New Balance Fuelcell Supercomp Trail Tested by The Pill
New Balance Fuelcell Supercomp Trail
Tested By The Pill
The sun sets the glacier of Mont Blanc du Tacul ablaze, while to the left, to the north, the Aiguille du Dru peeks out like a blade from a low bank of clouds, covering what remains of the glacier of La Mer de Glace. We are in the chalet of New Balance in Chamonix, UTMB Thursday, at the presentation of the new New Balance Fuelcell Supercomp Trail, New Balance’s first carbon plate trailrunning shoe. We can’t try it on yet, but we’re curious to even hold it in our hands: a lot of trail shoes with carbon have come out in the last year, but this one immediately feels very different from all the others. The carbon plate trail shoes we have been used to seeing in recent years always have been very high midsole and have extremely soft and lightweight foams-this feature, taken up by road ‘supershoes,’ made these shoes particularly brilliant on runnable and easy terrain, but much more uncertain on technical. Instead, with FuelCell Supercomp Trail New Balance has sought an alternative route, creating a product with carbon, but more technical and stable intended also for more driven and less runnable terrain.
When the shoe arrived to us, we started testing it on the terrain we have available: we used it both on rideable forestry, to understand the elastic properties of the plate, and on limestone and porphyry single track, to understand the behavior on more technical and unstable terrain. Then, we then gathered our The Pill tester group and went to Campo Carlo Magno Pass, above Madonna di Campiglio, at the foot of Presanella, to test it on the granite trails of Nambino and Serodoli lakes in the Adamello-Brenta Park.
We learned about this area during some of the events that have been organized by local and national environmental groups in recent years, including The Outdoor Manifesto, against the carousel of lifts that, according to the plans, will have to cross this semi-inhabited valley to join the Marilleva, Val di Sole, and Campiglio ski areas. This is relatively unman-made territory by Rendena Valley standards, and very important in terms of water. From the parking lot, a trail climbs quickly to the Nambino Lake Shelter, a circle lake set in a granite amphitheater in the middle of the woods. The lifts, if the project goes ahead, will also pass through here, contrary to the wishes of the refuges.
We continue the trail toward Black Lake and Lake Serodoli, and the soft, rooty single track soon gives way to stones and granite boulders. In other words, why we came. The view opens to the surrounding ridges, but a disturbing haze covers the view of the Brenta peaks. It is not obvious to be here on a Tuesday afternoon, when only the day before many of us were in the newsroom in front of our PCs. The desire to run is great, the curiosity about this shoe just as great. Off we go, running.
Fuelcell Supercomp Trail
Use: Trail running
Weight: 272 gr
Drop: 10 mm
Technologies: Carbon plate
Outsole: Vibram Megagrip Litebase compound
The first thing one notices about the New Balance Fuelcell Supercomp Trail, and which is somewhat of their defining feature, is their streamlined , ‘skinny’ silhouette . While this was a common feature among performance and racing shoes until a few years ago, plated shoes in recent years have seen a general increase in volume, offset by a gradual lightening of materials. While this trend has favored foams with great elastic and propulsive capabilities, it has also decreased stability and control on more technical terrain. New Balance’s choice was to combine updated materials and a plate to a shoe with a more traditional and, to put it mildly, ‘normal’ design. The result is an extremely stable and versatile racing shoe that is also suitable for European trails.
Fit and thicknesses
Let’s start with the fit, the feature that gives us the first impression of the shoe and in most cases determines the purchase in the store. New Balance’s trail shoes, even the most structured and comfortable ones, have accustomed us to snug fits offset by very stretchy and breathable fabrics that wrap around the foot without constricting it. In fact, the fit of the Fuelcell Supercomp has a fit that we would describe as narrow, tight, but not constricting or uncomfortable: it is a race shoe fit that is precise, secure and firm on the foot. The outline of the tread, i.e., the shape of the bottom part of the shoe, is also quite narrow: the insole and outsole have similar widths, and themidsole does not widen much on the bottom. This is functional on rocky or rooted terrain, especially downhill, to maintain control.
The weight of the shoe is reduced to 272 grams, but beyond the figure, which is in any case very low for a plate trail shoe, it is mainly the overall structure of the shoe that contributes to a lightweight feel to the foot. As for heights, they have a stack of 36.5 millimeters at the heel and 26.5 millimeters at the forefoot, for an overall heel-to-toe drop of 10 millimeters. On the one hand, it is a very pronounced drop, especially because of trends in recent years that have seen a gradual lowering of the differential; on the other hand, it is an overall low midsole compartment, which at the run results in a ground contact feel.
