Sunday, June 12, 2022

New Balance FuelCell SC Trainer Review. 7 Comparisons

Article by Derek Li

New Balance Fuel Cell SC Trainer (320 AUD)

Editor’s Note: Our Singapore contributor Derek Li purchased his SC Trainer from an Australian retailer.

Introduction

The New Balance Fuelcell TC was and still is one of the best daily trainers on the market for me, with the main drawback being that its pillowy underfoot ride was a bit of a challenge for people who wanted a bit more stability in their daily trainers. This, plus the relative low retail availability of the TC model, ultimately led people to gravitate more to that other outstanding plated trainer, the Saucony Endorphin Speed. To me this was a bit of a shame because I feel that the ride of the TC is more forgiving and ultimately should suit a larger audience than the Speed. 

That was in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. Fast forward 2 years and NB has decided to throw out a completely different silhouette for their top shelf trainer in the form of the SuperComp Trainer, or SC Trainer. This shoe will sit as the primary workhorse in the SC line, alongside the already released SC Pacer (RTR Review) and the upcoming SC Elite v3 Racer (RTR Video Preview).

The SC Trainer joins the growing list of maximalist performance trainers on the market, feeding the belief that more stack provides more cushioning, and ultimately improves training and recovery. 

Stats

Stack Height (assuming midsole): 41mm heel / 33mm forefoot 

Full Stack Height: 47mm heel at highest point / 39mm forefoot

Manual Measurements (including sockliner) for men’s US9.5:

Heel – 45mm 

Weight 10.83oz / 307g

Note: Official World Athletics measured heel stack 47mm.

North America launch August. US price to be announced.


Pros:

Very stable for such high stack numbers

Very smooth, long forefoot rocker

Breathable upper


Cons:

Ankle collar could rub for people with low ankle bones

Heavy. Not suitable for speed work, unlike Fuelcell TC


Tester Profile

Derek is in his 30’s and trains 70-80 miles per week at 7 to 8 minute pace in mostly tropical conditions in Singapore. He has a 2:39 marathon PR from the 2022 Zurich Marathon.


First Impressions, Fit and Upper:

My first impression was this was one thick midsole. Visually, the stack looks immense, way more so than say the Adidas Prime X, which as it turned out later, had significantly higher stack numbers across the board. In my hand, the shoe felt a little heavier than I had hoped. Bear in mind, i bought this shoe with no notion of what the official stack or weight was going to be, so I really had no idea what to expect beyond what the shoe looks like on the retail website. 



Step in feel was nice enough and the stretchy knit forefoot mesh really gives the toes plenty of room for splay; the fit is true to size. Versus other models in the New Balance stable, i would say the fit is noticeably snugger than the TC across the whole length of the shoe. Nevertheless, the SC shows hints of the RC Elite heritage where the toebox is relatively roomy, before tapering to a snugger midfoot and heel. In a way, it is very similar to what Nike did with the Tempo Next% but with a bit more midfoot volume. Walking around in the shoe, you will notice that this shoe has a significant long but somewhat soft forefoot rocker. It is very easy to tip forward in the shoe. The foam, while soft to the touch, does not feel overly compressive when you walk around and it just feels like a normal stable shoe when you are standing still. 


There is an internal toe bumper up front and the height at the toe box will be plenty for most feet and will give people plenty of leeway to use a variety of sock thicknesses with this shoe. 

The main mesh, as mentioned earlier, appears to be a double-layer stretchy knitted mesh, with the top layer having multiple relatively large laser cut perforations to aid ventilation. This upper will handle warm conditions just fine. 

The layering of the lace eyelets as shown above follows the same design pattern as the TC, where there are paired eyelet holes at each stage, allowing the lace to anchor the upper as a sort of underlay. 

I quite like this method of anchoring the laces, because it really does prevent the lace from moving easily within the anchor point, and, you also don’t get lace pressure on your foot at the anchor point as the tension, while pulling both sides of the upper together, also concurrently pulls the upper up away from your foot. In a practical sense, because the laces are pretty well held at the eyelets, you can get some areas of very low lace tension at the front or mid-foot if you so desire, and still get high tension lockdown at the terminal lace point where you are tying your knot. I think this is particularly useful for trainers, since we often like a little bit of slop nearer the toes for those easy or longer runs. 

