I was very excited to experience the next new super foam; to some degree, the first from New Balance, no less. The FuelCell Propel is the daily trainer model in the recently released set of shoes from New Balance making use of their FuelCell midsole.
The shoe promises a wide slab of bouncy goodness and boasts modern styling with a no real overlays, no big New Balance ‘N’, and a tall, swooped heel collar; an exciting start.
As soon as I unboxed my pair, I was struck by how large the shoe looked; a roomy-looking toebox and a really wide midsole footprint, especially around the heel. The high swooping heel collar and gray/black coloring contrasted by the bright red and yellow outsole lends a dramatic look.
The fit is ‘cush’ overall with a medium amount of tongue and heel padding and soft materials. The length is almost short, but the shoe is comfortably sized; the right amount of snug while remaining roomy.
The midsole is very soft and flexible, which contributes in giving the Propel an almost slipper-like feel. There is a lot of give to the midsole even just standing in the shoes.
The upper is sleek and minimal, with only a single overlay around the toe area. The soft mesh has a great level of give and is comfortable and never intrusive without compromising lock-in.
The tongue and heel padding is light and well-distributed. The bottom half of the tongue is sewn on, and a red cord is used instead of a traditional eyelet; really cool. The upper allows the shoe to disappear on my feet largely; I’ve had no issues with lock in at a range of lace tightness.
It is critical to the shoe’s overall comfort. The only part of the shoe I felt was notable while running was the high heel on my Achilles, though this was not an issue and sort of off and on.
I’d prefer lower, but maybe it contributes to the easy lock in. It’s not a breaking point either way, and the Propel upper is outstanding, overall.
Even from just picking up the shoe and pressing into midsole with my fingers, I could tell how extremely squishy it was. The step-in feel didn’t disappoint. A crazy soft, sinky feeling foam, but not bottomless cushion.
The rebound was notable as well, similar to Nike’s Zoom X midsole. The soft and flexible feel is reminiscent of Nike React (particularly in the Epic React), but the FuelCell midsole is much softer. For some, it will be too soft, but it’s a really exciting, bouncy, modern-feeling foam.
The Propel has a full-contact rubber outsole. Unlike many New Balance shoes which have a single-piece, full-cover outsole, the Propel outsole is composed of five separate pieces. This gives the midsole more ability to flex, which I felt worked great.
The rubber compound is very sticky, which was immediately noticeable when trying on the shoes inside. Traction was definitely above average on road, dirt, and even light trail. I took the Propel for a run in the pouring rain and had no issues at all; great stuff.
I love the bright colors as well as they contrast the black/white of the upper.
My first run in the Propel included a variety of pace blocks in an attempt to find where the shoe feels best. I found the Propel overall very comfortable and foot-conforming without being at all tight, adequately lightweight, but a bit difficult to run in.
I think the combination of super-soft foam and minimal structure made it hard to lock into my form; kind of like it exaggerated all small variations in foot strike.
In the past, I’ve found that soft midsoles (Hoka Clifton 3, Skechers GoRun 5, Altra Escalante) felt better at faster paces and a bit of a chore for an easy day, but the Propel didn’t excel or even change much in feel regardless of my pace.
However, after a few more runs in them, including a 15 miler, I’m overall a fan. When my legs are tired, the Propel feels slow and inconsistent and requires more effort than ideal to keep turning over.
However, they’re fun to run in, not too soft as I was afraid of after my first run, and always a pleasure to have on the feet. I don’t find them to be at all a ‘go fast’ shoe, but they feel great on downhills and for a steady-state run they’re just as capable as any trainer; I’m glad to have them in my rotation.
- Comfortable, well-fitting upper
- Flexible, soft, and bouncy midsole
- The midsole is on the extreme end of softness, likely too much for some
- Slightly short; the fit for me was great overall but I could see those on the line between sizes having to size up just for length and then having the shoe feel too large overall
The New Balance Propel is a fairly unique daily trainer. It’s well-designed, comfortable to wear, and boasts an exceptionally squishy midsole which is definitely fun but makes it somewhat difficult to run in.
