Mizuno Wave Rider 20 Review
Today's guest review comes again from my good friend and training partner John. John is a very good engineer and has been my primary running training partner through and beyond DPT school. Despite being a Nike guy, John has been expanding and trying some other brands recently. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on the Mizuno Waver Rider 20 and his perspective as an engineer on the wave design. The Wave Rider is Mizuno’s flagship neutral shoe. It stands apart from competing neutral offerings with its firm ride, delivered with Wave Plate technology.
Note: This review spends more time evaluating the Wave Plate concept, and less time contrasting the the WR20 with the WR19. The executive summary for Wave Rider loyalists: The WR20 offers a softer ride and some big aesthetic updates. Go buy it.
A little about me: my foot is normal width, size 11. I weigh about 150 pounds and I strike mid-foot; I have high arches and a high-volume foot.
Mizuno Wave Rider 20 Blue Depths/Silver/Red, Lateral View – The Wave is higher, with more EVA underneath.
Stats: (thanks to Running Warehouse®)
Heel to Toe Drop – 30 mm heel, 18 mm forefoot
Weight – 10.4 oz
Price – $120
This year’s Wave Plate update moves in a softer direction. Mizuno’s marketing materials state that the latest plate utilizes a softer cloudwave geometry, emphasizing “cushioning, stability and responsiveness” at the extreme heel. Mizuno attributes this to a new convex Wave Plate design, designed to guide the transition to the forefoot. The responsiveness is also achieved by increasing the influence of EVA foam layers on the ride character. Don’t believe the marketing materials advertising the Wave Plate’s “incredibly springy and well-cushioned ride”. When it comes to responsiveness, it’s foam doing the heavy lifting on the Wave Rider 20.
The new ride character is also achieved by ending the Wave Plate short of the heel, where the two layers of midsole foam and the decoupled U4icX heel pad laps upward to receive the plate. In previous iterations, the Wave Plate was capped at the heel with an ultra-firm EVA layer sandwiched between the top and bottom layers. I assume that Mizuno tweaked the geometry to allow the Wave Plate to transition straight into the EVA in order to soften the impact at extreme heel strike, the target audience of the Wave Rider 20.
Wave Plate is filled in from underneath with more EVA than last year’s model.
This leads me to the Wave Rider’s dual identities as a neutral shoe and a motion control shoe. My foot lands on the far outside and experiences an exaggerated roll towards toe off, so the idea of a neutral shoe that stabilizes some of that motion is appealing. (Editor's Note: John is a mid/forefoot striker but lands with a very high amount of inversion prior to landing. This leads him to have a greater distance to fall to get his first MTP joint on the ground. Thus he pronates heavily from initial contact to toe-off at the forefoot). The motion control components of the Wave Rider are isolated in the heel, and while I can happily report that the Wave Rider succeeds in reducing some of my foot’s extreme roll, it sacrifices some versatility and feels awkward when forefoot striking.
I came to the Wave Rider with a hope that the stiff Wave Plate might read as responsiveness, a notion I was quickly disabused of. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the Wave Plate’s response is to absorb and dissipate the energy of the foot-strike, so there is no energy returned. It would be more accurate to say that the energy is disposed of. A landing in the Wave Plate’s sphere of influence (anywhere behind the first flex groove) feels flat, as it should. I preferred the empty feel of the Wave Plate to the aggressive, arch-bruising shove of heavily posted shoes.
The sole is flexible starting after the shorter of the two flex grooves. Note heel cavity, deeper than previous models.
Mizuno’s branded carbon rubber, X10, is localized to the heel, while the forefoot is a proprietary blown rubber. I’m very impressed by the traction of this shoe, and I always felt confident in the Wave Rider. Running downhill on asphalt in heavy rain? No problem. Running on that slippery fine-grained equestrian trail material in L.A. and Orange County where we train? No problem.
