THOMAS: In a world of carbon copies, the New Balance FuelCell TC (which stands for Training and Competition) is different and unique. It’s hard to explain, like being on tour with Jamiroquai and Dee-Lite. How do you convey the virtual insanity of the groove being in the house? You can’t, but I will try to give you, the reader, an idea of what it is like to run in this pony.
ADRIENNE: I love me some New Balance shoes. There’s something about them that just works for me and I keep returning to them time and time again. They feel good, they look (mostly) good, and by my standards at least, they’re always quite durable.
When I learned that New Balance was developing a carbon fiber shoe, I was secretly hoping I would get to be one of the ones writing this review. The reviewer gods have smiled upon me.
I took the New Balance FuelCell TC through its paces, beginning with an easy break-in run, a 15k road race, a fartlek workout, and some hill sprints for good measure. It was during the warm-up for the race when I looked at my watch and saw that what I thought was well above 8 min pace was actually 7:15s. Whoops. I went on to average high 6:30s on a rolling course in downtown Houston, finishing Second Female Overall. It was fun to test some shoes built for race day and fast training in an actual race and I had ZERO lower leg soreness in the days after. This almost never happens in distances over 10k for me.
It is also worth mentioning that when I first opened the box containing these fireballs, I dropped the left shoe on the floor and it aggressively bounced back up at me. New Balance was not messing around with the rebound properties of their FuelCell foam. I tried them on, and they felt a lot like– dare I say it– Vaporflys. The combination of nitrogen-infused TPU and a carbon-fiber plate creates a Vapor-esque ride; however, there are some differences. Some I prefer, and a couple I don’t.
Let’s start bottom-up with the construction. There is a large area of rubber coverage in the forefoot that makes the shoe feel stable while providing a great pop off the ground. Unfortunately, it also adds a little weight to the shoe, but it’s negligible, as this shoe seems to run lighter than it actually is. FuellCell is abundant in its iridescent glory and I was happy to see that NB kept the flared midsole design that works so well for me in my pair of FuelCell Rebels. Those who supinate a great deal will really appreciate this shoe as it does a good amount of lateral stabilization work for you, saving your precious energy and lower leg muscles. Stack height is Olympic-legal, coming in at 30mm/20mm (10mm drop).
The upper is a very lightweight single-layer mesh with a badass-looking television logo on top of the shoe. Breathability up front is excellent, and it’s very lightweight. Toward the back of the shoe, there is a modest Achilles flare and the heel counter holds the foot in place well. Those with narrow feet may have to cinch the materials a bit, but nothing extreme.
The toe box felt roomy with plenty of room for splay when this shoe launches you into your next stride. The lacing system is quite simple, and despite a narrow, low-profile tongue I noticed no excessive lace pressure and the laces stay tied just the way you like them for the duration of your run.
Like I mentioned earlier, the ride is what a carbon-fiber plated shoe should feel like. The full-length plate and FuelCell foam work well together, and while the ride reminds me of the Vaporfly, there are different nuances that agreed with how my natural stride works (midfoot-forefoot, supinator).
Instead of the “rolling downhill” sensation in the VF4% and Next%, the FuelCell TC is a little more subtle and has a neat way of transitioning the shoe quickly for you and getting a nice, solid propulsive feel upon toe-off. This was helpful as I started to tire in the last 5k of last weekend’s race. Long story short, I felt more biomechanically efficient in this shoe and my form felt great in it. It gives a nice roll, plant, and push-off sensation.
THOMAS: First off, the TC has a light mesh upper that is airy and pretty darn simple. The lacing configuration is standard for New Balance. They add some flair into the laces with reflective fibers woven in. Between that and the iridescent coating on the midsole, the shoe looks pretty disco. A thin tongue for racing isn’t new, but the textured underside is, and it does a nice job of holding the tongue in place. The heel counter is well-cushioned with a less-pronounced elf curl away from the Achilles.
In terms of the upper, I was very pleased with the way it fits and feels on the foot. Of the plated racing shoes I have tried, this may be the best fitting upper. I did multiple double-digit mileage runs in these and never had a problem with the fit. If anything, I had to tighten up the lacing a small amount to get a snugger fit on my low-volume narrow feet. The FuelCell TC fits true to size.
So with the upper in place, let’s move down to the funk. Do I love FuelCell foam?! Does Dee-lite love bell-bottoms? Ahhhhh hell yes!
The TC has loads of FuelCell with a 30mm-20mm stack height. The shoe actually feels higher than the stack height measurements. I felt like I was towering over the other runners as I glided past. With the bounce of the FuelCell midsole paired with a carbon plate, you will be gliding past the competition too. And this is where the TC shines brighter than a gold tooth. This shoe rebounds like a trampoline. Without the plate, the TC would probably be totally unstable, but lean forward with the bounce and the plate and you’ll be sliding on down the road. THE BOUNCE IS FUN, and the shoe can be fast.