I appreciate having the Propel in my rotation for variety and enjoy running in it, but I would not like to wear it every day and thus would hesitate to recommend it for those looking for one do-it-all shoe.
However, I think that most people would enjoy running in the Propel and do appreciate the fit, design, and innovation. Also, a slab of high-rebound Superfoam for $110 USD is pretty great. Overall, it’s a cool shoe! I’m a fan.
Adidas Adizero Boston 7
The Boston (7) is much firmer, more stable, and has much more ground feel. There is a lot more structure going on with the Boston from the torsion plate, dual-density midsole, and even upper overlays which provides a more locked-in, consistent ride.
The shoes feel very different — flexible, soft, unstructured vs. firm and consistent. I felt like the Boston 7 was easy to keep turning over the legs at any pace while the Propel requires more work.
I have raced both half and full marathons in the Boston and would definitely not choose the Propel in that scenario, though in some ways, it’s a more fun shoe to run in, and definitely more comfortable. Boston for a more traditional, versatile, solid feel and Propel for a fun trainer. If I had to have one, Boston for sure.
Reebok Floatride Forever Energy
The Forever Floatride Energy (FFE) has a significantly firmer ride and a bit more controlled rebound. It’s more versatile and also feels easier to lock into form/pace, but the FFE upper fit me horribly and somewhat ruined my overall enjoyment of the shoe.
There is more race potential in the FFE, though I wouldn’t choose either it or the Propel for racing ideally, so my pick is the Propel.
Nike Epic React Flyknit 2
The Epic React 2 (ER2) is one of the daily trainers in my current rotation, and I’m a big fan. Like the Propel, it has a modern design with a flexible slab of high rebound foam and unstructured upper.
They’re relatively similar shoes overall. The ER2 midsole is significantly firmer but still soft enough to be comfortable. The ER2 upper is hard to dial in, and rarely any shoe can match the comfort of the Propel upper. However, the ER2 is more versatile and consistent/easy to turn over at any pace; the definite winner for me.
New Balance Beacon
The Propel midsole is significantly softer, more flexible, bouncier, and less stable. Neither shoe is very structured-both a single slab of foam and a simple upper. The Beacon midsole is much more dialed; firm but bottomless cushion which works for runs of any pace.
Just standing around the Beacon feels almost hard, but it has a smooth and somewhat propulsive give to it at speed while the Propel feels like it almost bottoms out just standing in them. The Propel outsole/grip is better than the Beacon, but that’s about it. I’d definitely pick the Beacon.
There are some shoes that you know you will like before you have even tried them on. The FuelCell Propel was one of those shoes for me.
I LOVE soft shoes. In my opinion, soft shoes are the crown jewel. Any brand can do a firm shoe—most budget shoes are firm rides, but few brands can get the soft midsole execution right.
The Nike Vomero line used to be my go-to soft shoe of choice. But, the latest Vomero 14, is no longer the plush, cushioned teddy bear we once knew and loved. This has left a hole in my shoe rotation and my heart.
Earlier this year, I bought two very expensive soft shoes to try to fill the hole: the Pegasus Turbo 2 and the Joyride. The Pegasus Turbo 2’s forefoot bottomed out over long distances while the Joyride was so lumpy that it felt like I was running on popped blisters.
Every running shoe brand has a shoe that they claim feels like you are “running on clouds”, but how many shoes can you honestly say actually feel like that?
Enter the FuelCell Propel. New Balance states that FuelCell is propulsive and snappy. The Propel is anything but that. If I had to describe the feeling of running in the Propel, it would be the popular overused simile of “like running on clouds”.
|Weight (UK 8)||262g|
|Widths||Optional 2E (Reviewed)|
Upper and fit
Trace Fibre is the new term that New Balance has coined for the technology it is using in the Propel’s upper; it sounds much fancier than it actually is.
Trace Fibre is the stitching that you see on the sides of the upper. It doesn’t weigh much and adds structure to a relaxed-fitting upper.