The motion control components of the Wave Rider 20 aren’t limited to the massive Wave Plate located in the rearfoot and midfoot. Mizuno’s proprietary Flex Controller act as “miniature wave plates” throughout the midsole and are designed to localize flexibility to specific zones. I’m not sure exactly what this means, but I will report that the wear pattern on the outsole shows that I’m not landing on the outside edge, even during flying 200-meter repeats on the track. Since this is the specific failure surface for most of my shoes, this improves the lifespan of a shoe for me. I’m very impressed by the durability of this shoe and I expect to get 300+ miles from this shoe.
The Mizuno Wave Rider 20 delivers the model’s signature roomy toebox. For its conservative appearance, the Wave Rider is a deceptively high-volume fit. The forefoot is generous, no crowding of the toes here. Mizuno’s Dynamotion Fit delivers a snug fit in the heel while maintaining a roomy forefoot and mid-foot. The heel fit is about as solid as it should be for a neutral or motion-control shoe, with adequate padding. For my high arch, the fit through the midfoot was a little too roomy. The Dynamotion Fit, designed to stretch in the toebox and provide stiff support at the heel and midfoot, was a little too vague for me. If a shoe’s primary selling point is a high-tech motion control system, I’m willing to accept a tighter fit that grabs my foot sufficiently to maximize the Wave Plate’s influence over it. The Dynamotion Fit is very standard, about the same as the Nike Pegasus.
At quicker paces, my foot felt uncomfortably free in the upper. I felt like my foot and the shoe were doing different things; my forward arch felt unsupported as my foot crowded towards the edge of the upper. The Wave Rider felt most in its element when I picked up my cadence and landed lightly at the heel. As a midfoot striker, I get up on my toes to increase the pace, so it was disappointing to fight the mechanics of the shoe.
Heel and Toe. Note how the red U4icX heel unit overlaps upward to cover the Wave Plate, a new WR20 feature.
Stroebel stitch. Note how narrow and medially biased the stitch is, causing the upper to wrap underneath the foot. Also, the old-school free-floating tongue.
For my foot and running style, the shoe didn’t achieve the much-sought-after “disappearance” effect, though it felt like support through the midfoot was AWOL. I have a high arch but not a narrow foot, and I felt an uncomfortable degree of lateral travel. The Stroebel stitch where the upper connects to the midfoot is narrower than shoes with a snug midfoot fit, so I attribute this effect to the conventional lacing system. The stroebel stitch’s footprint is much tighter than the extents of the midsole, causing the upper to hug the edges of the foot. However, without much lacing customization available, I found myself cinching the shoe much tighter than I wanted in order to get the midfoot locked down.
Mizuno’s Triple Zone Mesh provides different levels of breathability, with Engineered Mesh leading the charge at the forefoot. With the exception of the gigantic Mizuno logo at the midfoot, the midfoot’s is minimal and ventilates adequately. Sockless runners beware, exposed stitches galore along the logo at medial and lateral midfoot – a minimal OrthoLite Sockliner offers protection elsewhere. The rearfoot’s high-tech collar construction feels solid but isn’t stiff, and the heel counter is about two thirds height, similar to Adidas soft counters.
While not technically “seamless” as advertised in the marketing materials, given the prominent exposed stitches, the interior has no major hot-spots. The tongue is a traditional, free-floating tongue, with soft finished edges, no friction to be found. The laces are a very satisfying stretch material. Reflectivity abounds; the reflective material wraps all the way around the heel and midfoot. However, the reflectivity falls short the blinding 3M Scotchlite material found in the Pegasus and Supernova. On the Wave Rider this ultra-bright material is reserved for the tiny Runbird logo on a leather island at the rear of the heel.
Reflective elements photographed in low light with flash.
The Mizuno Wave Rider’s firm ride has been streamlined mostly with softer EVA blend at the heel (only Mizuno’s engineers can comment on modifications to the Wave Plate). A midfoot striker like myself is missing out on the full package (wear pattern indicates I’m definitely contacting the lateral heel, in addition much of the exposed portion of the TPU Wave Plate). Checking in at the 100 mile mark, I’m seeing minor wear in the forefoot and significant wear at the medial extreme of the heel.
My past experience with soft midsole materials stabilized by hard plastic shanks has been negative (Supernova Glide 6 Boost, Nike Streak 5, Nike Vomero 6) so I applaud Mizuno for proving me wrong by keeping the ride firm. The shoe felt stable and planted (if clunky) at paces from tempo to recovery.
