Shoe Reviews: Mizuno Wave Universe and Mizuno Wave Ronin

mizuno_logo I’m going to do something of a departure from my norm here and review two shoes in a single post. My reason for opting to do this is twofold: 1. both pairs of shoes were provided to me by the same manufacturer at the same time (disclosure – these we both test samples provided free of charge), and 2. if I could take the best features from both, it would make for a pretty incredible running shoe.

The Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flat is a well known shoe to minimalist runners. In fact, for reasons I’ll go into in more detail below, it’s probably one of the most popular choices out there for the minimalist runner who prefers a more traditionally styled running shoe. The Mizuno Wave Ronin, on the other hand, falls more into the category of a lightweight trainer/racer, and would be classified more as a very mild transitional shoe on the scale of minimalism. I had never tried Mizuno shoes prior to receiving these, and there are things that I like a lot about both. At the same time, if I were in control of design, there are changes I would make to each. As I alluded to above, a shoe taking the best aspects of each and packaging them together would be pretty impressive.

Mizuno Wave Universe Lateral

Mizuno Wave Universe 4

Mizuno Wave Ronin

Mizuno Wave Ronin 2

Appearance

The two images above pretty much say it all. The Mizuno Wave Universe 3 is a pretty uninspired shoe from an aesthetic standpoint. I might even go so far as to call it an ugly shoe. When I wear a racing flat, I like it to look fast, and as I have said in previous reviews, I do believe that the appearance of a shoe can give the wearer a psychological boost. The Wave Universe 3 is composed of a layer of open white mesh underlain by a more tightly woven, and somewhat scratchy, layer of red synthetic mesh. Some have commented that this gives the shoe an almost pinkish appearance from the outside. The silver overlays do add a bit of flare, but on the whole the shoe could use some more aggressive styling. Looks like Mizuno might just agree here, as the recently announced Mizuno Wave Universe 4 is reported on the Running Warehouse blog to have a “new vibrant orange upper with a few welded black flame overlays.”

The Mizuno Wave Ronin, in contrast, is an incredible looking shoe – probably one of my top 5 personal favorites from a design standpoint. I love the bright yellow and blue color scheme, and the patterns added onto the heel counter and forefoot overlay are a nice touch. Unlike the Wave Universe, the Ronin’s appearance fits its role as a road racing shoe meant for speed.

Mizuno Wave Universe Sole

Sole of Mizuno Wave Universe 3

Mizuno Wave Ronin

Sole of Mizuno Wave Ronin 4

Construction

One thing I will say about the Mizuno shoes is they are very well built. One somewhat unique feature found on each is the structure of the outsole. Unlike most shoes where a softer midsole is covered by large, more durable rubber outsole elements, both of these shoes have soles in which the outsole is mostly composed of small bits of patterned rubber that are glued to a layer of fabric. The only other shoe I have seen with something similar is the Saucony Grid Type A4. My guess is that this type of construction saves weight, and it will be interesting to see how it holds up as I run more miles in them (if anyone can comment on durability, please do – takes me a long time to run big miles in a pair of shoes since I review so many).

Of particular note regarding construction is the weight of the Mizuno Wave Universe – it’s freakishly light. In fact, when they first arrived in the mail and I picked up the box, it was hard to believe there was even a shoe in there. My size 10 weigh in at 3.9 oz each, which means that both of the Universe shoes together weigh less than just a single member of my pair of Ronins, which weigh 8.2 oz each. That’s saying something, especially since the Ronin is pretty light as running shoes go. I’m not sure how Mizuno managed to shed so much weight from this shoe, but it’s amazing, and definitely one of it’s major positives. The Universe is the lightest shoe in my collection by a fair margin, and I’d love to see more companies follow Mizuno’s lead (I believe the Asics Piranha and Adidas Adizero PR are the only others that currently compare).

Regarding heel-forefoot height differential, I measure the Wave Ronin (with some fancy new digital C-calipers) at 25 mm heel, 16 mm forefoot, for a HF drop of 9mm. I measure the Wave Universe at 15 mm heel, 10 mm forefoot, for a HF drop of only 5 mm. The latter is worth highlighting as the 9 mm drop reported for the Wave Universe on the Running Warehouse website is clearly in error – I have had at least 3 independent confirmations that the drop is in fact right around 5 mm (Update 12/1/10: Looks like RW has updated this to a 5 mm drop, thought they still only report midsole values – outsole and sockliner not included.)

