People who’ve done the Boulevard road race have varying memories of it. Mine, aside from crushing defeat, ignominious defeat, and humiliating defeat, are mostly centered on having been frozen to the core. Last year the race began in a freezing rain. The year before it snowed. This year the forecast is for sunshine, but if you check the course elevation–5,000 feet, same as Denver, Colorado–you’ll know that the forecast can change quickly. My expectation is that it will be very cold or at least very chilly, maybe even batshit miserable. Can you say “Mad Alchemy?”
The whole idea behind embrocation is to heat your legs without covering them in lots of restrictive clothing. The other point is to augment your training/racing without having to say “I use Ben-Gay.” The biggest benefit of an embrocation is that it sounds very pro and very Euro, more so if you just say “embro.” Finally, of course, it has the talisman effect of cream in a jar, stored in a small bag, and rubbed on like a magic elixir prior to going forth to do battle. Davis Phinney used to achieve the same effect with his “lucky shorts.” After a few grand tours that must have been lots gnarlier than this stinky gel in a jar.
Mad Alchemy appeals to the most base bike racing instincts: its name admits mental instability and suggests a thoroughly discredited scientific theory. False advertising lawsuits need not apply.
How much to use?
If you’re cycling on the Palos Verdes peninsula, the pre-dawn temperatures can vary from the high 30’s to the low 50’s this time of year. Getting the type of embrocation right, and then smearing on the proper quantity, involve lots of trial and error. I bought a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Medium, recommended for temperatures from 30-60F, and a jar of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Madness, recommended for putting on your shelf as a reminder that if you need this stuff it’s too damned cold to be outdoors on a bike.
Last Friday it was in the high 40’s and I put some medium cream on my legs, not very much, in fact, and I paid scrupulous attention to putting my shorts on first, rolling up the legs, and only then applying. If you put it on nude and then pull up your shorts, you will get hot dick and frypan balls, as described in a previous post. If you’re a woman I shudder to think what the phenomenon would be called. After a few minutes the Mad Alchemy warmed up my legs so that no leg warmers were needed at all. However, I didn’t put enough embrocation on so that after two hours my legs were cold.
On Saturday it was in the low 40’s and I put on medium cream, this time slathering it on pretty heavily. It worked wonders, especially since the temperature got up into the 60’s after a couple of hours. The heat remained on my legs for five or six hours, and it was exacerbated by sunshine. I also stuck a finger in my eye almost eight hours after using the cream, and it burned like hell for about thirty minutes. Lesson: wash your hands, dumbshit.
On Tuesday it was in the high 40’s and, like Friday, I used the Mad Alchemy medium cream. My legs were warm but my hands and feet, which were protected only with thin gloves and sock material booties, were really cold. I decided that today I would lather up my feet and hands as well as my legs and see how that worked. One side effect after yesterday morning’s ride was that after showering (hot water makes your legs really burn) and getting dressed for work, my legs pulsed heat for another couple of hours in the office. People were actually huddling around my thighs for warmth. That’s what they said.
This morning I put on what I thought was a lot, and rubbed it between my toes, all over the tops and soles of my feet, and on the back of my hands. I considered putting a pinch between my cheek and gum, but didn’t. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the temperature until I rolled out. It was in the mid-30’s, and even though my legs, hands, and feet were toasty warm, the rest of me froze to hell. Lesson: make sure you’re bundled up, up top. The medium embrocation was at its limit, and I probably could have used the extra hot cold weather Madness. If it’s cold enough tomorrow, I will give it a try.
The best thing about Mad Alchemy is that it’s really expensive. At $20 a jar, you can spend several hundred dollars a year just on your pro “embro.” Studies have shown a correlation between the amount of money you spend and the amount of pro-ness you feel on the bike, and if nothing else it will give your wife another item on the monthly credit card bill to nitpick and criticize. Not that it happens in my family. Right, honey?
Buy or not buy?
Definitely buy. It’s a good product and it works. You’ll pedal faster and stronger in cold weather without all the lycra on your legs. Not sure if rapeseed oil, the active ingredient, is on the UCI list of banned substances, but it’s definitely in the California Penal Code. Use with caution.
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About SouthBayCycling.com: This the all-things-cycling blog about cycling in the South Bay and cycling in Los Angeles, maintained and authored by me, Seth Davidson, Torrance-based bicycle lawyer, bike racer, and personal injury attorney.