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Should You Embrocate?
Google the word embrocation and the top results are not products, or even definitions. Rather, you get a slew of links to Embrocation Cycling Journal. Founder and creator Jeremy Dunn chose to name his rag after a gooey ointment because he felt the word was synonymous with cycling, or as he puts it, “Embrocation is the essence of cycling.”

I’d never heard of the stuff until I started racing cyclocross. I can’t say it changed my life, but I’d hate for anyone to be pedaling around without knowing the basics of what one man considers cycling’s very essence. Who knows? Your failure to embrocate may be what’s been holding you back from becoming an all-weather cyclist.

As a writer, I can appreciate that the word embrocation does double duty – it means both the act of applying a liniment or lotion to the skin, as well as the goop itself. According to Dunn, embrocation is a skin care product for cyclists. If that sounds sissified, consider that a dollop of embrocation is what makes a 130-mile winter ride bearable for your legs. Or what lets you wear shorts during a bitter cold ‘cross race.

Legend has it that embrocation hails from Belgium, land of eternal bad weather and cyclocross fanaticism. While the heating qualities of embrocation make it a winter necessity, Pete Smith, owner and founder of Mad Alchemy Embrocation, said it helps in any weather. His company makes several summer formulas in addition to their staple winter warmers. “Studies have shown that embrocation helps increase blood flow to the extremities, which decreases the pain of intense efforts on the bike,” he said. “So when you embrocate, you suffer less, regardless of the season.”

An embrocation formula is typically applied to the legs, although Smith also recommends it for the low back, the tops of the shoulders, and the neck, on particularly cold days. Embrocation consists of a rich base like shea butter, combined with an emollient like beeswax, and oils like sesame or grapeseed. Thick and viscous, embrocation leaves a coating on the skin that repels water and insulates, as if you had an extra layer of fat on your legs. The formula also includes warming compounds, which can be as simple as natural herbs like cinnamon, or as complex as chemically derived heating agents like Icy-Hot or Ben-Gay.

Get a glossy glow by rubbing a conservative amount into your muscles for 3-5 minutes. Smith recommends starting with the calves, moving onto the tendons of the hamstrings behind the knee, and then the patella. Next, concentrate your efforts on the quadriceps and muscle bellies of the hamstrings. Be sure you’ve removed any water or debris from the legs before applying embrocation.

If you’re inclined, apply a second layer. “Like a proper tubular gluing technique, a second layer provides a more productive shield from the elements and increased warmth on colder days,” Smith said. And this may seem like common sense, but keep the embrocation and the chamois cream as far apart as possible. There are a few places you definitely don’t want to embrocate.

Finally, there’s no need to restrict embrocation to just cycling. Runners can benefit too, especially in the spring and fall when running in colder, wetter conditions, but still wearing shorts. Heck, some of Mad Alchemy’s all-natural non-warming formulas are superior to many moisturizers on the market. Dunn said that embrocation used to be just for race day, but lately has found its way into the daily routine. Wake, shower, dress, coffee, embrocate, commute. “Technically, you could do without embrocation, but that’s not living,” he said. “Embrocation is the jam on your toast, the honey in your tea. It’s just plain good.”

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Jayme Otto races road and cyclocross in Colorado where she served as captain of Title Nine, an amateur woman's bike race team. Off the bike, Jayme is associate editor at Boulder-based Elevation Outdoors magazine and contributing editor at Women's Adventure. Her freelance writing has appeared in Bicycling, Backpacker, Runner's World, Running Times, Trail Runner, VeloNews, and Women's Running.
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