In 1997, the MIZUNO Corporation of America was dissolved and MIZUNO USA, INC. was created in its place. Unless you were in a Mizuno office at the time, chances are you didn’t notice. Yet, changes went beyond just the name on the building as the decisions made during the transition have impacted the design of Mizuno products over the past decade.
Companies like ASICS and Nike were gobbling up sales at running stores around the country by injecting their shoes with ever-more Gel (ASICS) and Air (Nike), always searching to create a softer ride for runners. Mizuno, on the other hand, thought that not all running customers were looking for more and more cushioning in their running shoes. In order to differentiate their product, Mizuno focused their energy on designing a shoe that dispersed the stride’s energy in a way that propelled the runner forward rather than simply cushioning the blow upon impact. The result was a thermoplastic, wave-shaped unit in the midsole of the shoe. Thus, the Mizuno Wave Rider was born.
The Wave Design
Inspired by nature’s propulsive forces, Mizuno’s Wave plate acts like a spring, redirecting downward energy into a forward motion. For example, the ocean’s waves gather momentum from winds of varied directions, pushing breakers towards the shore. In the same way, the Mizuno Wave plate was designed to bring together the forces that occur during a foot strike and use that compiled energy in a positive way. In addition to a springy underfoot experience, the Wave plate also has pronation-corrective properties as well. Lateral movement will also be redirected forward by the physics of the shoe, although the Rider is designed for neutral runners. The Wave plate has taken different shapes to accommodate the need for more significant pronation control in shoes like the Inspire and Paradox, for example. While the Wave plate does not create the plush experience of other midsole technologies, the ride of the shoe cannot be found anywhere else.
The Evolution of the Wave Rider
As you might have suspected, it didn’t take long for the Wave Rider to take off. The unique ride experience of the Wave plate and innovations like AIRmesh and Intercool in the second and fourth editions of the Wave Rider won over customers and inspired others to adopt similar features in shoes across the running industry. The Wave Rider 6 switched the Wave plate from plastic to a composite material, making the shoe lighter, the ride smoother, and the landing softer. These early innovations not only won over the hearts of runners but also caused the editors at Runner’s World magazine to take notice. The Wave Rider 2 won the Editor’s Choice award and the Wave Rider 6 earned Best Update honors.
Despite the awards, Mizuno was not content letting their flagship shoe become stale. With the Wave Rider 8, Mizuno wagered that the decoupled outsole in their new SmoothRide Engineering design would enhance the Wave plate’s ability to disperse energy while letting the foot naturally spread the shock of each foot strike. This is another Wave Rider technology now imitated across the running industry. Other notable innovations included the Dynamotion upper in the Wave Rider 11 and the Pebax Rnew Wave plate in the Wave Rider 12. Dynamotion and the Pebax Wave correlated with more Runner’s World awards as the Wave Rider 11 won “Best Buy” and the Wave Rider 12 was crowned “Editor’s Choice.”
Innovation is risky, and whether Mizuno was responding to competitors or listening to retailers when looking for ways to update the trusty Rider model, hindsight reveals that the changes made to the Wave Rider 14 did not resonate with consumers. Mizuno changed the upper in efforts to create a more secure fit than before. Unfortunately, “plush” can feel “bulky” and “secure” can mean “constrictive.” So, while the new upper on top of the ride platform may have made for a great shoe, it just wasn’t right for the faithful Wave Rider customer. A few years later, the Mizuno Wave Rider 17 may have gone too far in the other direction. Mizuno stripped the upper of almost all structural overlays and changed the Wave plate from Pebax to polyurethane. While Mizuno did successfully create a shoe that enhances the foot’s ability to move through the gait cycle naturally, the lack of structure didn’t cater to those who worried about its ability to last through the high mileage required of a daily trainer.
The Wave Rider 18
The latest Wave Rider 18 has found a way to build on what the last model did right while fixing the some of the shortcomings. The iconic Runbird logo on the side provides security around the midfoot, while an overlay along the lace eyelets ensures an even fit all the way up the shoe. Additional strapping exists within the upper to allow for a minimalist look while maintaining the structure needed for high mileage training. The Wave plate has returned to the Pebax material that won over many Wave Rider fans in the past, helping make the Wave Rider 18 the lightest shoe in the neutral category for everyday use.
The Wave Rider evolution has delivered one of the most innovative and beloved shoes in the industry. Mizuno’s willingness to take risks with their flagship shoe has paid off with technology that spreads throughout their entire line of running shoes, and their inspiration can be seen beyond the borders of the Mizuno brand.