I’ve spent much time considering what makes a good embrocation and what doesn't, so I thought I would share some of my thoughts.
A good embrocation IS:
- pleasing to the nose and over time will evoke memories of the beginning of fall, the emergence of spring, and the cold wet rides in between–that is if you are the hardman (or woman) type. The scent should be medicinal enough that you know it means business, but not so much that it offends your significant other’s senses–very important in my own household.
- a pleasure to apply. It should melt at or just below body temperature, or have a loose enough consistency that smooth and even application is easy.
- capable of providing a PRO level of shine and appropriate level of heat, and has a moderate “flypaper effect“, so you can look like a hardman, even if you aren’t.
- a barrier to the elements, both the cold and the wet. A thick-ish application of embrocation will shed water and reduce evaporative heat loss while at the same time increasing blood flow. The heat sensation will also increase when embrocation is wet. Your embrocated gams may be the warmest part of you on a cold February ride.
- water-resistant, but not soap-resistant so that it can be washed off in the shower or parking lot after a race.
- made of natural ingredients that are chosen with as much scientific knowledge and attention to detail as possible. A list of said ingredients should also be on the label. Surprisingly, you will find that many of the European products do not list their ingredients.
A good embrocation is NOT:
- irritating. Capsaicin is not irritating to the skin and will not cause tissue damage. It physically binds to our pain-sensing nerve endings and stimulates them, resulting in increased blood flow and sometimes reddening of the skin. Your skin may feel irritated, but it is a trick of physiology. Other substances–natural or not–can be irritating to the skin and should be, for the most part, avoided.
- a substitute for layers when the temperature really drops. Much of the naysaying around embrocation revolves around using it instead of tights or knee warmers in very cold temperatures. If the temperature is so low that core body temperature is at risk, then using embrocation on bare legs is a little like using arm floats to navigate a class V rapid. There is a time and a place for covering the legs.
Tell us what makes a good embro for you.