Mizuno Wave Universe Medial

Medial View of Mizuno Wave Universe 3

Mizuno Wave Ronin

 Medial View of Mizuno Wave Ronin 2

Fit and Feel

One thing that both the Universe and Ronin share is a very comfortable fit. Both have fairly roomy toeboxes (Ronin is one of the widest I own), and neither crunches my toes in any way. I’d go so far as to say that the Ronin is one of the most comfortable shoes that I own, though I have heard that the next generation Ronin will have a redesigned upper. Apparently people had complained that the Ronin 2 was too loose in the forefoot, but I for one find this to be one of its virtues.

The Wave Universe is an interesting shoe in terms of fit and feel. It’s remarkable roomy for such a minimal flat, though a bit less-so than the Ronin, and the insole-less footbed is coated with a terry-cloth like material and feels very nice. I have not tried running sockless in them as the scratchy inner mesh and a few seams have me a bit worried about chafing. The Universe is also pretty flexible despite it’s fairly firm midsole, and overall I find it to be a very comfortable shoe in terms of fit.

Mizuno Wave Universe Top Mizuno wave Ronin Top

Top Views of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 (left) & Mizuno Wave Ronin 2 (right)

Performance

This is where these two shoes really reveal their differences. Because it rides close to the ground and has a lower heel, I find the Mizuno Wave Universe to be one of the easiest shoes in my collection in which to maintain a midfoot/forefoot strike. This is a bit odd since I have many shoes that are similar in terms of heel-forefoot drop, but for some reason the Universe seems to just feel right when it comes to maintaining good form. Perhaps it’s because it’s light, flexible, and firm underfoot – really hard to say for sure. I would recommend this shoe as a solid choice for someone looking to work on a midfoot strike yet retain the feel and look of a traditional running shoe.

On the downside, the firmness of the sole of the Wave Universe seems to cause my legs to tire faster in these shoes – again, I’m not sure why, but it’s similar to the feeling I get running in the Saucony Grid Type A4 or New Balance Minimus Road. Perhaps it’s just me – relatively thin, firm soled shoes may not be ideal for my gait and body type. It’s also quite possible that I simply haven’t run in them frequently enough to adapt – I do know runners who have completed marathons in the Universe with nothing but positive things to say.

The Wave Ronin, on the other hand, is most definitely a heel striking shoe for me – I don’t even try to fight it. I think I have determined that 6-7mm drop is about my threshold for being able to run on my midfoot, and the Ronin exceeds that by a bit. At 9 mm drop, it’s by no means a heel stomper, but there is enough there to make it a soft ride. If you are looking to ease into minimalist shoes very slowly, the Ronin might be a good first step. If you are a minimalist runner who sees occasional value in running in a heeled shoe, the Ronin is better than most shoes out there. If you are a heel striker and could care less about running on your midfoot, then the Ronin is a great choice. I’d probably compare the Ronin most closely to the Brooks Launch in my collection – a comfortable, lightweight trainer/racer that would work well as an all around shoe for someone who doesn’t much care about heel height. For me, it has more heel than I prefer, though this did come in handy after I strained my peroneal tendon in the Manchester Marathon – running in the Ronin seemed to ease the strain for a few days and allow me to keep running.

Mizuno Wave Universe Back Mizuno Wave Ronin

Rear Views of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 (left) & Wave Ronin 2 (right)

Conclusions

All in all, I like both of these shoes quite a bit. Being my first two pairs of Mizuno’s, I’m impressed with the construction – both are very solidly built. They both have their pros and cons, and cobbling together a single shoe from the best features of each would produce one fine piece of footwear. In fact, if Mizuno could take the Wave Ronin as is and remove the heel lift (or at least lower it significantly), it would probably be one of my favorite running shoes hands down. It fits my foot perfectly, is extremely comfortable, and looks great. The Wave Universe on the other hand is extremely light and flexible and is a solid shoe for midfoot strikers. It could use a makeover (which is apparently coming with the MWU4), and I seem to have some trouble with the firm sole, but as I said above that’s probably just me. At least for now, I’ll probably use it mostly for speedwork and/or shorter races, and save something with a bit more give for the long runs.

Both the Mizuno Wave Universe and Mizuno Wave Ronin are available at Running Warehouse.

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About Peter Larson

This post was authored by Peter Larson. Pete is a recovering academic who currently works as an exercise physiologist, running coach, and writer. He's also a father of three and a fanatical runner with a bit of a shoe obsession. In addition to writing and editing this site, he is co-author of the book Tread Lightly, and writes a personal blog called The Blogologist. Follow Pete on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and via email.

Comments

  1. Do both shoes fit the same when you only look at the size?

  2. Greg Strosaker says:

    Pete, your impressions of Mizuno’s jive with my own (though I’ve only used the Riders and Precisions to date) and others; the toebox is roomy, the soles are an odd combination of stiff/hard and flexible. I have been really pleased with the way mine have shown only minimal wear on the sole after 400+ miles, so I suspect you would see the same thing with more miles on yours. I do think the Ronin’s may be my next step, as I honestly have found that most other shoes now feel too “cushy” compared to the hard soles of the Mizuno’s – I’ve gotten to like the way you can really feel the road in them.

