I figure I should chime in on this one. There is an email thread on the OBRA mailing list that I caught this morning:
I would like some suggestions on embrocation. Do you embrocate? What brand/type do you use? Where do you purchase it? What would work in Portland type weather?
I too, think using embrocation falls into the same line of questions as: “why do bike racers shave their legs?”
Part tradition, part function, part ritual, part sex appeal.
I am a critic and as practical as they come. To be honest, I loathe shaving my legs (too time consuming) and I don’t particularly like creams and oils (yo, I like my skin’s natural feel). Yet I shave. And embrocate the hell out of my legs.
Similar to shaving your bike-racer legs, there are logical reasons to embrocate: (some are quite a stretch in their justification of the fancy habits) you shave so that road rash is easier to clean, so that your massages are smoother and yes, so that you are more “aero”.
You embrocate to encourage blood flow in the leg muscles, for a warming (or cooling) effect, to protect your legs from the elements, to prevent chafing, to facilitate quicker clean up for the podium presentation (and/or post-race recreation), and to promote a generally high level of euro-ness.
If you are a curmudgeon and far, far too many in Portland are, you have already harumphed at most of the ridiculous things cyclist’s do. (except those you do yourself) And, I am right there with you, making fun of myself. (electronic shifting? plastic bicycles?!) Yet, I choose to encourage and embrace the beauty and spectacle of the culture we are a part of.
Please know I am also a leg warmer connoisseur. I love them and wear them religiously. Being a frail and weakly vegan (note: sarcasm), my body temp runs cold. Like real cold. I need to wear very warm gear when training. A training rule I gleaned from an old school, eastern bloc style, euro cycling coach: wear a warm jacket and keep your legs covered if it is colder than 70 degrees. 70 degrees! I still live by this rule on the bike. (off the bike, not so much. I’m known to wear as little clothing as possible, whenever possible)
However for racing, you don’t want to be carrying around any extra weight. Lose the leg warmers. Which will get heavy when wet. And, when clothing gets wet, it gets cold. Who wants to race with heavy wet clothes on? Use embrocation.
After an evening spent meditating on my race and well, you know, the standard cyclocross rituals; the virgin priestesses shaving my legs in a bath of imported mineral water, inflating my tubulars to 2 BAR with my own lungs and the blessing of my bicycles by a zen buddist monk (cyclocross is there is no cyclocross), I’ll wake up and have a bowl of plain pasta 4 hours before my start time.
I’ll use a light embrocation after my morning shower, applied under my leg warmers and put my warm-up kit on before traveling to the race, (you always want to arrive in kit, ready to pre-ride the course). Then, an hour before my start, I’ll apply my personal embrocation blend. (putting leg warmers back on if needed. With this said, you keep your warm up jackets and warmers on until you are in the start grid, hopping up and down for warmth with 2 minutes to start, then yank them off and toss to your team sognier) For years I was just using plain vasoline as, all I really wanted was protection from the wind and rain. I have even made some of my own embrocations but, now I just leave it to the professionals to make it for me.
I requested Mad Alchemy make my blend kinda thick with a little bit of warmth and a lot of minty freshness. I layer it on heavy and it wipes off clean with a warm cloth. You do bring two warm towels to the races right? Well, if you don’t, you must start. Nothing is better than being able to race, get covered in mud, then use warm wet towels to wipe the embrocation off your legs and then your face (with the clean towel, obviously).
Embrocation: vanity? eh, maybe. Functional, very much so. Yet another ridiculous thing cyclists do? Clearly. And come on, if you live in Portland, being a hairy legged bike racer is just about as original as… well it just is not really that different. Will not using embrocation keep you from riding satisfaction? Probably not.
But should you embrace the embrocation? Of course you should. Not to be like everyone else, or VDB, or the MC. But to create your own rituals and define your own routine for racing and riding. If you pay attention to the details, which most cyclists do, it is just another tool for you to use as needed.
ok, some home made soba curry awaits. I’m out.