The Trace Fibre stitching is only present on the outside of the shoe. The inside is smooth over the foot.
The synthetic mesh is soft and has large, breathable pores that remind me of spacer mesh—the kind used on the early Nike Bowerman series. There is a smooth inside lining that makes the Propel very comfortable.
Pores in the mesh are large, but breathability is just average.
The gusseted tongue has wide wings, so there is no sideways movement during runs while the heel flares upwards to give the Propel a modern-racing look. My heel doesn’t feel locked down in the Propel, but it also doesn’t slip out.
The bottom half of the tongue is attached to the upper.
New Balance takes a page out of Nike’s book and makes the heel flare upward like the Pegasus 36.
The Propel’s upper fit is true to size and is very comfortable. The toe box is wide, deep, and spacious. The padding combined with the large-volume upper make you feel like you are in a running shoe version of a slipper.
Two things I don’t like about the upper are that there are no last row double eyelets, so you can’t employ heel lock lacing for a more secure fit, and the heel flare rubs your Achilles if you wear short socks.
The heel flare touches the Achilles and may cause uncomfortable rubbing with the wrong socks.
Midsole and ride
The new FuelCell cushioning material is a super foam made up of a nitrogen-injected TPU foam. The FuelCell midsole looks like regular EVA but is much lighter and much softer.
If I had to compare it to another foam, it would be similar to Nike’s ZoomX in softness but without the lively spring-back sensation.
If you take a close look at the Propel’s midsole, you’ll notice a horizontal line splitting the top and the bottom half. When pressure is applied, the bottom half splays out, and the top half gets compressed into the bottom half like into a crash pad.
The upper half of the midsole sinks into the lower half upon loading.
The reason I crave a super soft shoe is because I only weigh 60 kilograms and other shoes which people claim to be “soft” are just not soft to me because they don’t compress much when I strike my foot down.
The New Balance Propel, on the other hand, is one of the softest shoes I have ever run in. The only shoe I have run in that is softer than the Propel is the Nike Joyride, but the Joyride is energy-sapping and mushy.
I would hate to run a long distance in the Joyride, but in the Propel, I look forward to long weekend runs exceeding 30 kilometres.
The Propel’s ride is very smooth due to the one-piece upper and the full contact rubber outsole.
One thing the Propel is not is bouncy. I don’t feel much energy return with each foot strike, and I hope New Balance can tweak the FuelCell formula for the Propel sequel.
The thick midsole compresses easily when loaded, even for light runners.
The midsole flares out wide on both sides of the foot, making the ride feel very centred and stable. With the extreme softness of the midsole, the foot also sinks into the midsole. Thus, there is some “cupping” of the foot, which adds to the stability.
The midsole “wings” flare out on both sides and act as stabilisers by broadening the base of the shoe.
On the lateral and medial sides towards the rear foot are rails or barriers, which are raised. These help to keep your foot from leaning towards either side.
The raised jagged guide rails help to cup the foot and prevent lean bias.
The Propel is a very flexible shoe due to the cloud-like softness of the midsole. It flexes closer towards the middle than most shoes but not dead centre.
The high flexibility means that the shoe is more suited to long, slow runs rather than short, fast runs where a snappy shoe is needed.
The shoe flexes where the forefoot outsole lugs end at the path of least resistance.
The insole consists of a flimsy, thin material, which provides no cushioning. This ensures a strong connection between the foot and the FuelCell midsole.
There is no step-in plushness—all the softness comes from within the midsole.
The lasting below the thin insole is made of soft fibrous textile which stops the insole from sliding around.
Outsole and wear
The outsole is full coverage N-Durance rubber. This is soft, blown rubber. Hard-wearing heavy-duty rubber can’t be used on this shoe because you would be able to feel the lugs through the soft midsole.
The large, thick lugs are soft and flexible.