    • Pete Larson says:

      Thanks Greg – I think you’ll like the Ronin.

      Pete

    • I agree with what you are saying about firm shoes. I have the opposite experience as Pete because I feel that when I am in cushy shoes I am losing all my energy into the ground and my alignment is all off in my body. When I am in firm shoes my legs feel like springs and I like the feel of the ground. I run in the musha right now because of that firm cushion feel. I feel like it has the same fit and feel as the ronin. I am able to run great form in it. I can’t wait for the minimus road and the altera instinct because I have heard that they are both firm rides too.

      • Pete Larson says:

        Yeah, I keep wavering on the cushion vs. firm preference. I had such a good
        experience running my BQ in the Kinvaras that I have developed a fondness
        for their cushier feel, whereas the firmer A4 didn’t work out as well. That
        being said, for a 5K I would probably opt for a firmer shoe.

        Regarding the Minimus Road, it’s an interesting shoe. Very firm and a very
        comfortable fit for me. It almost feels flat, though I know there is a small
        lift. Can’t wait to hear what others think about it.

        Pete

  3. AshwynGray says:

    It’s great to see how you compare the Universe to the Ronin. I’ve been wanting to try the Universe. But, the price is too high for almost-pink shoes, imho. ;-) I really like my Ronin’s for longer road runs, though. And, with a little more practice, I’m confident that you can manage an easy mid-foot strike in them.

  4. Nick Fusco says:

    I know exactly what you mean when you say, “the Wave Universe seems to cause my legs to tire faster in these shoes – again, I’m not
    sure why, but it’s similar to the feeling I get running in the Saucony
    Grid Type A4.” When I wear my A4′s my feet feel like they’re working so much harder than, say, in my Kinvara’s. I love the minimalist feeling in my A4′s, but my feet and legs just feet beat up in them. I can run the same distance in my Hattori’s and not have the same feeling, probably due to their soft outsole.

  5. Geeksunited2013 says:

    Hey, incredible review! The wave universe’s are an incredible shoe. Few others I have could compare to it. In fact, I ended up running a half marathon PR in them. (1:19:52) Overall, they’re the best shoes I own.

  6. RunningPT12 says:

    I’ve not had good experiences with the runners I’ve seen using the Ronin. From the video analyses I’ve done on them, they all consistently use greater than normal subtalar motion at mid and late stance – then again, I primarily see injured runners, but it’s unusual to have one shoe cause such a problem so consistently.

    • I am interested to here of what shoes that you have found that work better? Do you have any thoughts why that is with the Ronin? Is it the plastic wave plate that is used?

      • RunningPT12 says:

        The plastic keel may well be part of the problem, although I’m more suspicious that its the durometer of the midsole material. Runners who I’ve examined in Ronins have all shown so much rearfoot eversion that their heels were practically rolling out of the medial rearfoot – a great way to develop an achilles injury. Surprisingly, another shoe I’ve seen recently that has the same problem is the ASICS Tarther.

        • Pete Larson says:

          I would suspect the soft midsole in the heel combined with lack of any kind
          of medial heel flare. Doesn’t take much to tip a shoe over when it has that
          configuration, even if you aren’t normally an overpronator when barefoot.
          Had a guy write a post about this awhile back – he saw the same thing in the
          Adidas Adios:
          link to runblogger.com

          Pete

          • I remember that post now. Thanks for making the connection for me Pete. So trying to bring all of this together the best shoe would be a very low to the ground firm shoe that has a wide base. Am I missing anything? Are there any shoes on the market right now or are coming soon that have these features ? Can anyone think of any examples besides going barefoot?

          • Pete Larson says:

            Not necessarily – I think the issue is that if you have a softer midsole,
            you need to make sure its not going to cave in on the medial side when the
            foot pronates, which can exaggerate the pronation. This is where some
            medial heel flaring may help. I’m really curious to see what Saucony is
            doing with the Hattori given that it’s only 4.4 oz and has what looks like a
            softer, Kinvara style midsole.

            Pete

        • That’s pretty interesting. I have a forefoot/midfoot strike, but still had the achilles tenonitis thanks to the Ronins after running the Asheville half marathon in September.

    • I used the Ronins for a few weeks and ended up with achilles tendonitis. Nothing had changed about my running but the shoes. I got rid of them and my achilles has been fine since.

