If you’re a runner, you know it–running shoes were getting boring. But over the last couple years, the big players are stepping up their game. New Balance included. They’re simply spitting fire this year. With Nike making mild updates to last year’s innovative trainers, it has left the door open for some of its competitors to roll out the new gear and make some noise. New Balance is taking full advantage.
The story this year is FuelCell for NB.
They didn’t just slap the FuelCell on the bottom of their trainers, they went deeper into development and created some unique new offerings like the speed shoe “5280” for the all-out effort in the road mile. Jenny Simpson helped New Balance develop the 5280, and from there New Balance took what it learned and applied it to the rest of their FuelCell lineup, including the Rebel. While built for speed, the FuelCell Rebel can go the distance and even be used comfortably at pedestrian paces.
Meaghan: The New Balance Rebel FuelCell has DNA from the FuelCell 5280, a $200 racing flat designed for the pros (and the shoe that Jenny Simpson used to win the NB 5th Avenue Mile). But unlike the 5280, the Rebel FuelCell was made with ‘normal’ runners in mind. It’s designed for fast days but also cushioned enough for everyday training.
At first glance, I was worried about the upper. It looks very stretchy. The good news is that the engineered mesh is reinforced with Trace Fiber Stitching and it’s very structured through the midfoot. As soon as I laced up the shoes, I was at ease with the fit and support.
Underneath the foot is the FuelCell midsole, NB’s dual-density foam that has some pop to it. The shoes are designed with a flared midsole design, kind of like a wing on the lateral side, to help dampen the impact on landing. I enjoyed my runs in this shoe quite a bit. They’re lightweight (my W7.5 weighs 5.85oz) and feel smooth out on the roads.
Thomas: The upper on the Rebel is a near perfect fit. I am always skeptical of knit uppers, but the team at New Balance explained that the upper is an engineered textile, technically a “single jacquard warp knit.” Whatever it is, the upper works well at all speeds. I experienced no hot spots or heel lift. When pushing the pace, my foot felt secure over the midsole. The fit is true to size, so stick to your regular running shoe size.
The midsole was confusing to me. The full-length FuelCell EVA foam almost has a bounce and lightness you have come to expect from Pebax; in New Balance testing the FuelCell has 39% more energy return than New Balance’s REVlite EVA foam. You can feel that pop in the Rebel.
The FuelCell is also different density throughout the midsole. Under the pad of your forefoot, you will notice a color-highlighted section that is firmer and provides an excellent toe-off sensation.
Overall the foam is light, bouncy and well cushioned. The flared out wing looks a little odd on the lateral side. At first, I thought it might be for stability or guidance, but I was wrong. When New Balance was studying Jenny’s stride, they found that a little more traction on the side of your foot while running off your toes helped the runner speed through their stride.
These shoes aren’t just for the fasties either. All of us, when running our fastest paces, shift our foot strike position towards our midfoot and toes. So whether your all-out sprint is a 10-minute mile or a 4-minute mile, the shoe is set up to help you.
Finally, the crystal rubber outsole grips well to help you get the proper traction to pick up the pace. While the Rebel has a 6mm drop (22/16), it doesn’t feel like it has any drop at all to me. It may have to do with the placement of rubber on the outsole.
Jarrett: Like Thomas and Meg, I felt the upper was just superb. Upon first step-in, I was blown away. As a runner who needs wide shoes, I’ve never worn a shoe with this bootie construction. The fit was glovelike. Not O.J. glovelike. This actually fit! I was a bit hesitant about the stretchiness of the upper, but the trace fiber stitching in the midfoot really did keep the mesh from giving too much.
I also had questions about the toe box as it seemed kind of low, but you completely forget about it when running. There was enough room for my toes and nothing was squished.
The FuelCell EVA foam in the midsole felt incredibly responsive and smooth. I did a few fast 10k distance runs and a track workout in the Rebel and they were a joy. The faster you go in these shoes, the better they feel. The midsole actually felt a bit firmer as I sped up and there was more pop when I was pushing on my 400m laps.
The outsole consists of translucent blown rubber in the forefoot and heel, strategically placed to help reduce weight. The Rebel is geared more towards forefoot and midfoot strikers, but because of the rubber placement, it will still work for people who heel strike. It provided enough grip to allow me to feel confident while taking turns without needing to slow down.
On to weight. The Rebel is a game changer for my wide feet friends. My 10.5 2Es weighed 7.8oz each… That’s not a typo. I always thought a wide shoe under 10oz was light. What the hell is going on with all the other shoes out there that weigh 11+ ounces?! My brain is spinning.
