Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Gear Review: Mizuno Wave Universe 5

The Mizuno Wave Universe 4 was a cool shoe. Light, responsive, flexible, and fast, it was the closest thing to my beloved Adidas adiZero PR that I could find (the PR was an early ultralight that had been discontinued a while ago). It had one big issue that held it back though, and that was the somewhat sloppy upper, which traded the sleek performance-fit of the PR for a roomy forefoot that seemed more in-line with minimalist shoes allowing for toe-splay than racing flats that prioritized speed. Thankfully, Mizuno has finally realized that women like to run fast too, and now offers both men's and women's specific Universes (women generally have proportionately narrower feet, and though the Universe 4 was finally available in small sizes, they were still men's D width instead of women's B width), and the gender-engineered Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is a winner.

The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is Mizuno's ultralight neutral racing flat. It weighs in at 2.8oz for a men's size 9 and 2.2oz for a women's size 8, and it has a stack height of 11/13 for a 2mm heel-toe drop. Running Warehouse describes the Universe as such:
The Universe 5 is a minimum feature, minimum neutral shoe designed for racing.
  • Mizuno Wave consists of an elastic, thermal plastic wave running from the heel to the midfoot, creating an incredibly springy and well-cushioned ride. 
  • U4ic is a lightweight midsole that provides optimal shock absorption, durability and a resilient ride.
  • Smooth Ride is a gender specific network of grooves that minimizes the rapid acceleration and deceleration of the foot to create a smooth heel to toe ride.
  • AIRmesh covers the entire upper and provides breathability to keep the foot cool.
  • Standard Sockliner provides underfoot comfort.
  • G3 Sole is a lightweight rubber dot pattern in the forefoot for increased grip and flexibility.

I remember, a few years back, the first time I picked up a pair of 3.7oz Nike Zoom Victories and being blown away by the weight (or lack thereof). The Universe 5 is almost a full ounce lighter than that, and it cuts over an ounce off of the 3.9oz Universe 4. In fact, I'm fairly certain that it's now the lightest racing flat on the market, at a full ounce lighter than the 3.8oz ASICS BlazingFast and a third of an ounce lighter than the 3.1oz New Balance RC5000. Not that you're going to notice an ounce, but take my word for it, these shoes are ridiculously light.

The midsole on the Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is very thin and lacks the TPU wave that many other Mizuno shoes use.

While the Running Warehouse description says that the Universe 5 has a plastic wave plate, it's lying. The Universe 5 uses the same colored foam "wave" as the Universe 4. This is perfectly fine by me. I get the thinking behind something putting extra cushioning features in trainers, depending on the intended audience's needs, but keep the plastic out of short-distance racing flats. The Universe 5 also ditches that weird little piece of plastic that the Universe 4 had in the middle of the sole that I don't think served any real purpose. As you've probably guessed based on the thin midsole and lack of a wave plate, the Universe 5 has very little cushioning, and really, it's all the better for it. This isn't a shoe that's meant to offer loads of cushioning. It's a shoe that's meant to put you as close to the ground as possible, that sacrifices cushioning for weight-savings and speed.

The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is an incredibly flexible shoe.

The Mizuno Wave Universe's torsional flexibility is also very high.

The Universe 4 was an incredibly flexible shoe, and the Universe 5 follows in its predecessor's flexible footsteps. With tons of both forefoot flexibility and torsional flexibility, as well as no heel counter (or any real structure to its upper, for that matter), the Universe 5 stays out of the way and lets your foot do whatever it wants. It disappears on my foot moreso than any of my other flats. However, this means that it really offers very, very minimal inherent stability, and has next to no structure to it at all, and is probably a poor choice for longer races and for people who prefer more shoe underneath them. I'd wear these for a 10K, and might push them for a half-marathon, but, for me personally, I would definitely not go any longer than that. (For perspective's sake, I've worn the adiZero PR and Brooks Mach Spikeless for half-marathons, but even those shoes have more structure than the Universe 5).

