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 4
Mizuno Wave Ronin 2
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.
Sole of Mizuno Wave Universe 3
Sole of Mizuno Wave Ronin 4
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.)
Medial View of Mizuno Wave Universe 3
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.
Top Views of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 (left) & Mizuno Wave Ronin 2 (right)
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.
Rear Views of the Mizuno Wave Universe 3 (left) & Wave Ronin 2 (right)
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.