New Balance FuelCell Rebel v2 Review
The second version of the New Balance FuelCell Rebel is a great example of a non-plated, next-gen lightweight daily trainer. It features plenty of cushioning, thanks to the FuelCell midsole, but that cushioning is balanced with just the right amount of responsiveness to keep the pep and pop in your stride. The ride is smooth — forgiving but still propulsive. The asymmetrical construction and wide forefoot work in sync with the foot’s natural motion. The midsole and outsole are exceptionally durable, making the shoe one of the better bargains in its class and price range.
Weight: 5.8 ounces (women’s size 7); 7.3 ounces (men’s size 9)
Stack Height: Moderate (26 mm heel, 20 mm forefoot)
Offset: 6 mm
Midsole: High-rebound FuelCell
Outsole: Rubber, reinforced in high-wear areas
Upper: Lightweight mesh
What This Shoe Is
Let’s start with what this shoe is not: It bears little resemblance to version 1 of the FuelCell Rebel. The earlier iteration was an attempt at translating the geometry of New Balance’s road mile racing shoe, the FuelCell 5280, to a training shoe. It featured a flared midsole with a love-it-or-hate-it lateral flange meant to accommodate contact on the outside of the forefoot. Although versions 1 and 2 are roughly the same weight, the first was a few millimeters lower in the heel and forefoot. Most important, the first version had a firmer midsole and stiffer ride. I could never figure out where version 1 fit in my shoe collection — it was too unforgiving (and click-clacky loud!) to be a daily trainer, yet seemed to get in the way when I wore it in workouts.
If New Balance wants to call version 2 an update, that’s their prerogative. It really is a different shoe. New Balance says the FuelCell in the shoe has the highest rebound among models in the line, and I believe them. The ride is soft and smooth, but never bottoms out. When I felt peppy, the shoe worked with my stride to move me along. When I was tired, the shoe accommodated a shorter stride and slightly slower turnover. The midsole is thick enough to feel pleasantly plush, but not so high that you don’t feel the ground. The heel is intelligently beveled, with a slight cut away in the lateral heel, encouraging a smooth transition from initial contact to full contact to toe-off.
I’ve worn version 2 for workaday 75-minute runs; short, glacial recovery jogs; impromptu late-afternoon blow-off-steam half-hour outings; long runs that combined road and trail; and tempo runs. Only on the latter did I wish I were wearing different shoes. (More on that below.)
100 Miles In (And Then Some)
New Balance says the new Rebel is for daily runs and up to tempo pace. That’s exactly the conclusion I reached before seeing their take on the matter. The shoe was such a delight to run in for almost all types of runs that I quickly reached the 100 miles required for these reviews, and just kept going.
As of this writing, I’m a little shy of 300 miles in them. There’s now visible outsole wear in a few spots, but nothing ridiculous. I appreciate New Balance countering the trend of shoe companies achieving lightness in part by having most of the outsole being exposed foam; that design “feature” obviously shortens the life of the shoe for most of us. I can see the outsole on the Rebels lasting at least another 300 miles, well above the industry average for a lightweight trainer.
The midsole is, so far, similarly durable. As in, it feels exactly the same as it did on my first runs in the Rebel. I expect it to feel great for at least as long as the outsole lasts.
Another plus after all these miles is that the Rebel has never been needy. The upper doesn’t pinch or chafe, the laces stay tied, the tongue stays put. You can reasonably expect that how the shoe feels when you first step into it is how it will feel several weeks later.
There’s the Rub
Like I said, the fastest I went in the Rebel was tempo pace. At that intensity, the midsole was slightly unsteady turning corners. There was also just a bit more softness to the ride at that pace than I’m used to. After confirming my initial impression on this matter wasn’t a one-off, I reverted to my usual shoes for uptempo workouts, and looked forward to running in the Rebel on subsequent days.
My biggest beef with the Rebel is, unfortunately, not unique to them: The uppers aren’t designed for the conditions many of us run in much of the year.
I live in Maine, where in January and February we can go many days in a row with the high being below freezing. On such days, my toes were often cold for much of my run, even when I wore my thickest socks (made possible by the shoe’s wide forefoot). Also, the upper let in a fair amount of moisture on rainy days.
The latter flaw, especially, seems a shame for a shoe that’s meant to be not only worn, but enjoyed most days of the week. So I’ll take this opportunity to remind shoe designers that not everyone lives in San Diego, and that those of us in colder, wetter climes still care about performance when the weather is less than ideal.
Scott Douglas is the author or co-author of several running books, including Running is My Therapy, Meb for Mortals, and Advanced Marathoning. His next book, The Genius of Athletes, will be published in May. Follow him on Twitter.