Wear shows slightly faster than normal because it is soft, blown rubber. On the lateral heel side of the Propel, I can see wear more towards the centre of the shoe, which is very unusual for my foot strike. I usually see the wear right on the edge of the lateral heel area.
The grip is excellent on dry and wet surfaces.
The outsole is designed in such a way that heel wear occurs closer to the centre of the shoe rather than on the edge.
If you really want to feel like you are running on clouds, get the New Balance Propel. It’s a super soft shoe that doesn’t feel mushy. It offers good protection for long distances, and the upper disappears on runs which is the best compliment you can give an upper.
The wide midsole base makes the shoe very stable while the soft outsole results in a flexible shoe that shines at slow paces.
On the negative side, heavy runners may find that the FuelCell midsole compresses too easily, and if you have sensitive Achilles heels, the high heel flare may be bothersome.
What makes the New Balance Propel so special is that its price is only $110, which is mind-boggling considering it has the cushioning to match a $150 maximum cushioned shoe but in a much lighter package. The Propel is just a fun shoe to run in.
I now finally have a shoe that fills the Vomero-sized hole in my shoe rotation.
- Super-soft ride
- High cushion-to-weight ratio
- Comfortable, accommodating upper
- Great value for money
- The ride is not bouncy
- Heel flare may cause problems
- No last-row double eyelets.
Here I am, about 80 miles in, finally ready to write down my thoughts about my latest purchase. If 2020 continues the way it started, it will be a great running year because—oh boy—these road shoes are great.
Inexpensive, comfortable, versatile, light, and supportive enough (yes this is very subjective!)—there isn’t much more I can ask from a $32 pair of running shoes!
Actually, there is—durability—and only time will tell, but so far, no red flags. It seems like I should be able to get at least 400 or 500 miles, even potentially up to 600 if it turns out as resistant at the Epic React 1 (fingers crossed).
What I like the most about the upper is how little there is to say about it. In many ways, it feels “traditional”, in the best way possible. It’s neither too thick, nor too thin.
It feels comfortable enough that you don’t really think about it. The material feels like what you’d expect from a running shoe, nothing more.
I haven’t run in rainy conditions. But, I would expect it not to be great because most shoes are terrible when it rains—unless they were designed for it, and this one was not.
The toe box is a little bit wider than usual, even more for me as I got a wide pair. But, even the regular width ones have a fairly wide toe box.
And I have to say that I really like it. Not having your pinky toes squished against the side of the shoe turns out to be a pretty good feeling!
The tongue is attached to the laces for most of its length, which makes it stay in place. You can see on the photo below where the tongue is attached to the rest of the upper.
This is the part I wanted to talk about, and this is the most interesting thing about this shoe. NewBalance advertises FuelCell as a: “foam [that] delivers the highest energy return of our performance foams on the market today”.
I like how flexible it is. As someone who tries to be a midfoot striker, I really like when the outsole bends in a way that makes the transition between when the midfoot hits the ground to the rest of the movement as comfortable as possible. And, this is what FuelCell feels like to me, comfortable.
At this point, I feel like repeating most of what I wrote about React when I reviewed the Nike Epic React 1. It’s soft but not mushy.
On a few faster runs, it felt smooth. The harder I was pushing, the more comfortable it got.
As you can see in the photo below, it does show signs of wear, which is expected at this point, but nothing drastic. I feel pretty optimistic about the next 300 miles.
I used the Propel for a few different run types. There was one long run, about 13 miles, a few medium treadmill runs, in the 3-5 mile range, and a few eight-ish miles outdoor, easy pace, runs. I’m happy to say that the Propel did well in all scenarios.
I got to use it on a slightly wet surface as we recently had snow in NYC, which lasted a good 12h before starting to melt and create a lot of slippery surfaces in the park.
Never did the shoe feel slippery. I still wouldn’t recommend it as the best shoe for wet runs, but again, no major issues there.
I picked up the pace a few times during my long run, and I was pleasantly surprised by how it felt. The outsole was still responsive enough, and my strides felt really light.
