Hey There, Hot Stuff
I was somewhat surprised then, when several friends suggested I give embrocation a try. I enjoy cycling in cold weather, but sometimes experience stiffness and aches when starting a ride in the cold. The embrocation, I was told, could work as a remedy. Now I was curious. But which to choose? That question answered itself when the rep for Donkey Label offered a sample to try. A few days later, a pot of their mild embrocation arrived.
Donkey Label is a tiny company in Minneapolis, specialising in custom jerseys and skincare products for cyclists. As the name suggests, they have a donkey on their label (which, while adorable, can also be problematic: I have one of their soaps and can't bring myself to actually use it, for fear of "murdering" the creature carved into the surface). But I digress. Made in small batches without the use of preservatives, Donkey Label embrocations are organic and hand mixed. When I opened the stainless canister, the contents were a translucent ambery-orange balm. It smelled spicy, but not harsh - a masala chai sort of spicy, with something extra I could not identify.
Scooping out a small amount, I applied it to whatever areas felt like they could use warming up: mostly along my lower back and hips, and a bit to the shoulders and knees. Rubbing the stuff in, I expected to feel a burning sensation. But instead it was a slow acting warm-to-hot feeling that, together with the scent, put me into an almost trans-like state. It simultaneously soothed me and jolted me awake.
I set off on my bike on a damp 48°F morning, feeling as if my body was aglow, as well as more fluid and relaxed. Interestingly, over the next several hours the sensation seemed to grow stronger rather than diminish, reaching a tingly apex just before it finally faded around mid-day. And as soon as it wore off I wanted to feel it again. Could it be this stuff is addictive? That could explain a lot.
Donkey Label informs me that I should feel the tingle again in the post-ride shower. Alas every time I've used this embrocation so far I've stayed out all day, so that by the time I shower it is but a faint echo of the original sensation. I guess this gives me incentive to wash sooner.
Though shrouded in mystery, cycling embrocation is essentially a waterproofing heat rub. It contains essential oils blended with warming agents (such as capsicum) and ingredients with anti-inflamatory properties (such as camphor). These combine to perform vasodilatory and analgesic functions, while ingredients such as beeswax form a barrier against wind and moisture. Some of these effects (minus the waterproofing) can be achieved with commercial topical creams such as Bengay and IcyHot, though the exact nature and duration of their effectiveness will differ. To me both of those products feel harsh in comparison to the DL embrocation, hitting too hard at the beginning and wearing off sooner. I also find that they smell quite unpleasant, whereas the scent of the embrocation is gorgeous.
I have not tried any embrocation products besides Donkey Label's mild formula and cannot speak of how it compares to others. But in its own right, this stuff is so nice it makes me look forward to winter cycling even more than I do already. DL's mild embrocation is warming, soothing, de-aching, and, dare I say - sensuous.