoot receives minimal structural support. The logos are made of light synthetic materials, so they don’t add to the weight of the shoe.
A complete lace-up closure system allows the shoe to keep the foot in place. Tightening the laces will help prevent the accidental shoe removals during runs. What’s interesting about the laces is that they go through flex eyelets that permit the upper to move freely with the foot.
Comfort has also been extended to the heel with the addition of heel padding. It delivers cushioning and protection against irritation and shock during the foot-strike.
Size and fit
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