That being said, I still stand by what I originally wrote in my initial impressions. I don’t think I’ll use it for targeted workouts.
I’ve been following Jack Daniel’s Running Formula, mainly the half marathon and marathon plans, for the past few years.
He recommends two to three, depending on the plan, Q (for Quality) sessions per week, with bouts at a specific pace, for a specific distance or time.
And for those, I’ve used different shoes, any of the Nike Zoom Flys or the original Nike Pegasus Turbo.
I did initially find weird how long the laces were, and I still do. That being said, I like the fabric. It’s a little bit stretchy. Thus, I’ve never had issues with the laces while running, which frequently happens with most of my Nike shoes.
It could have been a terrible shoe, but I would have still liked it. Come on, $32?! The bar was really low, but it delivered!
I think that this shoe will be an excellent replacement for my now old pair of Epic React 1, and as I phase these out, the FuelCell Propel will get more playtime in the next few months.
I actually almost want to buy a few pairs at this price, just in case!
And to top things, I think it looks pretty good (for a running shoe), I really like the outsole patterns.
While I’m still trying to figure out my own rating system, on a simple scale from 1 to 100, this one would easily get a 95.
Why not a 100? Well, I’m sure that by the time I’m ready to retire it, I’ll still feel like it could have lasted a little bit more!
The New Balance FuelCell Propel is a neutral, high cushion running shoe. While its 27 mm heel and 21 mm forefoot stack heights border on medium/high, the FuelCell midsole provides an extremely soft ride.
However, if the FuelCell Propel rates high on the comfort scale, it does so at the expense of energy return. In short, it does not deliver a snappy, responsive ride.
Heavier runners are constantly looking for the balance of a highly cushioned shoe that will help minimize the impact of running on their joints and a midsole that will still provide a springy feeling.
Many runners have described the experience of this shoe as that of running on a cloud. Unfortunately, as a 260-pound runner, the experience of running in the FuelCell Propel can best be described as running in sand—albeit extremely comfortable sand.
The FuelCell Propel mesh upper allows for lighter overall weight without sacrificing quality. As with everything else with this shoe, the upper can be described as extremely flexible.
The support of the upper is minimal, but the plush collar liner and gusseted tongue allow for a locked-down feel of the upper. One of the defining characteristics of the FuelCell upper is the heel notch, which towers over the rest of the upper.
Given the flexibility of the upper, this contributes to a collapsing of the heel notch into the Achilles’ tendon. For those with any Achilles’ tendon issues, this may exacerbate that condition.
The FuelCell Propel midsole can best be described as plush+. The 6mm drop is a balance for those who do not like the 10+ mm drop of many road shoes but aren’t quite ready to make the plunge to a 0mm drop. The flared base allows for a stable ride while FuelCell technology hugs the foot.
The main flex point of the shoe is approximately at, but not quite at, the midpoint of the shoe. Combining the soft cushioning and the flexibility of the midsole with a forefoot strike and the heft of 260 pounds equals runs that feel like they have far exceeded the actual miles.
While delivering a plush feel, running in this shoe feels like work. As the main flex point of the shoe robs any spring for the midfoot and forefoot striker, this shoe would be better suited for a heel striker, where the effect of the mid-foot flexion point would be minimized.
No matter the condition, the NDurance soft rubber outsole provides solid traction. A flex groove is present at the forefoot, but as reflected by the midfoot flex point, this appears to be solely ornamental.
A groove that runs from the forefoot to the heel of this shoe helps add to a stable ride.
First of all, this is a quality built road running shoe. The price point of $110 brings it in well below most highly cushioned lower drop running shoes.
However, as a heavier runner with a forefoot strike, the New Balance Fuel Cell Propel does not deliver the snappy ride that makes the mile fly by.
I would recommend this shoe for a lighter runner (or potentially heavier runners who want some forgiveness for their heel striking) who are looking for a long run or recovery run shoe that is a well-built shoe. With its lack of responsiveness, a tempo shoe this is not.