You know how people say it’s not what’s on the outside, it’s what’s on the inside that matters? I disagree. The FuelCell Rebel are hands down the best looking running shoes I own. The white colorway is fire and I’m willing to fight anyone who disagrees.
Dave: First things first, it just looks tough. Combine that with the bootie construction and the solid NB call-out on the heel, and it’s ready to race. When you slide into this shoe, it molds to make you feel fast. I am completely locked, loaded, and ready to rip. I was worried about the lacing coming a bit loose with any movement, but it stayed very well secured.
New Balance is onto something with FuelCell. Gone are the days of boring Fresh Foam and extremely hard lateral outsoles like in Zante. FuelCell is solid. However, I’m not going to lie, the first 3 or 4 runs in this shoe were not great. In fact, leg trashing. I ran easy miles (which you should do in every shoe when testing) and a tempo and hated them.
But the more I ran in the shoe (all paces) the more FuelCell began to wake up. It became smoother, more alive and transitioned at all speeds much easier. Now it’s a friggin’ monster in my rotation. It eats miles.Shop FuelCell Rebel
Meaghan: This shoe was designed with the forefoot/midfoot striker in mind, of which I am not. Maybe that’s why I don’t see the huge benefits when I pick up the pace? I’ve heard people say this shoe shines at faster speeds. I cannot say I feel the same.
Also, I don’t have any issues with overpronating, but if you do, this shoe is not going to do you any favors. While it may dampen the landing, the outside wing also encourages an inward rolling movement.
Thomas: The FuelCell Rebel falls into a weird spot in my shoe rotation. It is cushioned and comfortable enough for a daily trainer, but it wants to go faster, turning your easy runs into tempo runs. You could reserve the Rebel for speed days and races I suppose, but good luck not wanting to use them daily. The rubber on the outsole is positioned for the midfoot strike; heel strikers may tear up the exposed EVA at an accelerated rate.
Jarrett: I took the Rebel out for a few runs at a slower pace and I didn’t love the shoe as much. The midsole felt softer and I noticed my pronation a lot more. My stride may be a lot better when I’m pushing the pace, but things started feeling out of whack otherwise. The Rebel is a neutral shoe so this one is on me.
As for the fit, I needed to tie the laces tight to get good lockdown with the mesh. During my track workout, I felt my foot sliding a bit while rounding the corners at first. I stopped and tied the laces tighter which fixed the problem and it didn’t cause any hard pressure points on the top of my foot.
Dave: Honestly, it took a bit, but damn the Rebel came alive. Now it just plain feels good at all speeds. My only gripe is I could use another eyelet up top. I’m going to write the same about another badass shoe in their lineup, Propel, which I’m also testing. They both could make my foot a bit more secure up top. I have a narrow foot and narrow ankles.Shop FuelCell Rebel
Meaghan: The New Balance FuelCell Rebel is a fun shoe. I’ve been using it for easy, everyday running. I’ve also used them for a couple of faster days, and while I wouldn’t put them into the same category as a Vaporfly 4%, they’re a quality speed shoe.
Thomas: You may have guessed that I enjoyed my runs in the FuelCell Rebel. The shoe bounces through my stride and lands softly. With no issues on the upper or the unusual shape of the lateral wing, I don’t have much to complain about with this one. If you have read any of my reviews, you know I like my shoes to be light. The FuelCell Rebel packs all the goodness into a shoe that weighs 7.97 oz./226 grams. That ain’t bad for a trainer with a super durable upper and lots of cushion.
Dave: Expect to struggle to find the sweet spot in this shoe in the first few runs. But once you do, workouts become effortless on smooth biomechanics and a great forward lean, pitched perfectly for a strong toe-off. Assuming Jenny Simpson wanted it this way. She is all power and has a strong toe off and forward lean in mechanics.
Go out and roll, trust me, you’ll dig the Rebel.
Jarrett: New Balance put out a killer shoe with the FuelCell Rebel. It’s fast, sexy, light, and fits like a dream. If you can’t tell, I’m in love. To be honest, my fiancée is in luck that Maryland is one of those states that ban wide-shoe marriage or things would be real awkward right now.
Personally, I’m not sure I would push past a half marathon distance in the FuelCell Rebel, but it’s a no brainer choice for me for a track workout or if I want to fly in a 5K or 10K. Thank you New Balance for giving us wide foot runners some love and creating a beautiful racer. All you other brands out there, take note because this is how it’s done.
You can pick up the New Balance FuelCell Rebel for $129.95 at Running Warehouse by using the shop link below.Shop FuelCell Rebel