While the forefoot’s neutral EVA and blown rubber offers a stable landing, something feels like the Wave Rider is penalizing me for landing there. It’s important to note that the placement of the Wave Plate limits flexibility to the forefoot past the first flex groove (starting from the heel). This is the reality of the Wave Rider’s motion control feature: the rigidity of the Wave Plate and the geometry of the shoe are designed to cancel landing forces at the heel and guide the foot to toe-off. It achieves this, but not every foot-strike will get the most from this design.
Room for Improvement
On an aesthetic note, the materials and design deliver a classic look. This shoe is sort of a collage of tried and true elements that combine for a pleasing effect. For example, the forefoot generally is lifted almost directly from the Pegasus 29. I’m cool with this, as the Peg 29 is one of my all-time favorites, but I sort of wish they’d mixed it up and outfitted the Wave Rider with the same engineered mesh as the Mizuno Wave Inspire 12 (also seen on last year’s Nike Streaks and the old Brooks Green Silence). Speaking of design cues, similarly, the midfoot features a diamond pattern that calls out the North Face’s shoe line, which is itself a reference to Salomon’s distinctive striping.
Nike Pegasus 29 and Mizuno Wave Rider 20. Note the ragged-looking edge of the double-stitched toe bumper.
Two elements were out of sync: the toe bumper material’s raw-looking edge looks a little funky. Also I found that the massive embossed silver Mizuno logo cheap-looking. Rather than bridging the heel and forefoot materials with a huge structural element (the stitches of which are exposed to the foot), transition the gorgeous heel wrap into the midfoot as seen on competing shoes like the Asics FuzeX. We can do it, we have the technology!
Outsole after 100 miles. Note wear at exposed Wave Plate through midfoot and at lateral heel.
Finally, I know Mizuno will never change this, but I don’t like the separation of the forefoot and heel bridged by a TPU shank. I’m always afraid that I’m going to high-center my foot on the exposed Wave Plate and trip. Similarly, the expanded cavity under the heel trapped all manner of snow, mud, leaves, etc during test runs in the Pacific Northwest. It’s 2017, can’t we shave weight somewhere else? (Editor's Note: I have discussed my dislike of midfoot shanks that are not integrated well into the midsole due to the fact that separated outsole coverage makes the shoe less stable, smooth and can lead to an additional flex point. A flex point in the midfoot that the normal foot does not have. Would love to see Mizuno try a few more trainers without that).
This shoe does best for runners who heel-strike and have a light gait. The Wave Rider shined running at a high-turnover, low knee-lift cadence. For road running at marathon distances, it’s a singular shoe. However, mid- and forefoot strikers may find the Wave Plate intrusive, especially at quicker paces. The Wave Plate extends far enough into the midfoot to exert significant influence on the behavior of the forefoot. is durable and impressive, but lacks the versatility of competing neutral trainers. It’s a unique product, beautifully executed, and it isn’t for everyone.
Pros: Stable and dependable shoe for mileage. High-quality upper and roomy fit, classic aesthetics and plenty of reflectivity.
Cons: Not for everyone- best for heel-strikers and those lighter on their feet craving a firm, grounded ride.
These opinions are my own, these were a personal purchase, and I received no monetary compensation for this review. - John.
Editors Note: As always, the views presented on this blog belong to myself or the selected few who contribute to these posts). My blog should not and does not serve as a replacement for seeking medical care. If you are currently injured or concerned about an injury, please see your local running physical therapist. If you are in the LA area, I am currently taking clients for running evaluations.
Currently John has around 150 miles on his pair of Mizuno Wave Rider 20s. We put at least 50-75 miles on trainers and 25 miles on racing flats prior to reviewing them. If you are a footwear rep looking for footwear reviews or consultations on development, we are currently looking to partner with companies to assist, discuss and promote footwear models. Partnership will not affect the honesty of our reviews.
Thanks for reading and don't forget to tack on!
Dr. Matthew Klein, PT, DPT
Casa Colina Orthopedic Resident
The Running Shoe DPT