The 2019 FuelCell line promises a better (and faster) running experience. We tested the first shoe released from this New Balance line, the FuelCell Rebel.
Apex running shoes get outsize attention from manufacturers striving to sell products that both perform and can catch buzz as a “next big thing.” And with the FuelCell revamp, New Balance might check both boxes.
The new line, announced last month, includes multiple models to be released throughout 2019. New Balance makes shoes in the line to shave milliseconds for Olympians. But it also has models for workaday runners with trickle-down technology like breathable jacquard uppers and energy-returning midsole foam.
GearJunkie got an early test of the technology for this first look review.
New Balance FuelCell Rebel: First Impressions
I got a look this month at the line’s first launch. Immediately out of the box, I admired the upper on my FuelCell Rebel shoe. Look close and you see the intricacy, with whirling thread, hashed and holey mesh, and micro-reinforcements weaved to support a foot in motion. They feel soft, fit close, and are comfortable but with a secure ensconce you don’t expect from an upper consanguineous to a sock.
The outsole is odd and of a similar high design. Its plane of slick dots casts an electric-indigo glow, and nubs of hard rubber align in an asymmetrical grid. Exposed foam underfoot starts at the arch, and the heel gets just a tiny half-moon of rubber for durability on the back. The FuelCell Rebel ($130) is for midfoot-to-forefoot strikers only, placing the shoe out of scope for joggers who pound and roll from heel to toe.
FuelCell: Technology Breakdown
New Balance does not make FuelCell for the casual 5K crowd. New Balance built the line with learnings from its elite athletes and data garnered in a biomechanics lab where slo-mo cameras revealed a 1/10-second distillation of foot placement and stride.
A company callout in press materials (worded somewhat clunky) is to make a runner’s “fast [pace] even faster.” Your 7:30 mile speed, I assume, might creep toward a 7:15 or 7:00 pace without much more effort, what with the rebounding midsole foam, the shoe’s low weight (7 ounces per shoe, men’s size 9), and an upper that fits like it was tailor-made.
All this comes in a futuristic normcore shoe, stark white and a bit bulky, with the requisite “NB” embroidered on the side. At first, they reminded me of Yeezys.
Running in the FuelCell Rebel: Review
But New Balance has an original here. The heart of the shoe, and its namesake, is its midsole. The FuelCell foam is a special EVA concoction the company says has the highest rebound of any New Balance to date.
I have put down about 50 miles so far for this review in the FuelCell Rebel. Pinging 7:30ish miles on my training runs, it performs as a minimal yet supportive product underfoot. It’s a little hard to explain, but the neutral shoe steers your stride a smidgen and also gives a bit of cushion, yet it still feels “minimal” compared to the competition in my closet.
It encourages midfoot and forefoot strikes; land on your heel, and it just signals wrong. But the FuelCell Rebel doesn’t feel flat-footed or at all harsh. It has about 6 mm of drop, and the stack height, with its generous midsole foam, is somewhat significant. But, to me, the shoe is very stable.
Midsole Rebound, Outsole
The touted rebound? Yes, there is something going on with FuelCell’s energy-returning midsole foam. It wasn’t tangibly noticeable except for the fact that the shoe is smooth, comfortable, and fast. Maybe that’s the litmus for the EVA energy return, which is measured and allotted in part on the aforementioned 1/10-second scale.
I ran roads and paved paths this month, from 2-mile sprints to slower-pace 8-mile days. Overall, I took a quick liking to the Rebel. At the top level, it’s comfortable, fast, and light. It’s an awesome trainer, and I will consider events up to marathon-length in the shoe.
Complaints? The outsole rubber is extra hard, and the tread is minimal. Once, on a humid day, my foot slipped a few inches on a strip of painted pavement. It was a rare moment but illustrated the specificity of this sole — run on roads only, and mostly on dry days. (Note: I have not yet tested the shoe in the rain.)
Stupidly, I tried a section of trail in the Rebel. The grip was not adequate, as expected. And after a section with some low ground and standing water, the white upper was stained an unfavorable brown-gray.
Sad to see the pristine upper get dirty, I trotted back to an asphalt path. My socks were squishing — water from a puddle had made its way through the permeable mesh. I looked ahead and set a new pace, the shoes back on track as I trotted toward the road.
See more info on the FuelCell Rebel, available for men and women, at New Balance.