The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 lacks a heel counter.

As far as ride, I can only describe the Universe 5 as a track spike without a spike plate. It feels like it should be a spike, but it's more flexible than spikes usually are. It also tends to get you up on your toes the way a spike does, despite not being having spike stiffness. This characteristic is a strike against it for longer races (running long races on your toes is probably not the most efficient way to run), though if you like that spike-feel for short races and fast trackwork, you'll appreciate it in the Universe 5. Additionally, with such a thin midsole, the ride is responsive and fast.

The Universe 5's upper is incredibly thin and well-ventilated. They're pretty cold this time of year, but at least you won't overheat with them in the summer. It's also seamless and comfortable sockless. Really, the Universe 5 is a sock with rubber on the bottom, so unless you wear socks under your socks, I don't see much of a reason to bother with socks when wearing the Universe 5 either. Also, as stated previously, the baggy upper problem seems to be taken care of with the introduction of a women's version, though Pete Larson says that the men's version retains the wide forefoot.

The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 has a very thin and light upper, with barely any structure to it.

The Universe 5 is a cool looking shoe. Lately, I've been all about understated shoes, but I think I can make an exception for these. I'm a sucker for blue and orange (what can I say, it's my alma mater's colors!), and the bib number pattern looks better in person than in pictures. I'm also really happy Mizuno went with the same colorway for both the men's and women's shoe, since I really have not liked some of the Mizuno women's colorways lately (Bright Barbie-pink Wave Sayonara? Good shoe, puke colors).

Traction is good on asphalt, including wet asphalt. Traction is not so good on mud, and I would avoid taking these shoes on anything rocky, because you will feel every single rock stabbing through the sole, as the groundfeel is through the roof thanks to the thin midsole.

The Mizuno Wave Universe has good traction, but keeps durable outsole rubber to a minimum to reduce weight.

I'm worried about the Universe 5's durability. There's a lot of exposed midsole EVA on the sole ( can't have a shoe that light with a full outsole), so I'm sure that the sole will get chewed up quickly, and I'm a little worried about the thin upper potentially tearing. The exposed EVA on the forefoot showed early wear (like started to show wear after only 15 miles early), since there's actually exposed EVA that's just as low as the carbon rubber nubs, though it hasn't affected the ride of the least not yet. I haven't had any problems with the upper thus far, so hopefully my fears are unfounded, but I don't want a $125 shoe falling apart after a few races.

The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 is a one-trick pony that is an excellent shoe one purpose: running short and fast. It's not for long races (at least for the vast majority of people), it sucks for trails, and it has virtually no structure to it...but it stands head and shoulders above my current racing flat collection (including the Universe 4) for short races and short interval speedwork, and finally displaces the PR as my new king of ultralights.

The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 retails for $125 and is available on Mizuno's website, as well as at retailers where Mizuno products are sold. I'm wearing my usual size, but it's definitely a snug glove-like fit, so if you wear socks with your flats (though with this particular flat, I'd really recommend you at least try them sockless), you may want to go up half a size. As always, it's best if you can try them on first.

Full disclosure: The Mizuno Wave Universe 5 was provided free of charge in exchange for a review. The opinions contained in this review are mine and based on my experience, and do not reflect the opinions of Mizuno or anyone else.

1 comment:

  1. nice review but you clearly have wiped the concept of minimal runners out of your mind.

    in fact, i do NOT race, but run 'longer' training runs on city concrete and city asphalt roads...and these are SUPERB minimal trainers. the cushioning from this techno wonder sole material is highly noticeable for an 11mm sole. if you have done the training to adapt your calves/feet/body to minimal running, these are a great choice, with NO (read that N-O) compromises to comfort.

    as you do point out, there is the still unanswered durability issue. THAT would be the only compromise these have as a training shoe, IF you are a minimalist. if you are not a true to form minimal runner, use these as a fashion shoe. they will indeed destroy your any true minimal shoe.


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