For some, embrocation is the Belgian equivalent of Flubber — a nearly magical substance that breathes fire into the legs and courage into the heart. In reality, though, it’s a borderline toxic material that I’m frankly surprised isn’t flammable. It conjures many lyrical references — Ladytron’s “Destroy Everything You Touch” comes to mind, namely — but it’s to be handled with care, and really only to be used for racing. But if you’re like me, and you’re dead tired of wearing warmers on every ride, the late spring is the perfect environment for dry or wet weather embro’ application. Here’s a short guide on the DOs and DON’Ts of embrocation, primarily based on how to not enflame your nether region.
Apply between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit for regular riding — race day is a different story altogether, and it really comes down to your preference in this situation.
Outside of racing, yes, it’s a pretty small window, but embro’ is also a comparative hassle in contrast to the simplicity of just pulling on warmers. In other words, below 55 degrees is just too cold, and above 70, you really need to knuckle up.
Outside of necessity in a ‘cross race, I don’t recommend hitting much of any dirt all embro’d up. You’ll notice that, even on the road, every bit of dirt will stick to your legs, creating a noticeable layer of grime and filth after 20 or so miles. So, unless you’re trying to create a super epic profile pic, it’s best to leave embrocation for the road. For the sake of science, I actually did this over the weekend just to see how bad it would be. It was bad — gross, actually.
Make sure that your legs are shaved, or at least shorn, before applying. If you think that your shaved legs are a greasy mess post-application, just imagine the scenario of negotiating embro’ through a seemingly endless series of hairy slot canyons — it’s just gross.
Taking a “relaxing” post-ride soak is out of the question. That is unless you enjoy the sensation of fire in every soft tissue crevice of your body. Consider your bath privileges revoked.
Pull on your socks and bib shorts prior to application. Simply roll up your shorts and roll down your socks a little bit, apply in streaks over the knee, shin, and calf, and then rub vigorously into the skin. There’s a small bit of contention on whether to apply under the socks, but unless you love greasy, smelly socks all year (more so than usual), I’d advise against this. The only takeaway, here, is to make sure that you’re not pulling on your shorts over lathered legs. The resulting agony is akin to my next don’t.
Do NOT confuse your embrocation and chamois cream. It sounds like an ’80s summer camp movie prank, but this has happened, albeit not to me, and it will happen again. Use a color-coding system, a locked case, anything that you have to, just don’t be a victim of this ruthless assault to the body.
Top off your water bottles and pack your food before you lube up. Even after cleaning your hands, a residual sting will linger on your skin, and the last place that you want that dragon’s breath is on your lips after a swig from the bottle.
Taking a shower before scraping off as much embro’ as possible is a bad idea. Most embrocations only get hotter when wet, so a typical shower will go from warm to horror movie in the blink of an eye. My technique around this is simple: grab a roll of paper towels and go to town wiping off your legs. After this, wipe down your legs in the sink with dish soap. Lastly, wash your hands with said dish soap after you’re done. You’ll still feel a sting in the shower, but it won’t feel like you’re melting.
Thoroughly clean your hands after you apply. I’m talking baby wipes, dish soap, water, and a few sheets of paper towels. You especially want to get at the webbing between your fingers in order to prevent the following.
You need to avoid touching your eyes and face for a while after you’ve cleaned your hands. No matter how hard you try, some embro’ will always sneak by, and from experience, climbing with embrocation under your nostrils will be one of the most terrible experiences of your life.
There you have it. As always, a little precaution and common sense will go a long way. Good riding.