I've never tried embrocation and since I Iive in Utah where it gets mighty cold in the Fall/Winter I'm thinking something to keep the legs warm sounds nice. What are some brands that you like? Do you prefer the mild stuff or go with the hot? Have you tried just using Icyhot or a similar product?
"Skin care, heat balm and keeping covered
I'm old and grumpy enough to observe two recent skin-care fads in cold weather cycling that I find puzzling and medically counterintuitive. The first is bare legs in the snow. I was a junior back when disco was king and all we had to go by was the CONI (Italian Olympic Committee) cycling manual. The good book strictly forbade riding in bare legs below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. These are words to live by, even with the bad English translation. Your skin can only do so much temperature regulation. Cold, bare legs make it harder for your body to maintain core temperature and prevent hypothermia.
Second and even stupider in my opinion are vasodilating balms in a misguided effort to keep bare legs warm when underdressed. By using heat balms you are dilating the blood vessels, thus losing more core temperature. The physiological response to cold exposure is restricting blood flow to the skin and extremities to preserve core temperature. Heat balms to bare cold legs do the opposite and further threaten core temperature. Cold hands and feet and rapidly worsening brain function means you are underdressed, not that you should slap on more wintergreen and capzasin oil and accelerate core hypothermia. There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Hypothermia doesn't make you manly and it sure as heck won't win a race."
i'm a huge fan of knickers myself for these reasons, but...gasp...not bibs. so I'm always wondering why is it so hard to find knickers without bibs for men? yes they are exist, but my LBS and most catalogs never have them.
as for the UCI rules, although we did poke fun at the UCI rules here and got a little wise-ass by saying they'd find tights or knee warmers "non-essential," they way the read the (rules found here, in 1.3.026) is that you need to wear shorts, but you're not prevented from wearing something like knee warmers or tights on top. as long as you're wearing shorts. why they would care that you have shorts on, even if it's 4 layers below, I'm not sure. the zimbabwe guys often wore like 5 layers!
There could be something to this, however many people race in UCI races, which do not allow clothing below the knee. If the body is staying warm enough and it's just the exposed skin that needs to be warmed wouldn't a warming embrocation help make things feel a little better?
I'm a fan of Record embrocations and even use their mild formula (which has very little spice) during the summer on the road. Icyhot doesn't smell as awesome and doesn't leave you with an ultra-PRO gleam to your legs which can effectively blind your competitors. (i.e. you should certainly take a look at http://www.belgiumkneewarmers.com/ if you haven't already).
Seriously, though, real embrocations are designed to not only deliver the spice payload but also act as a buffer against the cold and wet. This can be as light as the Record summer stuff at one extreme or as heavy as the Record Impermeabile, which seriously makes water slide off your legs -- it's pretty tough to get off even while scrubbing in the shower. It's similar to the practice of applying Vaseline to your face to prevent windburn. It feels pretty nice to have some in place while riding in cold fall morning grass.
Me say yes! I have tried Leg Salsa (no good), some of the Record stuff (very good), some "warming oil" (way too messy), and just got some Qoleum Hot which I have yet to use.
I don't care if technically embrocation does not help performance. It feels killer!
It's like that double espresso with just a dab of sugar and milk. It gets things pumping!!!!
I also like to run some "sniffing oil" when it is cold and nasty out. It is a little blue bottle of peppermint oil that you put a drop of on a piece of cotton ball, then stuff in your nose about 10-15 minutes before the race. It opens those sinuses something fierce!
Sportsbalm has a very nice line of products. Plus, they're very involved with cyclocross.
Don't use IcyHot, since you'll be cold, then hot :) Some of the over the counter stuff works really well. The problem is that it's mainly oil. That works well when it's cool but not cold. When it's really cold you want something with petroleum jelly in it to help block the wind/rain a bit. Sportsbalm and the like have that mixed in as well.
Always test the stuff in training. Some people have a bad reaction to it.
And, get some alcohol wipes. Or fill a spray bottle with it and bring a towel. None of the aforementioned products wash off with soap and water. Actually, water just makes it worse. Alcohol takes it right off.
I do go with a top secret kick ass embrocation though. Bare legs covered with a good coating but not devil's tea (petroleum/crude oil) based like vaseline/petroleum jelly. It is something else entirely.
Oh and this stuff washes right off in the shower with plain old soap. Gotta love that.
It works like gore-tex for the skin. Keeping water off helping to reduce wind evaporative losses but still when it gets warm the sweat beads through.
If you warm your legs with embrocation you are taking core body heat and moving to the outside to be lost. It does increase dermal blood flow but it screws up your internal temp regulation.