I never heard of embrocation for at least the first decade of my cycling life. Chamois creme? Sure, that was the weird stuff dorky roadies put on their taints before ‘taint’ was a word so they could ride Brooks saddles all day long. Whatever, I didn’t ride Brooks saddles, nor did I sit on any saddle all day long. I was rad, shredding it on mountain bikes.
Then I got a Brooks saddle. But it was on by commuter, so irrelevant, really. A separate, parallel track led me to an awareness of the merit and utility of both chamois creme and embrocation. Mainly, it was the transition to riding skinny-tire-shod bikes for long hours that got me into both cream and embro.
There was a learning curve. Early on, about 10 years ago, I tried diaper cream on a hot day. Epic Fail. Don’t do it. It’s meant to form a barrier against moisture transfer, and this works in both directions. Basically, you’ll boil.
Embro was challenging in its own way. Also about 10 years ago, I took up collecting all manner of herbal liniments I encountered locally and while travelling, amassing a decent collection of sauces. Naturally, I had the inevitable and unfortunate experience involving hot embro-to-dangly-parts-interfacing before long, probably on a day I was wearing knickers. Not cool; at all. Did I give up? Nope. I loved the stuff, even if I got burned.
Mad Alchemy came onto the scene at just the right time for me, as I was looking for one source for all my skin fortifying needs. Pete Smith launched an impressive array of recipes, ranging from summer weight to don’t-ever-get-this-shit-on-your-bits-hot. He also offered a chamois creme, rounding out the line. I ordered up a metric whack of the stuff, and proceeded to embrocate happily until my supply ran dry, forcing me to take up other locally available option. See, Mad Alchemy wasn’t available for sale in Canada; I’d picked up my metric whack in the US.
Time passed, Pete kept on chipping away at building the business, and eventually got through Health Canada’s red tape, opening up the Canadian market. So when I started looking at which partners I wanted Tekne CC to work with, Pete was my first call.
The resounding question I’ve glossed, however, is what the hell embrocation is all about? Like, why bother?
I’m sure there are at least three different ways to respond to this perfectly sensible question; I’ll offer one: ritual.
Why do cyclists shave their legs? Again, there are likely at least three reasons, but one of them, for many, is certainly that it is a ritual, and in the first instance, a rite of passage. It is symbolic in marking the transition from ‘normal person’ to ‘cyclist.’ It is not a necessary condition for one to be a cyclist. Nor is it a sufficient condition. It is simply part of the process many go through in subscribing to the common practices of the community/fraternity/sorority/cult.
Similarly, embrocating is a rite of passage for road cyclists. There is a why and a how to it, and in some circles, it’s part of being on the inside. But beyond the drive to fit in (which was not a factor for me, personally, I am just into herbal everything) we humans like to repeat processes that are familiar, comforting, and set the tone for what we are about to take on. Smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee are ritualistic practices, for example. I only drink decaf coffee (and I only smoke when I ride), but the ritual of preparing and drinking it in the morning is an important way in which I prepare for a gruelling day of desk jockeying. Or cycling. More the latter.
I (almost) always shave my legs and face the day before an important race, event, or a really hard day in the saddle. This is how I prepare myself. Likewise, before starting one of these excursions on the bike, I embrocate. This is, of course, assuming I have the appropriate embro on hand. If it’s cold out, you better believe I do.
The process of embrocating is less about the benefit the sauce provides physically as it is the benefit your mind derives from feeling like you have prepared properly. Steps have not been skipped. You are not flying out the door, bottle empty. You’ve given yourself the time you need to prepare calmly and intentionally, readying yourself for the day. Embrocating is an opportunity to slow things down, focus on something simple, and awaken your senses with the aromas wafting off your skin.
So it’s not like chain lube, which you must use. It’s also not for looking super sexy with your shimmering, glistening legs. That’s just a side-benefit. It’s for starting your ride a certain way. It’s about intention.
Is embrocation for you? Perhaps, perhaps not. If you are looking for the simplest approach to your cycling, and you don’t tend to ride in foul weather, perhaps not. If you love to sweat the details and/or ride in foul weather, give it a try. The price of entry is low, and you might just love it. For some, a fine embrocation is the little extra push needed to get out the door when it’s gray, raining, and the family is still in bed.
A selection of Mad Alchemy’s chamois cream and embrocation can be found at Mountain Equipment Co-op locations across Canada, and the whole line ships to Canada over the web: www.madalchemy.com