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SHOE REVIEW: New Balance FuelCell 5280

Introducing spikes for the road

The New Balance FuelCell 5280 is an aggressive shoe. This isn’t a walking shoe, this isn’t a jogging shoe, this isn’t even a running shoe–this is a racing shoe. Nearly every company in the shoe game is cooking up a carbon-plated product, and the 5280 is New Balance’s first crack at it. And first crack or not, they made a killer shoe.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Shoe category: Neutral
Release date: September 5, 2019
Price: $279.99
Cushion: Responsive
Weight: 142 g (men’s size 9.5), 105 g (women’s size 7)
Surfaces tested: Road, track
Buy Women’s Buy Men’s

RELATED: New Balance releases carbon-plated shoe

What this shoe does

The FuelCell 5280 is named for the 5,280 feet in a mile. The new shoe is made with a multidirectional carbon fibre plate that’s designed to accept the runner at initial contact and stiffen at toe-off. The midsole is an updated version of New Balance’s FuelCell foam, which will be featured across their newest line up of shoes. The upper is made of a lightweight knit and is almost identical in shape to the upper of their middle distance spike. This shoe is essentially spikes for the road.

Photo: Matt Stetson

When you put the 5280 on, your toes will point upward, your foot will collapse inward and you’ll feel unsteady on your feet. You’ll keep feeling this way as you walk. Then, when you start to jog, you’ll notice that even though the foam is soft to the touch, it’s got an extremely firm feel on foot. The magic happens when you start running fast, and all of a sudden the shoe that was uncomfortable moments ago feels like a real asset.

Photo: Matt Stetson

When you should wear it

I wore this shoe to do a pre-race workout. I run the 800m, so the day before a race I do a small workout to get my legs moving and touch the pace I want to go the following day. This small workout includes a 15-minute jog, some drills, four to five strides and 2 x 200m at race pace. I wore the New Balance Rebel for the jog and drills and the 5280 for the strides and intervals. I repeated this workout on the roads to see what surface I preferred the shoe on. Personally, I was partial to the road. On the track I like the added grip of the actual spikes on the bottom of the shoes, but the 5280 was pretty ideal for the road, feeling bouncier the faster I went. This bounce is thanks to the carbon-fibre plate that runs from the front of the heel through the runner’s toe.

The shoe is designed for the mile, and I think could be worn for a race as long as the 5K–any longer than a 5K and you could be asking for trouble in your calves, due to the aggressive nature of the plate and the stiffness of the foam.

Photo: Matt Stetson

Upper and outsole

The upper and outsole of the shoe are both shockingly minimal. The upper features very delicate mesh that is reinforced at the toe, the sides of the shoe and at the heel counter. This is the most minimal upper I’ve ever encountered, even from traditional spikes. The outsole is nearly non-existent from the heel to midfoot, and has a lightly speckled tread from the midfoot to the toe. These minimal features are what allows the shoe to be so light–at only 105 grams for a women’s size 7, this shoe is one of the lightest racers on the market.

Photo: Matt Stetson

The fit

The shoe is narrow, and fits and feels like a sock. On that note, don’t wear socks with this shoe–it’s intended to fit like a second (super fast) skin. The laces secure your foot in place, even though the shoe is so snug around the midfoot that you barely need them. I’d recommend trying these shoes on in-store if possible, as they fit a little long on me. I’d consider a half-size down from what I typically wear in trainers.

If you’ve never worn spikes, this shoe will feel strange initially. Give it a minute and trying going fast, then you’ll feel what the hype is about. This shoe isn’t a stand-in for the Vaporfly, but that’s fine, because it isn’t trying to be. This shoe is tackling something different. It’s geared toward the shortest distance a runner is likely to contest on the road–the mile.

In Canada, the shoe can be found on September 5 at BlackToe Running (Toronto), Forerunners Main St. (Vancouver), Frontrunners (Victoria), Le Coureur Nordique (Quebec City), and Boutique Endurance (Montreal). Running Room will sell the shoe online at 1 p.m. EST on September 5 and New Balance.ca will have it available for 7 p.m. EST on the same day.