Showing posts with label Embrocation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Embrocation. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Elite Ozone 03 Thermogel Forte - Intensive Warming

Elite has been making embrocations for many years, but this spring will be my first go with this hugely Euro company. Elite is one of the top sponsors of PRO teams, which of course makes it ideal for someone who is obsessed with the PRO style.

Today's conditions: Overcast, mild, rain showers developing, 4º C, wind at 25 kph, knee warmers as first layer of protection.

The Ozone product comes in various styles to suit almost any pre- or post-race need, from hair removal to post-ride massage. I believe they also make a car wax, but I have calls into some peeps to confirm. Thermogel Forte comes in a flip-top container making application easy and clean. The product is cloudy in color and has a thin, watery feel to it. The smell is amazing, and will remind you of any pre-race parking lot. Thermogel goes on easily and rubs in leaving a medium "almost too Euro for you" look. Pair this medium sheen with a subtle pair of Oakley M Frames and you have achieved the "sleeper" look: someone who is low-key, yet provides the group with cause for growing concerns.

What's most impressive about this Belgium knee warmer is the fact that once applied it disappears from your consciousness, leaving only a hint of shine, until the cold or wet arrives. On this particular day, the rain and cold settled in during the middle of the ride, and as the temps dropped and the rain fell, I could feel the embro punching in for its day at the office. With the rain raging full-on, we rode another 1 1/2 hours and, although I could feel neither my fingers nor my toes, my lower legs felt great!

Once home and into a warm shower, the Ozone gave me one last reminder that it was on the job. However, washed off with mild soap and a bit of elbow grease unlike the Qoleum Hot that required a wire brush and some paint thinner.

Like all great gear, the Ozone Thermogel only made itself known when it was called into action and, in my opinion, this is the mark of a great product. Like everything I feature in BKW, I paid for this product out of my own pocket, so I have no reason to sugarcoat a product that is not worthy.

If you're looking for a great embrocation for the early spring or late summer/early fall, this could be it.

Overall Heat Rating - mild to warm
Euro Style Rating - Medium, a light sheen
Smell - Medicinal, PRO as hell, and keeps on stinking even 2 hours into your ride
Durability - Extremely high, three hours total, two in the rain with no fenders and the Ozone kept things comfy.


The Thermogel will be my go-to embro until the sign-in temps reach the 18º C mark. At that point, I will move to a higher temp embro like cajaputi, which works well in the higher temps and helps acheive the insane PRO style. The month of May should provide pleasant enough temps for me to ditch the knee warmers and let my embrocation provide all the protection. If the Thermogel delivers at the knee level as well as it does on my calves, we are PROGRAM GO!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mad Alchemy - Medium

With the sound of cow bells in the air, it must be cross time. Ah yes, the rustle of leaves, the heckling of fans and, of course, the smell of embrocation. After a cooler than normal spring and a shorter than usual summer, the inventory of liniments has dropped below an acceptable level. Rather than heading out and restocking the same brands, the decision was made to branch out and try a few of the newer players in the game.

From the land of maple syrup, higher education, and the vintage Volvo 240 wagon comes Mad Alchemy, a do-it-yourself, "Yankee mentality" product, by cyclists, for cyclists. The buzz surrounding this new player began as early as mid-summer with talk abound about its effectiveness.

Mad Alchemy offers three heat levels: Mellow, Medium, and Madness. The Medium blend is the logical choice given the fall season. So I ordered a jar. After tearing into a small cardboard box, I was greeted by a brown, recyclable glass container with a simple screw-on black lid. This homemade look is akin to the Mason for gardeners and confirms there is no utilization of a mile-long, billion dollar automation system to fill your order. This stuff is produced by-hand, with love.

Break the top loose and the aromatic euphoria that follows is not one of a medicinal quality, but rather closer to the smell of a fancy candle. The consistency also differs from the usual rub, as it's more like a tin of shoe polish than the typical squeeze bottle common with Sportsbalm, or the creamy, Noxema feel of Quoelum.

Ease of application is critical for me when my dressing room is the parking lot of the local race, so I want to be sure it goes on cleanly and without fuss. The consistency of the Mad Alchemy delivers. Application is easy, and the final clean-up is effortless; eliminating the accidental blindness resulting from an eye rub on the second lap of your race.

Overall Heat Rating - Medium as promised. A subtle warmth like a 30-year-old scotch.

Euro Style Rating - Wicked high. The light tint added would convert George Hamilton to cycling. The thicker you go, the more the PRO.

Smell - Fragrant, but in a good way. This is a new direction for embrocation.

Durability - High, but not unreasonable. A towel will remove enough to make your drive home less painful than your cross race.