Again, borrowing from the design of the RC Elite 2, there are only 4 rows of eyelets in the SC Trainer. This is a startlingly low number, but because the eyelets start much closer to midfoot (similar to the RC Elite 2), the spacing between the eyelets is still not very wide, and you can ultimately achieve very good lockdown here. x


The tongue is knitted and gusseted. Similar to how it’s done in the Adidas Prime X, it is attached to the toebox upper by a short section of stitches. 

Then it is anchored to the foot bed on both sides by wide bands of elastic knitted fabric. 


It is then further anchored on both sides to the ankle collar padding (dark blue). This anchoring is about an inch long on the lateral side and a farther quarter inch longer on the medial side. This should prevent the tongue from sliding into the shoe. 

Overall the midfoot has a more supportive and rigid feel to it, which is a big departure from the very soft and unstructured upper of the FuelCell TC. 


The heel has a knitted mesh base with an internal somewhat rigid heel cup but otherwise very little padding. The bulk of the padding sits as a layer of cushioning around the ankle collar, terminating very close to the terminal set of lace eyelets. I must confess, I had flashbacks to the Skechers GoRun 7 here, but ultimately the fit proved to be well executed with minimal heel movement when i was running. 

I noticed frequent rubbing under the lateral malleolus (ankle bone) on my left ankle when I was running, and isolated it to one little section of very stiff stitching right at the end of the cushioning around the ankle collar. This problem persisted despite multiple different sock thicknesses and even an additional layer of sockliner in the shoe. 

My theory is that I have low volume heels and the foam was compressing just enough that my ankle bone was compressing down on that area of stitching just as my foot sank into the heel with every step. 


Why on the left foot? Well, previous motion analysis showed that my left foot tends to supinate and pronate a little more than my right so there is overall more inversion-eversion going on in my left foot. In the end, I solved the issue with a combination of medium thickness socks and making sure I did not overly tighten the laces so that the ankle padding was not so tightly wrapped under my ankle bones. Just giving the padding a little more space at the ankles made the issue go away. I think this is mainly an issue for people with low ankle bones, and I also suspect that over time as the upper softens up and breaks in a bit more with use, the issue will take care of itself. 

Midsole

There is a lot going on here in the midsole. It is not just a matter of slapping a curved plate in the middle of the foam. First I will address the visual impression of the very high stack midsole. The measured heel stack is an impressive 45mm. (Official WA measured stack stands at 47mm). Other notable shoes i use as trainers stand at:

Xtep 160x Pro 40mm heel

Saucony Tempus 40mm heel

Adidas Prime X 52mm heel

Nike Tempo Next% 42mm heel

45mm is impressive but really, it’s only a couple of pennies thicker than some other trainers on the market, and of course it is still under the Prime X’s mammoth 52mm heel stack. 

The SC Trainer just looks very thick because the midsole sidewalls are raised quite a bit at the heel, and the footbed is quite scalloped here, presumably to aid heel stability. 

While the entire midsole has one consistent density of foam, a very curved carbon plate sits sandwiched in the middle, and then there’s the large midsole cutout, running the length of much of the midfoot and heel, giving you a glimpse of just how curved that carbon plate is. 

It is my understanding that the large canal created by the cutout of foam serves the main purpose of absorbing the deformation of the midsole during the compressive phase of the foot strike. 


To me, allowing the foam to deform sideways both medially and laterally should, in theory, provide for greater vibration dampening and (through the greater transient increase in ground contact surface area) improved stability. 



In terms of feel, the midsole is a bit firmer than that of the TC, and even the RC Elite / Rebel v2. The stiffness of the plate is also more perceptible here. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Overall, you get a less marshmallow-y type of underfoot feel than you would expect. There is springiness there, but definitely a very confidence-inspiring and stable platform. The main selling point of the ride is actually in the very pronounced forefoot rocker created by the geometry and the carbon plate. I will cover that under the Ride section.


