New Balance’s fantastic FuelCell foam makes the TC tremendously enjoyable to use for a variety of training runs, and the carbon plate in the midsole means it has the speed for racing as well.
- Soft and bouncy midsole
- Carbon plate for extra pop
- Versatile option for training and racing
- Heavier than most carbon racers
- Can be unstable
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The Nike Vaporfly might finally have a serious competitor. It’s not the FuelCell TC, but judging by how good the TC is, it should be New Balance’s FuelCell RC, due later this year. The more race-focused model still to come will cut a little weight but retain the TC’s FuelCell foam and carbon plate combo, so the RC should be right up there with the Vaporfly.
New Balance designed the TC to be a partner shoe to the RC, a shoe with a similar feel that you can use to log your training miles in before switching to the lighter option on race day – the TC weighs 264g for a men’s size 8 and we expect the RC to dip below 200g. However, that’s not to sell the TC short. It’s a very fast shoe in its own right and would be a great race day option, especially over half marathons and marathons.
As more brands release shoes with carbon plates in them, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the foam used is as important as, if not more so than, the plate itself. The Vaporfly’s magic comes from the ZoomX foam, which is light, soft and springy. The same three words are the first to come to mind to describe the FuelCell foam used in the TC.
Compared with other FuelCell shoes like the Rebel, the TC has a higher stack of foam on the bottom, and that increases the soft squishy feel with each landing before you’re propelled forward by the combination of the plate and the rebound in the foam. It feels more like the Vaporfly than any other shoe I’ve tried, including the Nike Zoom Fly 3, which uses React foam alongside a carbon plate. React is reasonably bouncy, but not on the level of FuelCell or ZoomX.
I used the TC for all my runs over the space of three weeks as I came back from a slight injury, starting with slow and short plods, and building up to a few sharp 10Ks and easy long runs. The bounce in the shoe is most apparent at slow speeds, when it feels remarkably soft, but as you increase the pace it starts to feel a little firmer and more stable. I’ve yet to find a pace at which I don’t enjoy running in the shoe and I didn’t really feel its weight when running, unlike with the Zoom Fly 3 which does feel a little clunky at times.
There might be a case for not using it on every training run though. Although it is fairly stable, the high stack of cushioning makes it a little wobbly and I’m not sure that doing every run on that platform would be wise if you’re logging 80km-plus per week. That’s speculation since I’ve not had any problems so far, but I’d be wary of using it for all my easy runs – especially as I generally do those on uneven tracks in a forest, where the high stack feels more unstable.
The upper on the shoe is comfortable and roomier than you’d find on an out-and-out racer, which is another aspect that makes the TC better suited to frequent runs. The outsole doesn’t have a huge amount of rubber on it, and I’d stay on the asphalt rather than risking a lack of grip on trails, but I’ve seen no signs of wear on the sole after around 80km.
One potential sticking point with the TC is the price. It costs £179.99, which is substantially less than the £240 Vaporfly NEXT% but still a lot. You may prefer to save your pennies for a few months until New Balance releases the racier RC.
On the other hand, the TC does provide a Vaporfly-lite experience for a not insignificant 25% lower cost than the NEXT%. The TC is also a better trainer-racer than the Nike Zoom Fly 3 and Hoka One One Carbon X, other options with a carbon plate that are a little cheaper than the TC.
Of course shoes with carbon plates aren’t the only show in town, and there are excellent all-round options like the Nike Zoom Pegasus Turbo 2, Brooks Hyperion Tempo and Hoka One One Rincon to consider as well. The Tempo and Rincon are considerably lighter than the TC, and the Rincon is much cheaper too.
However, I do think the FuelCell TC is a cut above the competition, and is the first shoe intended for training that really captures the feel of a “super shoe” like the Vaporfly. If you have the latter, the TC is a brilliant partner shoe to use in training. And if you don’t have the Vaporfly, the TC stands as a great trainer and racer in its own right.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.