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New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Performance Review

The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite is New Balance’s entrant in the road racing shoe category. It will compete with shoes like the Nike Alphafly Next%, Nike Vaporfly Next%, adidas Adizero Adios Pro, Saucony Endorphin Pro, and more. 

Just like the other racing super shoes, the RC Elite features a bouncy foam paired with a carbon fiber plate. The result? The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite feels great underfoot and can compete with anything currently on the market. Let’s dig into what makes the RC Elite competitive.

Buy the Men's RC Elite Buy the Women's RC Elite
New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Cushion

Cushion

Drew: The RC in the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite stands for Racing and Competition. New Balance’s racing shoe builds on the foundation of the New Balance FuelCell TC, New Balance’s high end training shoe. In that one, TC stands for Training and Competition. Here at WearTesters, we really enjoyed the TC and ended up running a lot more miles in them than usual. The main reason? The FuelCell midsole.

Fuelcell is a nitrogen-infused TPU foam. It’s similar to Brooks’ DNA Flash found on the Brooks Hyperion Elite 2 but FuelCell is softer than DNA Flash. And though FuelCell is not made of Pebax like ZoomX, FuelCell (in its running version) feels similarly soft. It’s a touch less plush, meaning you sink in a little less than with ZoomX, but that could be a result of the differing stack heights. The RC Elite’s midsole is 8mm shorter in the forefoot and 6mm shorter in the heel than the Vaporfly Next%.

Truth be told, I didn’t miss the extra stack height. I liked how much I sunk into the RC Elite and the bounce back it provided. My legs felt tired but not achy after double digit long runs. 

The RC Elite urges faster paces like the best racing shoes do. It’s not the bounciest super shoe (that honor goes to the Alphafly Next%) but the RC Elite is a fantastic blend of soft impact protection and smooth, quick toe off. It’s the type of shoe you can wear for a marathon and still feel like you have something left for an end of race kick.

Jodi: The RC Elite cushion has a lot of squish in it ?(aka step in comfort). And I’m not complaining about it. The instant squish you feel underfoot has plenty of snap back. I literally felt like I was bouncing down the road. Not every run I had in the RC Elite was perfect, but no run really ever is. I found myself being shocked at how quick, easy, and consistently my mile times were dropping on runs. Since it’s 2020 and everything seems to have been cancelled, I was never able to try the RC Elite out in a race setting. Instead, I found myself reaching for these on almost every run because the cushioning could handle it. Whether the run was short or long didn’t matter. Which I think is a great way to look at a shoe when testing.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Traction

Traction

Drew: The RC Elite has my favorite traction of any current race day road shoe. Pretty much all of the race day super shoes do well in dry conditions and have slight slippage on certain surfaces in rainy conditions. All of them, that is, except the RC Elite. The RC Elite’s forefoot features triangular rubber nubs glued directly to the FuelCell midsole. And they work amazingly well. The nubs dig into the ground especially when facing tricky conditions like mildewy pavement or wet to dry transitions. Those are the places where even the best racing shoes allow a small amount of slippage. But the RC Elite digs in and doesn’t slide.

The heel pattern is the same as seen on the TC. Two pieces of rubber set into the heel FuelCell. They cover the back of the heel along with the heel’s lateral and medial high wear areas. The heel setup is standard on most racing shoes and nothing you haven’t seen before. But with the spike-like nubs up front, the heel doesn’t need to do much.

Jodi: As Drew has already mentioned, the RC Elite does fantastic on both wet & dry surfaces. Trying to keep myself properly socially distanced from others I found myself many times  jumping from dry pavement to wet grass and back. There was never a hiccup underfoot. 

Now as far as durability goes, I would say these are definitely race day shoes, NOT daily runners.  I’ve been running in my pair for close to a month now and the rubber nubs are obliterated on the outer edge of my left shoe. The rest of the shoe is in near perfect condition (if you don’t mind a little dirt). At nearly $225, I would be super bummed to see so much traction gone so quickly on my day to day running shoe. This is why I stress that you should have a good 2-3 shoes to rotate through. It helps your body and your shoes recover/last. So as much as I loved pretty much everything about the RC Elite, I’m now going to have to put them in hibernation or something until local races (with people, NOT virtual) are a thing again. 