Outsole

The outsole performance of the SC Trainer is pretty average. First up, there is the forefoot rubber which, to their credit, covers quite an extensive area on both medial and lateral aspects of the outsole. The compound used is a little bit firmer than your typical blown rubber, but not as harsh as traditional carbon-injected rubbers. It actually feels like the same compound used for the TC forefoot outsole.  It does a good job on dry surfaces, but there is a bit of slippage when the roads are wet. 


Durability wise, it is decent. I have some wear showing at 100 miles in the shoes, but nothing major. If the wear of the TC is anything to go by, I should get at least 300 miles out of these. Quite honestly, for the kind of tropical climate I live in, 300 miles in a knitted upper is enough to keep the local wildlife away. The rubber at the heel seems to be more of your standard fare carbon-injected rubber. Suffice to say, it will not be the limiting factor for this shoe’s durability. I had previously expressed my concerns about outsole durability in my review of the SC Pacer. Fortunately, I don’t see the same sort of accelerated wear in this shoe. 


Ride and Conclusions


The New Balance SC Trainer rides like a well-oiled diesel engine. It has an incredibly smooth and natural rocker that just rolls your foot through its stride very easily. Hats off the NB here, because if the geometry of other maximalist trainers are anything to go by, it is not easy translating traditional geometry designs to a high stack platform. For me, the key here is not having an overly soft heel. 

Somehow the wider platform and the curvature and position of the carbon plate blend very well to create a heel that actually does not compress a lot, but you don’t feel the harshness. Vibration dampening is superb, but a lot of it has to do with the plate having a very aggressive curvature.


The plate, in combination with the very aggressive heel to forefoot geometry, creates a lever to quickly unload the heel and transition to the forefoot. I get a lot of Vaporfly 4% vibes here. 

Since the plate at the heel sits closer to your foot with less foam in between, contrasting to the forefoot where there is more foam between your foot and the plate, the forefoot feels noticeably softer and springier in this shoe. 


You don’t feel the difference as much standing still or jogging, but once you start cruising at a moderate pace, it becomes very noticeable. It goes without saying that the shoe feels a lot lighter than what the scale is reporting. 


I think it will still struggle to do uptempo paces or speed work, but there are other shoes more suited for those purposes. I see this shoe as a very good steady state long distance cruiser for you to bang out those easy-moderate pace 20-milers. 


The shoe is also among the most stable of the high stack trainers on the market. It probably has the widest heel in its class. (I don’t have the Hoka Bondi X so don’t quote me on that). 


No high stack shoe is going to corner like a low stack shoe, but with the scalloped heel and wide flared outsole, the SC Trainer has good lateral stability for taking corners without having to slow down too much. With that in mind, we can see that the SC Trainer has become quite specialized in its purpose, and is not quite a direct replacement for the Fuelcell TC, which is more stripped down and versatile by comparison. 


Overall, this shoe is unlikely to find traction with the runner who is looking for that one goldilocks do-it-all shoe. Rather, it will be more suited for runners who already have dedicated race shoes and workout shoes, and want something that is created solely for that staple weekend long run. Direct comparisons to other similar shoes on the market are below. 


My Score: 9.25 / 10

Ride 9.2 (50%) Fit 9.5 (30%) Value 9 (15%) Style 9 (5%)


7 Comparisons


ASICS Glideride v1 (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both models. Both shoes are near identical in weight, and both feel like shoes that weigh much less. Glideride has a more generous overall fit, while SC Trainer is noticeably lower volume especially at mid-foot. Glideride is the softer shoe, with a more bouncy ride. SC Trainer, while firmer, has a more aggressive rocker, and actually keeps my legs feeling fresher in the latter parts of runs. Overall, I find the SC Trainer to be a better leg-saver, and it  is actually easier to hold a cruising pace in the SC given its more effective rocker geometry. Glideride, while softer, has a tendency to sap my energy by the 13-14 mile mark of a run. With SC Trainer, my foot sits higher and doesn’t sink in as much and rolls through a little more efficiently. 


Adidas Prime X (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in SC Trainer, and size down to 9.0 in the Prime X. Prime X’s upper is less structured and has  poorer lockdown, especially at the heel. Prime X has the softer, bouncier and very much more untamed ride. It’s incredibly fun, but sometimes you feel like maybe you have to think too much about how to tame it rather than just run. It also doesn’t execute the rocker as well as the SC Trainer. SC Trainer’s ride by comparison is a lot more intuitive; the shoe moves you along in a natural and smooth way where you don’t have to think about how best to land and how best to toe-off. I love both shoes for their rides. 


