New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Performance Review
THOMAS: In the beginning (of 2020), there was one. One shoe that owned the marathon start line. One shoe to rule them all. And while the Nike Vaporfly NEXT% is still the Thanos of the racing shoe universe, it’s starting to feel like the Avengers are assembling.
Fast forward to whatever month it is right now, and a whole slew of new challengers have emerged, from the Saucony Endorphin Pro to the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 to the ASICS MetaRacer, and now– the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite. We got options. We’re not forced to click ‘refresh’ at 8 a.m. in the morning in the hopes of landing a super shoe racer.
The good news? There’s pretty much something for everybody, no matter what your style. Let’s see how the RC Elite fits in.
Want to hear an in-depth, behind-the-scenes breakdown of the RC Elite design and development process? Check out the premiere episode of The Drop Weekly Running Podcast, featuring an interview with Rebekah Broe, Senior Product Manager for New Balance.
THOMAS: Let’s get into the character of the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite by starting off with the super shoe qualifications. Lightweight? Check. The RC Elite weighs 7.95 oz/224 grams for my size 10.5. Loads of responsive cushioning? Yep. The FuelCell does the trick with soft landings and some bounce on toe-off. Carbon fiber plate? Of course. So now that all the boxes are checked, let’s get into the details.
The upper is nothing new here, breathable mesh, minimal 3D printed overlays just enough to hold the shape and support where needed. A thin tongue with thin pillowing to protect the top of the foot from the thin flat laces. The heel counter has a little bit of cushioning and an elf ear for easy pull-on. This is a stripped-down top, but it isn’t fragile.
The secret sauce is in the FuelCell formula. The FuelCell compound in the RC is lighter, airier, and has more energy return than the FuelCell used in the TC (the training companion to the RC). Without a plate sandwiched in the foam, the foam would probably be too soft. But with the spoon-shaped plate, the RC delivers soft landings, a touch of bounce, and a rigid toe-off to propel the runner forward on their merry way. All of this is packed in a 32/22 mm heel-to-toe differential (i.e. 10 mm drop).
Moving to the outsole, you have the most aggressive grip of all the “super shoes” I have tried. Prominent rubber mini-cleats line the forefoot. They look like adorable-yet-angry Hershey’s Kisses. This gives the toe-off some teeth. The way the nubs are set up saves weight, since it isn’t a large slab of rubber. They look a little fragile, but we saw no wear on them after 20+ miles. In fact, when we spoke with New Balance on our weekly podcast, they said that they felt the shoe is durable enough to get the average runner through two marathon training cycles and race day.
My runs in the RC were very promising. For a 10-mile run, I just went by feel and ended up running a decent tempo by accident. My average pace (7:56) for the run was about +15 seconds over my marathon goal pace. The best part was it didn’t feel like a hard effort even though the humidity was raunchy. Overall, the strides felt well-cushioned and lively. In the later miles, the light weight of the shoe helped keep my feet moving. The midsole flare on the lateral side guided my foot roll-off, with the big toe getting the most out of the plate.
MEAGHAN: The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite was a fun surprise. I had very little expectations for the shoe, which might be why I’m enjoying them so much. The RC Elite is designed for fast days, particularly, a fast marathon. So how does it stack up against those “other guys”? Let’s start there. Unlike most of the super shoes, the stack height isn’t too crazy: at 32mm/22mm, it has a 30% lower stack than the NEXT%. The midsole is designed with an all-new variation on the FuelCell compound– it’s really soft, but also super bouncy. I prefer this softer feel, especially for long runs. It also happens to be very light– my W7.5 came in right at 6 ounces.
The plate is sandwiched between the foam, falling closer to the heel in the back of the shoe and closer to the ground in the forefoot. The soft foam and plate combination create that bouncy, forward driving motion that we’ve all come to love from carbon fiber-plated shoes. It’s a really smooth ride, and I found myself happily ticking off some fast miles.
While the upper is fairly simple in design, it offers plenty of structure. The synthetic mesh is light and breathable, with some thin plastic overlays. The heel and collar are lightly padded and the simple lacing system locks the foot down. Paired with a wide platform, you get a really secure and stable ride.
The last thing to note about this shoe is the outsole. The bottom of this shoe is covered in tiny rubber pods that offer tons of grippy traction. Despite looking like they will fall off, they’re holding up just fine. I’ve put 50 miles on mine so far and all the rubber nubs are fresh as new.Shop RC Elite – Men Shop RC Elite – Women
THOMAS: While we are seeing shoes catch up to the NEXT%, we have yet to see one surpass the shoe. There are reasons you would choose the New Balance RC Elite over the NEXT% (i.e. better fitting upper, more stability, better outsole grip), but those things still don’t add up enough to overtake the throne. In the grand scheme of things, the margin is pretty close, but at nearly the same price point ($225 for the RC Elite, $250 for the NEXT%), the NEXT% wins.
MEAGHAN: The step-in feel doesn’t give you that bouncy-trampoline feeling like the Nike NEXT% or AlphaFly. Does that matter? Probably not, since the shoes come to life out on the road, but I feel like it’s worth noting. Don’t judge them by their step-in feel.
Also, as someone who loves the high stack of super shoes, I kinda wish these had a little more height to them. Short girl problems.Shop RC Elite – Men Shop RC Elite – Women
THOMAS: Super shoes seem to be coming in from all directions right now. It will be tough to pick for consumers because the choices are coming down to nuance. The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite excels in fit, soft feel/bounce, durability, and traction. This shoe deserves a spot at the starting line, and I expect to see some wins from the elites and PRs from us mortals wearing this shoe.
MEAGHAN: The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite is a solid option in the world of super shoes. I found this is one of the only carbon fiber plated shoes that I could wear for more than just tempo/race day. The softer FuelCell foam makes the plate less harsh so they feel great even out on an easy run. In some ways, it’s like a really fast daily trainer. I’ll definitely keep the RC Elite in my rotation throughout the fall.
You can pick up the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite for $225 at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the shop link below.Shop RC Elite – Men Shop RC Elite – Women
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i’ve been wearing the 1080 as a daily trainer in a size 10.5, and using a Fuelcell Prism for tempo and fast interval days however that shoe I had to size up to an 11. How is the sizing compared to these? I note the tester wore a 10.5. Cheers!