The upper is made of a mesh that closely resembles that of the FreshFoam More Trail v3, shoes that are extremely different but comparable in terms of upper materials. It is an airy, lightweight fabric with a 3D structure and strengthened on the toe by an internal reinforcement, minimalist but still more protective than that of the FreshFoam More v3. Thermoplastic applications outside the upper are minimized, further reducing weight and bringing it closer to a road upper. The tongue is thin but distributes lacing pressure well, made with a five-hole system that works evenly across the instep. The flat, well-adjustable and durable laces are also comfortable. The heel and collar are inspired by the design of the Fuelcell Summit Unknown v4, with a buttress that wraps around the heel and gives support during pronation, without stiffening the shoe.
Midsole, plate and outsole
For themidsole, New Balance developers decided to use the low-density Fuelcell compound made from 3% bio materials, and normally intended for the Boston-based company’s fastest shoes. However, compared to other trail models with the same foam such as Fuelcell Summit Unknown v4, it feels much softer and more compressible in Supercomp Trail, especially on top. But the real innovation of the shoe is, of course, the carbon plate. When we first saw the exploded view of the midsole compartment in Chamonix, the plate had left us puzzled: it is a very thick and wide plate, where in trail shoes there are normally used much thinner plates, so that it adapts better to the terrain. Actually, at the run the Fuelcell Supercomps turn out to be the least stiff plate trail shoes we tested: they are flexible, perhaps less responsive than trail shoes with a more “street” cut, but at the same time much more versatile. New Balance seems to have realized earlier than other brands that for steep, technical terrain, a plate that is too stiff severely limits the shoe’s usability. The plate and midsole are complemented by a structure called Energy Arc and already used in road shoes, which through an arcuate geometry near the midfoot seems to provide more energy return during the rolling phase. The sole, on the other hand, is made of three-piece Vibram Megagrip Litebase, with multidirectional tread pattern and decent grip on all terrains.
Sensation to running
Overall, the feel to the run is therefore that of a well-balanced shoe, neither cushioned nor dry. In the panorama of trail shoes with carbon, it is perhaps the model that comes closest to the conception of a trail shoe in the traditional sense, rather than a road supershoe. They do not have the bouncing effect typical of plate shoes with a very bulky midsole. While it remains a very light and fast shoe, it is also perhaps among the most democratic in the same category, which is why we see it on the feet of a relatively wide audience, or at least wider than its competitors. On the other hand, we would not recommend it for runners with very pronounced pronation who need arch support, as the shoe is unsupportive in this area, and that in our opinion could be the real area for improvement in a future update. Other than that, we see no major flaws or problems: it is a shoe with a very focused purpose, and one that has managed to decline in an original way a technology that was being consolidated on a very different, and all in all un-European, type of shoe. In this sense, for the kind of terrain we are used to running on, and therefore more mountainous, it is perhaps the shoe with carbon best suited for this purpose.
The carbon plate can hardly be felt, either in the foot or by handling the shoe, making it more versatile. The midsole is definitely softer than I imagined but still being low, it doesn’t give stability problems. The fit in my opinion is comfortable, you put it on your foot and it feels like “a shoe you know.” Very personal issue: although I appreciate the shoe that wraps the foot a lot and reaches the toe just right, in hindsight I would have taken half a size larger than the one I always wear with NB. I also really like it aesthetically, it doesn’t look like a trail running shoe and has a streamlined design, in which case the very bright color is not a trivial or “low” choice.
A convincing shoe, it conveys a good feeling from the first steps and is definitely stable and precise. Very precise fit, good lacing and quality laces. There is carbon but you can’t feel it (in a good way), however, the impression remains that it accompanies the gesture well even at a sustained pace, while providing good protectiveness. Good grip thanks to the Vibram outsole, to the point where I would see it well even on the more technical skyrace terrain. The innovative and more streamlined design than the oversized New Balance in my opinion is more appealing.
This was my first time trying carbon on a trail shoe and I didn’t know what to expect; I have to say that I didn’t get that noticeable boost that you feel on plate road shoes. At the fit, however, I found them to be comfortable and snug right out of the box, light, soft and well-fitting to the foot. I might have preferred them slightly more protective in the collar area, but I did not use the last eyelet for lacing. Good grip even on rougher trails but, in my opinion, they are at their best on runnable and not too technical trails where you can actually push them and feel the benefits of carbon.
I found the fit comfortable, slim and well fitting to the foot; good feel and good response when pushing. Overall I found it a “crisp” shoe to have fun with, nice grip that gives confidence and good stability on both dirt and somewhat rockier surfaces.