Prime X is like a bear on gummy berry juice, incredibly hard to reign in. After running like a bull in a China shop, you start to appreciate the predictable efficiency of that Prius that can go 500 miles in a full tank of gas. Then you get to week 6 of a 12-week marathon build where all the easy/steady runs are copy and paste, and you think thank god there’s gummy berry juice! So again, I like both shoes a lot. If Prime X had a better upper, I think it would be a clear winner for me, but for now, SC Trainer is a more hassle-free experience. 


Adidas Boston 10 (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both models. Boston 10 is one of those shoes you either love or you hate. A lot of people commented about the weight v10 put on over v9, but guess what? SC Trainer is heavier, still. I like to think of SC Trainer as a premium version of the Boston 10. The SC Trainer does almost every thing the Boston 10 does, better. Better rocker, better cushioning, more comfortable upper. The main area where Boston 10 wins is its outsole; the Boston outsole is incredibly effective and durable. If you train a lot on dirt roads or light trails then Boston would be a better option for you. Otherwise, I would go with the SC Trainer all day long. 


Nike Tempo Next% (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both models. Like Boston, the Tempo is also very polarizing. I love my Tempo Next% 's and still use them quite regularly. The geometry works well for my stride and it doesn’t feel awkward or cumbersome at all. I get that the heel contact area can feel somewhat block-y and that may be what puts people off. Well, that’s where the SC Trainer may change your mind about this type of firm heel-soft forefoot type of geometry. The SC Trainer has a mellower heel than the Boston’s and Tempo’s, and I think the wider, smoother, more stable heel will make it more appealing to a wider range of stride patterns. The underfoot feel of the SC Trainer is overall less springy than Tempo, but also more consistent in feel where the heel to midfoot to forefoot feel very much connected, unlike Tempo where the heel and forefoot sometimes feel like they belong to two different shoes. In terms of overall versatility and efficiency and performance, I think the Tempo Next% is still the better shoe, easily handling uptempo work without feeling out of place with some slower runs. In that respect, Tempo Next% is still the better shoe for me. SC Trainer excels in terms of heel stability, and outsole grip. The wider platform definitely makes cornering in the SC Trainer easier. SC Trainer is not great on wet pavement, but the Tempo Next% can be downright slippery on the wrong surfaces. 


New Balance FuelCell TC (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both models, but I also fit half a size down in the TC with thinner socks. I’ve already done some comparisons in the review, but in essence, the TC has a more relaxed upper, while being softer and springier underfoot. The TC is also lighter and more versatile as a shoe in handling faster efforts. By contrast, the SC Trainer is best used for longer endurance runs that don’t involve a lot of pace variation.


Skechers MaxRoad 5 (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both models. The SC Trainer has better vibration dampening and a more effective rocker. I kind of feel like the Maxroad is let down somewhat by its low heel-toe drop, and it would be a more effective shoe with a 8-10mm drop. Overall, the SC Trainer is a more enjoyable and smoother ride for me. 


Saucony Endorphin Shift (RTR Review)

Derek: I wear men’s US9.5 in both models. Endorphin Shift is one of those shoes that also rides lighter than the scale suggests. Both shoes actually have very similar heel stack, but it is the softer and more forgiving SC Trainer that wins the day. The SC Trainer also shows why a higher heel-toe drop almost always works better for a rocker shoe. The exception being the Tempo Next% with its 4mm drop. 


North America launch August. US price to be announced.

Tested samples were a personal purchase. RoadTrail Run has affiliate partnerships and may earn commission on products purchased through affiliate links in this article. These partnerships do not influence our editorial content. The opinions herein are entirely the authors'

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1 comment:

70's Teen said...

I just received mine last week - to me they feel like RC Elite 2 Maxs, which is a good thing. The stability is excellent - I've worn on grass and dirt with no trouble. And I agree they don't run heavy, due to the excellent energy return. The carbon plate stresses my right arch, but so does the RC Elite's, and my left (lower) is fine, so I'm sure most people will have no issues.