By Brian Metzler
The Mizuno Wave Rider is a versatile neutral training shoe that has transcended generations of runners, but it’s also evolved considerably over the past several years. The new Wave Rider 26 is just as much of an everyday trainer workhorse as its predecessors, but it brings more cushiness and comfort and a softer, smoother ride. It maintains its more traditional geometry — i.e. the 12mm heel/toe offset — but smart refinements and new materials have given it a modern vibe. Mizuno hasn’t been one of the most visible brands in recent years, but no matter if you ran in a version of the Wave Rider back in the day or if you’ve never heard of the Wave Rider, it’s capable of being a do-everything pleaser for a wide range of runners.
What’s New: As the Wave Rider has evolved through the years, especially in recent editions, it has gotten softer, more responsive and more comfortable. The 26th edition has been boosted by 2mm more of lively Enerzy midsole foam from heel to toe, adding to the cushy feel and modestly propulsive ride it had last year. There’s also a slimmer Wave plate that’s positioned slightly further forward to add a more energetic sensation, and a softer, thinner, more pliable jacquard upper that helps create a secure fit.
Why It’s Great: The Wave Rider is great because it’s so versatile and durable. It’s a shoe that’s capable of doing anything you ask it to with very good results. It’s cushy and supportive enough to handle moderately long runs. It’s light, agile and springy enough for speed work. It’s comfy and relaxed enough for recovery runs. And it’s durable enough for most runners to rack up 400+ miles in it. What else do you need in a shoe? For an all-around shoe that could be the only shoe in your quiver. Sure, it’s not as cushy as your max-cushioned trainers and not as fast as some more lively training shoes, but for the money (and its $140 price tag) it’s actually a bargain compared to some shoes that are $20 to $40 pricier.
Fit/Feel/Ride: The Wave Rider 26 fits true to size and has a medium/narrow volume from heel to toe, but it feels slightly more snug in the toe box than many modern training shoes. The step-in feel is soft and comfortable — though not overly plush — but that helps it feel more precise and crisp instead of foamy and sloppy. The new mesh upper and a modified lacing system help create a more compact and even more cozy fit for a variety of foot shapes. The ride is very similar to last year’s Wave Rider 25, only better in just about every way. The increase in midsole foam, along with the Wave Plate’s sleeker design and forward positioning, contributes to a slightly softer and more energetic ride. It has the feel of a traditional trainer – noticeably higher and slightly softer in the heel and lower and firmer in the forefoot. There’s no flowy rocker geometry like many modern training shoes, but instead it flexes nicely as a runner’s foot approaches the toe-off phase.
Why You’ll Love It: Although it’s versatile and capable of everything, the Wave Runner 26 excels at short to medium length runs (up to about 8 to 10 miles), midweek workouts and recovery runs. It could take you through a weekend 20-miler, but it’s not going to feel as cushy or accommodating as a max-cushion shoe, of course. Its versatility makes it a great shoe to take on vacations and work trips or a great shoe to keep stashed in your car or at your office for the days your running plans change or get rescheduled without much warning.
Wave Rider 26
Weights: 8.3 oz. women’s 8; 10.0 oz. men’s 9
Heel-Toe Offset: 12mm (38.5mm in the heel, 26.5mm in the forefoot)
Pro: Mizuno put more conscious effort into redesigning the Wave Rider with sustainable materials. For example, the Wave Plate in this year’s edition is made of a castor bean bio derivative that produces 25 percent less CO2 emissions than previous Pebax editions made out of pure petroleum. Also, the upper, shoelaces, vamp, tongue, lining, heel cap and eyelet backing reinforcement are all made from a high percentage of recycled polyester.
Con: OK, so the one thing that might be awkward about the Wave Rider 26 is the one thing that’s been with it from the start: a high heel/toe offset. Not many shoes have a 12mm heel/toe offset anymore, but that’s not inherently a bad thing. Combined with the firmer feeling, however, the ride will feel more traditional.