Thursday, December 5, 2013

DIY Embrocation


Even if you're not into bike racing, you may have heard of embrocation. These are wonderful aromatic balms that racers -- especially those wacky cyclocross folk -- love to rub all over their legs so they can strike fear in the hearts of competitors at the starting line by looking crazy enough to ride half-naked in the snow.

Ever since embrocation caught on a few years ago, enterprising hipsters have been brewing up fiery batches in their basements and garages, sometimes going so far as to offer their product for sale online, in bike shops, and to cognoscenti around the world via the Webs.

So, yeah, racers are swearing by the stuff, but the beauty of embro is not restricted to the local cheetahs on featherweight bikes. Everyday fogeys like me love to rub some in before cold-weather rides, three seasons of the year. The old-world ritual alone is worth the effort, but there are other benefits, too.

Clearly the most alluring thing is the scent. Pop open one of these jars and you'll be wafted away to forests deep in the Belgian Ardennes, or the aromatic hold of an ancient spice island trade ship. The fragrances open the sinuses, stimulate the nervous system, and are said to have a salutary effect on the circulation and responsiveness in muscles, especially when applied with vigorous massaging.

Racers leave it on thick enough that it also repels cold air and moisture, but you don't need to. I put tights over mine (very déclassé) and it works great. Just beware if you're using the popular capsicum-based, heat-generating type: friction on the skin over the course of hours will definitely singe your synapses.

There's much press out there about what to buy and how to apply, so I'll skip that. My point today is, why pay twenty or (in Rapha's case) thirty dollars for a four-ounce tin, when you can roll your own for a fraction of the francs?

I recently completed a bunch of research on the web and then brewed up my first batch. I sent off a sealed parchment by carrier pigeon to the Division of Fabricated Nomenclature, forever reserving rights to the name Novembrocation™. (And don't even think about Septembrocation™ or Decembrocation™.)  I'm mighty pleased with the results, and have been applying the balm the same way I vote in every election: liberally.

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The basic recipe is simple: gently heat olive or other skin-healthy oil in a double boiler (or, in my case, an aluminum mixing bowl placed on top of a pot of simmering water). Add a portion of pure beeswax. In a few minutes, the wax melts like butter. Take the mixture off the stove, and let it cool just a touch. Add assorted essential oils.

(These are not hard ingredients to acquire. The beeswax and oils can be gotten at any health food store, including Whole Paycheck (er, Foods). They can also be ordered on-line.)

Pour the mixture into containers you've gathered--old tins for lip balm or mints, canning jars, etc. -- and let sit overnight, covered loosely. In the morning, sneak into the kitchen, open that puppy up, and take a scintillating sniff of heaven. You'll want to go pull on your wool jersey and jump on your bike straightaway.

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What's that? You want to know my recipe and ingredients? Sacre bleu! You must take me for some imbécile who just had zee fall from zee proverbial turnip truck. (No, that's not a clue. Don't try turnip essence. Really.)

All I'll say is, I steered away from the traditional menthol and mint (too cooling for this time of year) and yet did not go the ever-popular route of adding capsicum (and thereby creating lobster-red skin when the sun comes out or my tights rub too much). I used oils which smell wonderful, stimulate the circulation, and reduce inflammation, but you're going to have to do your own research, mon ami. That's half the fun. (I will divulge that I included a healthy dose of arnica oil, because it's a miraculous anti-inflammatory with which I've healed everything from bad bruises to torn achilles' tendons nearly overnight.)

Bottom line, when you open the jar, Novembrocation wafts you away to a chill forest deep in the Ardennes -- well, you know.

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3 comments:

Emmi said...

Sir, this is genius. For the past week I've been conducting a web search along the lines of "DIY gifts people actually want. Hard to find, and so many ideas to sift through I actually had to set up a new Pinterest board just to keep track of them all. Arnica is a great idea!

People use capsicum in this stuff? Is there some outbreak of jogger deer attacks I don't know about?

Velosopher said...

I'm so glad you like it!

I could see capsicum coming in handy fending off the infamous flying squirrels of Massachusetts...

Duc Tuan Le said...

You have taken some good pictures sir! I hope you keep on biking and stay healthy :)

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