  7. Marty Zaleski says:

    My old Mizuno Wave Elixir 3′s had that same thing on the midsole: the dots glued to the bottom. Great traction, but they wore off fairly quickly. Granted, I was trying to train myself to midfoot-strike while working my way up to my first marathon in those, so I suspect I was doing a fair bit of ground-scraping. Currently on another pair of Elixir’s for trail running and Newton Isaac’s for road.

  8. I’ve owned the Universe and run in it for the past year. I ran a marathon in them less than a week after getting the shoes and I loved them! They’re the only shoe I have that offer the same amount of ground feel as my Vibrams. I’d say that they’re a little more cushioned than my Bikilas but not by a whole lot.

    My only gripe is the scratchy mesh inside the shoe. I still wear them sockless from time to time but haven’t done anything longer than 10 miles without socks.

    All in all it’s a great shoe. Besides my 101′s they’re probably the only pair of “real shoes” I’ll ever run in.

  9. GottaBeDaShoes says:

    I have to agree at how amazingly lite the Waves are, but have struggled with pain and inflammation in the ball of my left foot under my second toe (Metatarsalgia) after only 4/4 mile runs. I can’t decide if it is due to the thinner sole, the scratchy insole causing friction, or both. Maybe they are too minimalist, as I have been running in Nike Free 3.0 v2 and the Newton Gravity.

  10. Thanks for the review.

    I ran in the previous version of the Ronin for a long time, I would guess at least 600 miles. They are quite durable – the first thing to give out on mine was the outsole under the 4th/5th metatarsals, which is right where I usually strike.

    I actually modified mine a bit by slicing off the outsole and most of the midsole on the heel, just under that plastic “wave plate” up to the plastic plate at midfoot. The modification was quite easy – just one slice with a serrated knife – and saved a bit of weight while greatly reducing the toe drop.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I was checking out that bit of cushion under the wave plate – didn’t look
      too hard to remove, but wasn’t sure how it would feel if the near explosed
      plastic was there on the heel.

      Pete

  11. Jonniegee1965 says:

    Sorry, just commented in another window about how much I like the Waves. I agree with everything in the review, super light and very little heel to toe/balls difference. My favorite running shoe next to me VFFs.

  12. FYI the Universe 3 is on closeout at runningwarehouse. Including the discount that Pete gives us, you can grab them for $76 right now.  I grabbed a pair of these & NB Minimus Trails last night

  13. The Wave Musha is like a combination of the Ronin and Universe; flat like the Universe, but with a little extra cushion. I used them a couple years ago and really like them. Not much heel/toe drop. My guess is probably right inbetween the Uni and Ronin. I never had a problem heelstriking in the Musha. I’m thinking of getting the Musha 3 when it comes out. Pete: you’ll love the colors as well.

    • Pete Larson says:

      I was tempted by the Musha – the heel looks lower, but Running Warehouse
      lists the specs the same as for the Ronin. They were wrong initially about
      the Universe as well though, so maybe that is off as well. I do like the
      look!

      Pete

      • AshwynGray says:

        The Musha is pretty much like the Ronin, but with a little extra support for pronation. I’ve read that it is a tad wider, too. I’d be incredibly surprised if the heel were any lower on the Musha.

  14. I have recently purchased a pair of Ronin 2′s.  I have only put six miles on them, but I love their comfort.  I have run faster in them than my Mizuno Wave Inspire 6′s and Saucony Progrid Mirages. I have had no discomfort in them despite being an overpronator with an overuse knee injury that occasionally flares up in the other two (stability) shoes.  

  15. Can you draw any comparisons between the Wave Universe and Kinvaras? What I gather from your review is that the Kinvaras would provide a softer, more cushioned ride. I like them for that, but keep going back to my Adidas AdiZero Manas for a stiffer feel. It sounds like the Wave Universe might compliment the Manas in that respect.

    • Pete Larson says:

      You’re right on in that comparison – the Kinvara is much cushier than the
      Universe. The Wave Universe is more comparable to the Saucony Grid Type A4,
      but lighter and a bit more flexible. Both of the latter two feel firmer
      underfoot.

      Pete

  16. Yesterday (1/18/11) I bought a pair of Wave Musha 3 running shoes. I have been running in 5 fingers KSO model which I like, but i wanted a little more cushion for hard pavement. I really like the KSO for beach running on Daytona beach FL, and running on a treadmill. I was looking for the Brooks Green Silence based on what I read in your article, but they were not available. I ran 2.5 miles yesterday in the Wave Musha 3′s and really like them so far. The heel is low and I was able to run with them like I do with the KSO model. So far so good. I have been running over for over 30 years and I am excited about the minimilist concept.

  17. Anyone able to compare these and Asics Piranha?
    Thanks

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