Mad Alchemy Medium delivers the perfect amount of warmth for temps ranging from 50-60º and it ramps the heat up slowly after application. The heat is neither painful, nor offensive during the exposure times, but like all good embros, when the pace slows or stops, the Mad Alchemy stays on. The beeswax additive ensures it stays on even in wet conditions and collects less grit and road souvenirs than other, more liquid based embros. Keep in mind, if you rock it VDB style and go heavy on the layers, you may get the PRO sheen , but your also going to get the fly paper effect.

The cross calendar carries us into some unpredictable and cold months. So, as temps continue to sink, the Madness seems like the next logical step. Stay tuned for additional reviews of Mad Alchemy products.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Belgian Knee Warmers

Real, big-time bike racing was descending on my town. Barriers lined the sidewalks and minivans festooned with roof racks filled the available parking. A door slid open and there were the two stars of the Panasonic-Sportlife team: Viatcheslav Ekimov and Olaf Ludwig, both Olympic Gold Medalists.

While crowds mobbed Greg LeMond just 100 feet away, just a few people stood around the Panasonic-Sportlife van—bike racers and Winning subscribers all. The Panasonic-Sportlife team was to our select audience the ultimate Belgian PRO team. Ekimov and Ludwig signed a few autographs before sitting down on the tail of the van. What happened next was a revelation to me.

I had read that pro cyclists got their legs massaged and had even seen a short clip of a post-race massage on Tour de France coverage, but the pre-race massage was news to me. Further, the experience was my first with a warming embrocation. I watched as the soigneur applied the cream to the pros legs, watched as his thumbs and fingers moved through their hamstrings as if he were pushing through pudding; bread doesn’t knead this easily.


Suddenly, the aroma hit me. It was distinctly European, heady and exotic, as if it were the smell of bicycle racing itself. I had no idea that the massage was helping to warm their muscles in anticipation of the day’s stage. It took talking to a Cat. II teammate of mine to explain how a proper pre-race massage with a warming “liniment,” as he called it, could help prepare a cyclist for the day’s demands.

That I’d been exposed to something I hadn’t read about in any of the magazines made me feel like I had been let in on a secret. I was hooked. That there could be a wealth of hidden knowledge not even hinted at in the magazines gave the sport a new depth for me. As much as I loved the straightforward simplicity of my impression of bike racing, the idea that your success might depend on your pre-race knowledge and ability to prepare made bike racing alluringly complicated.


Before my next race I went out and bought a tub of Icy Hot. It didn’t have the impressive Euro scent but I was amazed at its ability to shut out the cold. More than anything, what stayed with me from that day was the smell of the embrocation and the way their muscles, especially their hamstrings, drooped from their legs as if they were wet cloth. I couldn’t yet reconcile how something so relaxed, so without tension, could contain such explosive and controlled power.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Brethren


We roadies are bonded. To be roadies, to emulate the PROs, to have a day where PRO Is Program Go! has come following education, supplication, surrender, even the odd humiliation. When on a ride, it’s easy to tell friend from Fred. There’s a difference, and it matters.

But unlike other bands of brothers, it’s difficult to pinpoint the rite of passage. Was it the first time we pulled on lycra? As if. Was it our first century? Probably not. Was it our first bonk? Not even close. What about the first time we slathered our legs with a smelly Belgian Knee Warmer? Maybe. What about when we started to look forward to the smell? Getting close.

Unlike Roman Catholicism’s confirmation, Judaism’s Bar Mitzvah or losing one’s virginity, there is no obvious rite of passage, no clear graduation into the ranks of riders accepted in the peloton. Yet we all had that epiphany. At some point we had been out enough that we were accepted. One day we were no longer alien and we no longer set off the xenophobe’s alarms. We had friends. The nervousness of having riders to left and right had passed and we could relax enough to have a conversation. Life inside the bubble ceased to be stressful and became a special treat, kinda like a secret stash of chocolate.

The trust we must earn from fellow members of the peloton is a special distinction. Fraternities wish they knew this brotherhood. At 35 mph every turn the group makes has the potential to go wrong the way freeway crashes do. The endgame can be fatal. I’ve spent years being an apologist for the standoffish ways of the pack, but the fact is, none of us wants to be on the wheel of a guy astride a Schwinn Varsity with tube socks pulled up to his knees. That’s not snobbery, that’s self-preservation.

Each act of the dedicated roadie is part of the system of PRO. We’ve done so many of these for so long, we’ve ceased to think about the rationale for each act. From the fact that sweat evaporates more quickly off shaved legs—keeping the cyclist cooler—to the knowledge that to be considerate of the rider behind, you pedal as you sit down, each act is part of the elaborate logic of the PROs. The guy who shows up in sneakers is telling you his education is incomplete. And the rider with a current helmet (cares about his brain), the armwarmers (the day may change), the shoe covers (an unhappy foot is a weak foot), the bare and glistening legs (no muscle fires like a warm muscle) is a wheel you can trust. He’s studied the magazines, has a series recording set for the Cyclysm, can tell you who won the Tour in ’88 and knows the Lance Feeling. He talks not of how fast he went, but of how he suffered.

