For all the love given to embrocation by the All Things Belgian Supporters Club and their subsidiaries and hangers-on, it is rare that the potion is mentioned in the winter outside of stripping down to short-legged skinsuits for cold cyclocross races. We suspect there are many reasons for this. For some, it is ignorance: even though it might not immediately cross minds that the stuff can be used under tights, the principles that make it work in the spring and fall are equally true in the winter. Another is time: dressing for a cold ride takes long enough already. Another is the complexity of keeping the hot sauce away from sensitive skin. We think the most likely culprit is that many cyclists stop shaving their legs in the winter and the resulting downy thatch does not mix well with thick grease.
Mad Alchemy came up with a solution for all of the above—Pre-Ride Oil. They are not the first embrocation conjurers to brew a batch of oil for sale, but they are the first we know of to specifically mention hairy legs and protection for winter riding as the reasons for lubing. It isn’t just for hairy legs and/or winter, but it does work for these conditions.
The basic idea is that oil is thinner. Thinner is less “sticky” and unlikely to mat hair. Another result of lower viscosity is that it is easier to spread, which can translate to faster application. Because it is so thin and comes as a liquid, not a solid, it comes in a 120mL spray bottle. Not coincidentally, 120mL is the same volume as Mad Alchemy embrocations.
They offer two flavors, Non-Warming and Warming. Both rely on grapeseed and rapeseed oils for the base. The Non-Warming gives your legs a little shine, and possibly keeps your legs warmer by adding a microscopically thin layer of oil on top of your skin. The Non-Warming adds cedar and eucalyptus oils for aroma as well as insect repellency. The Warming has capsicum annum and cinnamomum cassia for heat. The orange-red color might do a little spray-on tan thing, too.
When we’ve used oils in the past, we assumed that they were supposed to be used in conjunction with a topical heat rub. We thought that the procedure was to apply the heat, then seal it in with the oil. The Alchemists do not recommend this. They say that the non-warming goes on alone and if you’re going to use the warming oil with one of their heat rubs, put the oil on first, then the rub. Considering how well we’ve found their products to stick to our skin, a top layer shouldn’t be needed to protect the hot stuff.
Also typical of oils is a drip-top bottle, like your baby oil, where you open the top, turn it over, and the liquid runs out. This particular oil is different in that it has a spray nozzle. Better control should mean a lower likelihood of over-use or spillage or waste.
As entranced as we were by the spray idea, we found it a bit problematic. The idea of control is great. The problem is that the oil comes out with such force that it bounced off our legs and onto the floor, our clothes, and whatever else was nearby. A minor annoyance with the Non-Warming, but a real concern with the Warming; we really don’t want it bouncing off our legs into our eyes. The Alchemists suggested spraying into a hand rather than directly onto legs. This solution worked better than directly on legs, but still not great. We’d love it if the spray came out with much less force.
In terms of coverage, we found it took about 12 pumps to cover each of our partially re-furred legs (30-inch inseam). Hairless was more like 8-9 pumps. Mad Alchemy suggests 10-15 pumps per leg.
The Non-Warming on clean-shaven legs went on really easy and fast, and resulted in a good, not-too-glossy shine and a powerful cedar aroma. It was a bit like opening the door of a cedar-lined closet. The shine stayed until dulled by the dirt and dust picked up over the course of a ride. On the good side, the oil sticks really well. If you’re into looking Pro, the accumulated dirt is high on style points. It even seemed as if the oil got on the top of our socks and we often found a ring of dirt around the top of the cuffs. If you want to look “clean” at the end of a ride, it is worth a few demerits.
The Warming shares a bottle, spray nozzle, and viscosity with the Non-Warming. The differences are the hue, which makes the liquid look like something you might find on a table at a Chinese restaurant. The bouquet isn’t so spicy; it’s more cinnamon, strongly resembling the Atomic Red Hots you got at the candy store as a kid. The heat in the Warming is supposed to be stronger than their Medium, but you can “control” it by spraying on more or less.
Here, too, we found 9-12 pumps per leg to be adequate coverage. If we wanted it really hot, we could probably boost the pumps up to 15 or 20 per leg. We didn’t notice any spray-on tan effect darkening of our skin. In terms of heat, we mostly found that on its own, it was no stronger than the Medium. We did try combining it with embrocations from Mad Alchemy. We put on the Warming first, then layered over with Medium Russian Tea and the tag-team was definitely stronger than either alone, though not overpowering for our not-too-sensitive skin.
We used the Warming alone on naked legs during some cyclocross races. It was much faster to apply than a thicker rub. It didn’t seem to change the amount of dirt our legs picked up over the course of a race.
We tried both oils on our arms. The hair up there is much thicker than on our legs. The oils seemed to get on both the hair and the skin below without looking like either was greased. The Warming went on easily and didn’t seem to be any less hot with the layer of hair above the skin.
Now that winter has arrived, we’ve been using both oils under tights and warmers. While we found that the oil did some good in terms of keeping our skin from getting dry in warmer weather, it hasn’t so much been the case when we’re applying to our legs, then pulling on tights and riding for hours in sub-freezing weather. Don’t know if it’s the tights absorbing the oil or if the cold weather does a number on the skin, though we tend to think it is the former. We probably should go a little thicker with the application.
One thing not to do is spray on the hot stuff and then pull on tights. We tried the Warming in conjunction with a pair of tights that have a chamois. Bad idea. As tough as most of our skin may be, the combination of getting the oil on the tights and then pulling up the chamois to rest against our skin was a bit too much for our sensitive areas. Based on this experience, we’re going to only use the warming with shorts and either naked legs or warmers in the future. Shorts first, oil second.
Overall, while we really enjoyed the Atomic Red Hot perfume of the Warming Oil, we didn’t find it terribly warm. This is probably because we don’t find any embrocation we’ve tested thus far terribly warm. But the application was pretty easy once we started spraying our hands first (remember to wash thoroughly after applying), and the oil certainly stays and stays and stays on. We had it “recharge” in the shower more than once. If you like the feeling of topical applications warming your skin, and find most embros strong, this oil is easy and fast.
We haven’t addressed the ritual aspect of these oils yet. The observance and mindfulness of applying the oils has never felt as important to us as the rituals of embrocation. This is probably due to the fact that it takes us less time and effort to apply, which is fine. But the result is less thinking about our legs, less considering their condition and using those considerations to better race or ride. If we had more time, we’d like to do it. Maybe this is the mental equivalent of what stretching is supposed to do and it would make us faster if we just took the time and accepted that our ride that follows is going to be a few minutes shorter.
Take note All Things Belgian Supporters Club. Your options have just expanded.