Archive for the ‘How to’ Category

What makes a good embrocation?

In How to on November 6, 2010 at 2:51 pm

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.


Washing it off

In How to on December 2, 2009 at 10:37 am

We’ve heard much from you about the quality of our embrocation.  You like the scent, the feel, the care that we take in choosing our ingredients.  We’ve also heard from you about the lingering of the burn, and we decided to give a more detailed primer about post-ride removal of Northwest Knee Warmers embrocation.

As you know–because you have read our other postings–our embrocation is 100% natural and washes off with soap, water, and minimal elbow grease.  You don’t need a Brillo pad like some of the euro’ stuff.

“But wait,” you say.  “When I step out of the shower after washing it off, my legs still burn and tingle.”  And therein lies the rub (pun intended).  You see, the capsaicin in our product binds to the nerve endings.  That’s how it causes the sensation of heat, and the reduced perception of pain.  Even though the embro’ has been washed off, those capsaicin molecules are still attached to your nerve endings just under the skin.  After a short while, the effect will wear off, much like the effect of lidocaine wears off after you’ve been to the dentist for a filling.  Personally, I like the lingering warmth.  It helps me to thaw out after a particularly long cold ride.

One final thing to bear in mind:  Capsaicin does not cause tissue damage.  Even though our “Maximum” warmth is hot hot hot, there is no chemical burn going on, despite what your nerves are telling you.

Why do we embrocate?

In How to, The story on November 5, 2009 at 11:58 am



Why do we embrocate?

The reasons we embrocate vary from the aesthetic to the scientific.

That’s right, there is actually science behind our ingredient choices. And we aren’t talking about Dr. Google/Wikipedia science here either.

The primary active ingredient of all three strengths of Northwest Knee Warmers is of course capsaicin oleoresin. This is an extract made from chili peppers and it gives our embrocation its heat. But that’s not all it does.

Capsaicin is also an analgesic. That is, it reduces the perception of pain. This is an effect that accumulates with regular use. Studies have shown that pain perception from arthritis continues to decrease over a 2 week period of daily application.

Other studies have shown that the application of capsaicin to the skin covering a muscle can reduce the pain perception of that muscle. If you’re a geek like us, you will enjoy this technical study here, and an abstract here.

A translation of those studies boils down to a fairly simple concept. Each type of sensation we detect is passed from the skin to the brain by a specialized nerve. We have vibration-sensing nerves, temperature-sensing nerves, touch-sensing nerves, pain-sensing nerves, and so on.

Our pain-sensing nerves use a chemical substance to relay the message of pain to the brain. That substance is called “substance P”. If our pain nerves are strongly stimulated over time, they start to run out of substance P, and are less able to relay the message of pain. Capsaicin stimulates our pain-sensing nerves, but one of the most interesting characteristics of capsaicin is that unlike ginger or even garlic in high concentrations, it does not cause tissue damage via chemical burn. So even though you feel the burn, you aren’t actually doing any damage. Capsaicin’s ability to deplete substance P is the reason we hear from users of Northwest Knee Warmers that when they embrocate before a hard workout or race, they experience much less fatigue than usual afterwards. We haven’t been able to find any corroborating research for this, but it is something we hear often.

Another interesting point is that the body does not build up a tolerance for this effect. That is, using it frequently does not diminish the pain-relieving effect. But one thing that the body can develop a tolerance for is the warm sensation. We have a feeling that this is part of the reason there is such a strong demand for our “Maximum” strength from the long-time embrocation users around Portland. (You know who you are.) The “warmth tolerance” builds up with multiple daily uses, not the more typical 3-4 uses a week, and if application is discontinued for a few days, the tolerance wears off.

We are kept awake at night thinking about how to make the best embrocation possible. Not just an embrocation that doesn’t offend your significant other’s sense of smell (very important), not just an embrocation that feels like butter, and uses the purest all natural ingredients out there, but an embrocation that has a body of science behind it. We think we’re well on our way.

Do you embrocate?

In How to on September 25, 2009 at 7:35 pm

When the air starts to hold that unmistakable scent and crispness in the early September mornings, you know that the time for embrocation has arrived again.

Pull out your tin, or order a fresh one, and start by opening it and inhaling the aroma.  Now you know it’s almost fall–almost time to get your ‘cross on.  After a season of racing with embrocation on your legs, your response to the scent will be Pavlovian.  It will evoke the sound of knobby tires rolling through fallen leaves and the taste of mud in your mouth.

After you have chamois-ed up, and applied your choice of chamois cream, fold up the legs of your chamois.  With the fingertips of one hand, scoop out the desired amount of Northwest Knee Warmers embro’ for one leg, and rub the fingertips of both hands together to warm up and melt the embro’ just a bit.  This makes it easier to apply evenly.  Apply to your leg, taking care to rub it in around the tendons–the front and sides of your knee and along the achilles tendon.  This will enhance blood flow to the parts of your leg where it’s scarce and help to prevent injury.  Repeat for the other leg.

Now admire the shine.

The order of things is important here.  If you apply your embrocation before you put on your shorts, you will drag the spicy stuff up to your nether-regions, and you will not soon forget the experience!  Also, apply your chamois cream first, so as to prevent cross-contamination.

Be sure to clean off your hands after application–if you are in a race parking lot, use baby wipes.  Otherwise, you may find yourself in tears at the start line after rubbing your eyes.

Northwest Knee Warmers Embrocation washes off with soap and water.  If you’re at a race, baby wipes or a little ethyl alcohol on a dedicated washcloth will do the trick.  If you don’t shave, now is the time to consider it because it washes off much more easily (and shines up so much better) with bare legs.

probably a good idea to consider shaving

So do you embrocate?  Share your ritual.