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Fit

Fit

Drew: The RC Elite fits true to size. The forgiving mesh upper allows room for wide footers and it’s wider than the extremely popular Nike racing models. The RC Elite feels about the same as the TC, although maybe a touch more narrow in the forefoot and toebox in order to streamline the fit for race day.

The lacing and tongue of the RC Elite feel similar to the TC as well. And, praise the New Balance designers, they fixed the worst fit flaw on the TC, the slippy tongue. The design team added a lace loop into the tongue, and wah-la, no more tongue slippage.

Overall, the RC Elite is a streamlined, no frills race day fit.

Jodi: Since Drew already called Nike out, I am going to add to it. Nike! Actually, adidas too.  Please grab yourself a pair of the RC Elite’s and model your future running shoes after it. As a wide footer, I can attest that these fit perfectly. I received my typical running shoe size (½ up from my casual shoe size) and I never had an issue. My feet could breathe, swell, splay, etc. and I never felt like the shoe was trying to strangle me. It was a dream.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Support

Support

Drew: As with most racing shoes, support is not a huge focus. However, the RC Elite does what it needs to so that I felt secure when racing around corners and tackling uneven pavement. The midsole flares out on the lateral side at both the heel and midfoot. It doesn’t seem quite as pronounced as on the TC, but it does the job. I never felt any of the tell tale racing shoe tippiness on the lateral side of the shoe. There is some tippiness to the medial side of the shoe, and  if you’re an overpronator, you probably won’t love the feeling. Overpronators should try these on at their local running store before buying.

A minimal heel counter and vinyl overlays at the heel and around the lacing provide the rest of the support. Again, racing shoes minimize support to reduce weight but the RC Elite puts just enough support into the shoe that you’ll feel good wearing them during road races with sharp corners or bumpy cobblestone streets.

Jodi: The tippiness that Drew mentioned is another reason these are for sure a race day shoe. Just the walk from my living room to the sidewalk outside my house is a trip. I have never had a shoe feel like it’s collapsing inwards underneath me. It honestly feels like the arch disappears. Once my watch starts and I’m running down the road I no longer notice it, but when I’m walking, the heel to toe transition is a weird sensation. Because of that, the RC Elite is not ideal for casual use.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Materials

Materials

Drew: A very breathable mesh upper is the main material. The mesh has larger, more open cells than the TC, thus keeping the RC Elite cooler. It’s a great change as every extra degree is important on race days. Gotta keep those puppies (yes, I mean your feet) cool when you’re tearing up the streets.

Other than the mesh, there’s some synthetic suede on the tongue and some vinyl overlays to strengthen the upper in key places. Well, and to make the logo pop. Shoe brands always stay marketing no matter what.

Oh, and the laces are the same as the TC except they don’t have 3M reflective thread down the middle. I’m sure that was either a weight or cost sacrifice, and though I miss the 3M, it’s not a big deal.

Jodi: Whoever at New Balance designed and placed the NB logo on the RC Elite deserves a gold star because I love looking at these shoes. The upper might be simple and minimal but the logo really draws me in. Wings on my feet?!? Who doesn’t envision themselves flying down the road as they speed up? 

Outside of the looks of the shoes, on the technical side of materials, the heel is slightly padded and sculpted which means it soaks up and traps moisture. You’re going to want to  make sure that after you put in work with these, you give them space to air out.

New Balance FuelCell RC Elite Overall

Overall

Drew: The New Balance FuelCell RC Elite is one of my favorite racing shoes. It’s got the best traction, the cushion is on point, it’s got daily trainer comfort, and the smooth transition feels more natural than the toe off of other racers. 

I’ll release carbon fiber racing shoe rankings soon. And when I do, the RC Elite will rank high. A lot of road runners will find these perfect for chasing PRs. New Balance now delivers tech, comfort, and traction on par with or better than other brands. Choosing a carbon fiber racing shoe is now similar to choosing a daily trainer, just find the one that feels best on your foot.

Jodi: I’m right up there with Drew. If I had a race to train for, the New Balance FuelCell RC Elite would be what I laced up on race day. It has everything I want my daily runners to have, minus the price tag. I can confidently say that I’ll train daily in other shoes and then depend on the RC Elite to get me across the finish line on race day

Buy the Men's RC Elite Buy the Women's RC Elite
Scorecard

Thanks to New Balance for sending a pair to test. New Balance was not given any editorial control of the review. This review is based on our weartesters’ experiences using the shoes for speed workouts, trail runs, treadmill training, long runs, casual wear, and more. 

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