The outsole will look familiar if you have run in any of the next-generation speed shoes. Lots of rubber coverage upfront, and a couple slabs in the rear leaving the middle exposed. It all comes together for solid traction and after 40+ miles, the bottom still looked pretty fresh.
ADRIENNE: I love this shoe. It’s not perfect, but we became fast friends upon first test run. The transitions are lightning quick, it helps you access good running form, and feels awesome. I found it less awkward-feeling to walk around in than the Vaporfly series.
Also, it just looks badass. The FuelCell TC is like the running shoe version of the BMW i8: fast, efficient, and corners well. Wait? What? A high stack shoe that corners well? Yes. I managed several hairpin turns with confidence in this shoe. The broader forefoot and midfoot wing are likely to thank for this. The FuelCell TC ride is controlled yet bouncy and stays out of the way when you pick up the pace.
These shoes feel good at any pace and can be used for longer distance racing and is a great option for faster days. I really enjoyed fartlek day rocking the FuelCell TC and was kind of sad it was over. Given the rubber coverage and the fact that my other FuelCell shoe, the Rebel, is still going strong nearly 400 miles in, this shoe should last a bit.
MEAGHAN: As soon as I picked up the New Balance FuelCell TC I knew it was going to be good news. The simple aesthetics and generally bendy/bouncy feeling of the shoe were exactly what I was hoping for. Although I was expecting it to be NB’s version of the Nike Vaporfly/NEXT%, it’s actually designed more as a trainer than a racer. It comes with a little extra comfort and stability compared to the other carbon fiber shoes we’re seeing, and I dig it.
There is, of course, a carbon fiber plate lodged into this guy. It stiffens the shoe overall and adds some stability to the thick bouncy FuelCell foam. I really enjoyed the ride. The foam feels soft on landing but propels the foot forward on toe-off.Shop New Balance
THOMAS: Not sure this is such a bad thing, as the shoe is literally meant for “Training and Competition,” but at 9.9 oz/281 grams, I’ll primarily use this shoe for training, and although it may transition to competition for some (like Adrienne), I’ll probably wait for the FuelCell RC for racing. I was able to get in some faster runs in the TC, but when it came to race day, I went with something lighter. I just wasn’t willing to gamble, even though it apparently worked out great for Adrienne. I’ll be honest, I need every mental edge I can get. Just ask Adrienne, I can be a mess on race days.
ADRIENNE: New Balance almost knocked it outta the park on the first try, but we’ll settle for a Triple. Mechanics are spot on, stability is great, cushioning and comfort are spot on, however, in this day in age, weight is still a thing. The FuelCell is bottom-heavy, not as much as the Zoom Fly, but just putting it out there.
I’ve picked up chatter from others about the weight of these shoes, and yes, they are heavier than their counterparts. However, to me at least, they run lighter than they actually are. Expect the FuelCell RC to be even lighter yet. I can’t say that I would have raced any faster in shoes that were a little lighter and I don’t recall thinking halfway “damn, these are heavy” at any point in my race. So that is good.
I also noticed that my women’s size 9 fit a little longer than usual, so those who like true race-day fit may consider sizing down a half size. Minor issues on an otherwise amazing release by New Balance.
MEAGHAN: I have to agree with Thomas and Adrienne with regards to the weight. I’m not sure all the thick rubber on the outsole is necessary, paired with a (while nice and bouncy) pretty heavy foam, it definitely gives the shoes a bottom-heavy feel.Shop New Balance
THOMAS: I dig this shoe! I would compare this to the FuelCell Rebel, but on steroids. I loved the platform on that shoe and the FuelCell TC feels much the same, but even better (if that makes sense). I can’t wait to try its partner-in-crime, the FuelCell RC. Together they may be quite the dynamic duo. I enjoyed nearly every run in the FuelCell TC and always ended up picking up the pace, which is easy to do in these shoes. The FuelCell midsole is gentle on the legs, and even after long runs, my legs felt good. This one is a buy from me. The Groove is definitely in the house.
ADRIENNE: I was hoping for a FuelCell Rebel on steroids, and New Balance delivered. Those who appreciate a controlled, yet bouncy and purposeful ride will be happy with the FuelCell TC. Knowing there’s an even lighter and faster version coming in March is incredibly exciting. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick up this shoe when it’s available tomorrow.
MEAGHAN: I’ve been itching for someone (other than Nike) to come up with a shoe similar to the Vaporfly and the FuelCell TC is the closest yet. New Balance nailed it with the bouncy, responsive ride. I think the overall fit and feel is actually superior to the other carbon fiber racing shoes I’ve tested, but it falls short with the weight. Will I still use this as a trainer for fast days? Absolutely. It will be in my rotation as I train for Boston.
You can pick up the New Balance FuelCell TC on the New Balance website, or shop other models (including the FuelCell Rebel) at Running Warehouse (featuring free 2-day shipping and 90-day returns) by using the link below.Shop New Balance