We’re not cool. None of us are hip. We are, however, a brethren with a respect for each other paid each time we follow a wheel, each time we tell the story of another rider’s attack that sent us into debt. Suffering, in the end, is the thing that unites us, the grand equals sign that differentiates the accepted from the stranger. Suffering and surviving is our rite of passage.

One day over coffee a friend commented, “Bike friends aren’t real friends.” I disagreed, but kept my tongue at bay. The fact is I couldn’t disagree more strenuously; he couldn’t have been more wrong.

Our bike friends know the sacrifices we’ve made just to keep up. They know the money we spend on equipment. They know the calories we must refuse, the skipped desserts, the recorked wines, the early mornings, the aching legs, the skinny jokes, the close calls with cars, and the unparalleled exhilaration of following a group of trusted friends down a twisty descent. Bike friends? They are the truest friends we have.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Review: Record Pregara Forte

Spring—or something that will soon seem more like it—is coming to New Belgium and parts south. I decided I wanted to try a new embrocation with some more heat than anything I had in the cupboard. I wanted something with the rolling glow of a fresh sunburn, so I sought out another Record product, this time the Pregara Forte.

Because I didn’t know just how capable it was, on my first use I tried it on a ride that left a little later in the day and wasn’t quite so cold at the start. I needn’t have feared. The cold win passed my legs unnoticed and my legs had the zip of warmed-up muscles, which is, after all, what you want from a proper Belgian Knee Warmer.

Here’s what I wasn’t expecting: I assumed the heat would last through the four hours of the ride, and that it would be hard to wash off when the ride was over. In my case, these two details make it one of my favorite embrocations ever.

I live in a climate where cold morning temperatures don’t usually hold. It’s rare that I don’t finish a three or four hour ride with the temperature having risen at least 10 degrees. So while this stuff can’t compete with Qoleum Hot’s never ending nuclear reactor heat, Record Pregara Forte is far more usable in the conditions where I live. The heat in the Pregara Forte actually gives out after an hour or two, depending on how much you use. For me, that’s enough to get through the coldest part of the ride, and the glaze provided by the cream helps to insulate for the rest of the ride. You could almost say it’s a smart embrocation.

The second great revelation of Pregara Forte was how easy it is to wash off. Rather than feeling like I had shellacked myself, when I got in the shower it washed off immediately with ordinary soap. The unlikeliness of the experience led me to wash my legs a second time—an effort that proved to be as unnecessary as remembering to breathe. For anyone needing waterproof insulation, a layer of Record Impermeabile can be added to make your legs as waterproof as a Timex watch.

Pregara Forte, like other Record products is available in either 100ml tubes or 250ml tubs. This stuff will remain in my bag of tricks ad infinitum. It is distributed by Torelli Imports and you can find a dealer near you here.

Overall Heat Rating—medium
Euro Style Rating—Fairly high, a nice sheen
Smell—Pure old-school style: menthol, camphor, and a hint of rosemary and lavender
Durability—Perfect: though the heat trails off, it continues to insulate for the duration of your ride

Check out BKW's other embrocation reviews here.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Record Kanadian Embrocation

It's that time again. Well, it's been that time most everywhere for some weeks, but now we've had time enough to try a few new embrocations. From Milano come Record products. They make a wide selection of embrocations for conditions that range from Hampsten on the Gavia to July in Provence.

Kanadian is made for the broadest range of conditions in a single day: from armwarmers at the start to unzipped at the finish. My favorite thing about the Kanadian is how easily it goes on. Some creams don't seem to flow well--some seem downright tacky, so to the degree you are inclined to give yourself a bit of massage to make sure everything is ready to fire like the old Saeco leadout train, this stuff allows my hands to glide over my legs.

I must confess a love that should not be named. For me, what I most love about embrocations aside from the smell (I'm with Radio Freddy, the smellier the better) is how they look after four hours of racing. The flypaper road grit look on the shins couldn't be more PRO even if you rode around with a signed contract from Slipstream. Pulling up to a coffee shop with legs that look like you just beat Eric Vanderarden in the sprint at Paris-Roubaix and getting strange looks from patrons and management alike makes me grin with glee. Anything that can make cycling appear more brutal, more ... Daniel Craig-style James Bond, I'm in for.