If you are looking for a comfortable jogging shoe for limited miles, this may also be a good shoe for you. The overall comfort of this shoe is amazing, and the high level of cushioning minimizes the impact on joints.
- Well -built and lightweight
- Lack of energy return
- High Achilles Upper heel notch can lead to irritation of the Achilles’ tendon
- The New Balance FuelCell Propel is a running shoe that’s made for those who like to take to the roads on a daily basis. It can be used for speed training or exercise sessions in the gym. It has been touted as a model that’s inspired by the FuelCell Rebel shoe, a product that utilizes a fit-reinforcing feature called Trace Fiber Stitching.
- FuelCell is the midsole unit of this product. This full-length accoutrement is meant to provide a lightweight yet responsive ride, giving a performance that is reactive to the movements and capacities of the wearer. The NDurance outsole rubber shields against wear-and-tear while also delivering grip over the surfaces.
The New Balance FuelCell Propel was constructed using the standard sizing scheme. Users are welcome to get a pair with their usual sizing expectations in mind. However, it is worth noting that achieving a pleasant in-shoe experience would greatly benefit from initially testing the shoe or checking out user reviews from physical and virtual outlets.
When it comes to the width, the accessible options are D - Medium and 2E - Wide for men, and B - Medium and D - Wide for women. The various alternatives permit many foot types to fit into this shoe without worrying about a too-tight hug.
The semi-curved shape of the lasting board works with the flexible open mesh of the upper to accommodate the natural curvature of the human foot.
The outsole unit of the New Balance FuelCell Propel is made of NDurance, a rubber compound that is constructed to protect the base of the midsole from the abrasive nature of the surfaces. It has a set of non-prominent traction nodes to deliver grip on the asphalt. Movements such as swerves, turns, strafes and brakes are likely to benefit from such inclusion.
A few flex grooves are patterned on the external pad. These shallow grooves aim to make the sole unit as flexible as possible, encouraging the natural shape of the foot as it goes through the gait cycle.
FuelCell is the technology that’s used for the midsole unit of the New Balance FuelCell Propel. This in-house compound runs the entire length of the product, giving support to the foot as it stands idly or as it transitions from the heel to the toe. It is touted by the brand to be lightweight, flexible yet able to handle many running sessions. Its shock-attenuating capacity further aims to improve the quality of the performance.
A sockliner is placed right above the lasting piece of this product. This add-on offers a smooth surface for the underside of the foot, staving off a feeling of uncomfortable firmness that’s associated with any shoe’s lasting board. It can be removed or replaced with a new one if the wearer wants to do so.
The exterior of the New Balance FuelCell Propel’s upper unit is made of open mesh, a material that is lightweight and form-fitting. It is a fabric grid, with breathing holes pockmarking its facade. Air enters the ports, giving an in-shoe experience that is cool and dry. Breathable uppers are a staple in New Balance’s roster of performance footwear. Variations of this feature grace series like the enduring New Balance 1500.
The inner sleeve is made of a smooth textile. This interior layer is tasked with hugging the foot safely, staving off hot spots and chafing, occurrences that are associated with an itchy textile or a seam-filled foot-chamber.
The tongue and collar are moderately padded. Such features have the job of cushioning the back of the foot, ensuring that it doesn’t suffer from impact shock or in-shoe wobbling.
The heel part has a leaf-like structure to help with the security of the Achilles tendon. Such a design also prevents the foot from exiting the shoe unintentionally.
Trace Fiber Stitching involves a pattern of stitched-on overlays gracing the sides and the back of the shoe. These reinforcing elements bolster the upright position of the silhouette, ensuring that it doesn’t sag quickly. They also help with the attainment of a snug fit by participating with the lacing system as it tightens or loosens.
The forefoot section has a printed overlay to protect it from bumps or scratches from various debris on the roads.
A discreet lacing system is used for this product. Flat shoelaces snake through eyelets made of cords. This isolated zigzag structure averts hot spots brought about by material bunching or pressure from the placement of the lacing system.
Size and fit
How FuelCell Propel compares
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