Overall Heat Rating - virtually none
Euro Style Rating - High, a bright sheen
Smell - Vaguely floral (tea tree oil and rosemary come through) and unlikely to upset the race HQ's hotelier
Durability - Extremely high, five hours plus


Torelli Imports is the U.S. distributor of Record products. I asked Torelli's public face and Guinea Pig in Chief Bill McGann how hard the stuff is to remove before trying it and he said it wasn't bad. He was right; Kanadian cleans up easily, which I like. When I asked his advice on some embrocations that seem to be part pine tar he suggested steel wool. Bill has a sense of humor ... or he takes delight in my misfortune. Pick one.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Sportsbalm #3 Warm-Up, Cajaputi Oil

The summer temperatures are in full swing and with them come white handle bar tape, white socks and, of course, a lighter, gentler embrocation. My first choice for the summer months comes from Sportsbalm: #3 Cajeputi Oil, a product that Sportsbalm claims is ideal for temps in the 23ºC - 30ºC range.

Sportsbalm has been a fixture in the PRO peloton for many seasons and was the embrocation of choice by Lance and the U.S. Postal team. If it's good enough for the boys in blue, then it's certainly good enough for me. SportsbalmUSA.com provides an excellent product breakdown, and outlines the benefits of each one. The Web site claims Cajeputi Oil is preparation oil, perfectly suited for application prior to race time. The #3 is formulated using two ingredients: vegetable oil and Cajeputi Oil. Both reduce the risk of cramping and keep the muscles supple and well fed.

Today's conditions: Sunny, mild at sign-in, 20ºC, no wind, expected high of 26ºC

So, how does the Cajeputi Oil perform? This stuff is the shiniest embrocation I have ever used. And let's face it, the shine is PRO. The Cajeputi Oil begs to be applied heavily because the oil is so thin it literally leaps out of the container (and with the squeeze bottle there's no way it's going back in once it is out). The vegetable oil base means that applying too much #3 will give your legs the flypaper effect. (Who knew there was so much debris at shin level?) The smell is light and a touch on the medicinal side, but it's a subtle effervescence and you need to be up-close to really smell it. As a side note, if you're looking for the warmth so common in embrocations, then I would suggest bumping up to Sportbalm's Start Oil.

In sum, if you like to sport the embrocation on every ride, then the Sportsbalm #3 Cajeputi Oil is the perfect choice for the warmer months when a standard embrocation is simply too hot.

Overall Heat Rating - Low to non-existent
Euro-Style Rating - Insanely high, mirror-quality sheen
Smell - Light and sweet, PRO
Durability - Extremely high (despite its thin base, this stuff goes on and stays on through sweat, rain, and extremely humid conditions. If you are not careful you will be rocking the flypaper style.)

Now...I saved the best for last. As a cyclist, I am a huge fan of equipment and equipment to help care for my equipment. I love Giro's helmet pod and a great gear bag that separates my dirty gear from clean, and I am a total sucker for a bag designed to carry my embrocations. Does it get any better? Make certain that when you buy the works from Sportsbalm, you order yourself one of the Sportsbalm logo bags so you, too, can rock the PRO Soigneur style.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Qoleum Embrocation HOT

Spring is here. The Belgium Classics have begun and the weather this time of year is always a mixed bag. I purchased some new embrocation made in Belgium by a company called Qoleum. In March and April, the weather between sign-in and the final kilometers can go from -1 to 14 ºC wet or dry. These conditions are serious BKW conditions. All last season, I rocked the Freddy's Wet and Cold (amazing stuff, by the way), but since I had read good reviews of the Oleum, I had to give it a try. To follow are some thoughts on the Qoleum HOT:

Today's conditions: Overcast, mild, 4 ºC, no wind

The Qoleum is made from a 100% vegan base and goes on like wall paper paste: thick and gooey. Once it's rubbed into the skin, it disappears nicely, leaving a dull BKW sheen (good for the cyclist who wants all the protection of BKW without the added "too Euro for you" look). The Qoleum went on and stayed on for the entire ride. Like all exceptional equipment, it went unnoticed during the ride and it wasn't until I arrived in the warmth of my house that the burn set in. It took me a few seconds to realize what was going on and, in addition to the smoke coming from my knees and lower legs, I actually started to feel a bit of heat building in my core. Once I got into the shower I really felt the heat; in fact, I was wincing in pain as I tried to wash this stuff off. I had to turn down the heat of the shower and even break out the liquid dishwashing detergent. Man, that shit is hot and stubborn. I would recommend it if you are looking for the perfect linniment for an insanely cold cross race where you have a 45-60 minute exposure to the cold. But if you are looking for something for the spring or fall, Qoleum Hot is simply too hot..it's the chinese pepper you accidently left in your scoop of friend rice! If you're out on a group ride or putting in the solo training miles and it is cold enough for the Qoleum Hot you might consider some leg warmers or tights.

Overall Heat Rating - Insane
Euro Style Rating - Low, due to the dull sheen
Smell - Minty, PRO as hell
Durability - Extremely high, even dangerously high, this stuff sticks like glue


The weather will only get warmer, so stay tuned for some reviews of other BKW products including Sportsbalm, Freddy's Choice, and Greyhound Juice.