Heat for Cold Legs
Okay, call me a skeptic. Keep my legs warm for hours by rubbing them with magic lotion? I love to ride as much as I can, but I do have to admit that when the weather starts to turn cold and I have to dig out my leg and arm warmers, long fingered gloves, toe covers and beanie under the helmet, it becomes a little more work to go on that ride. It was for that reason that I decided to try this new product from Dave Zabriskie’s labs, who has brought us other great named products like DZ Nuts and DZ Bliss (chamois creams for men and women, respectively). This latest product, an embrocation cream is provocatively called “In Heat” and it comes in 3 different temperature ratings: high heat, medium heat and low heat.
An October day with temperatures below 50 degrees would be the perfect test. My “Cold Weather Cycling Clothing Guide” said that I would need to wear some kind of leg warmers, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to try the In Heat cream in medium heat. I followed the instructions massaging the cream into my legs. (The tube recommends the ointment being rubbed into “smooth shaved muscular legs,” and I assumed that was just Zabriskie’s sense of humor, yet many Europeans recommend that heat embrocations be rubbed into “freshly shaved” legs for maximum penetration.) I then put on my arm warmers and a jacket on the top. The rest of the cycling group was surprised to see me in bare legs because not only was it was chilly, we were headed 3,000 vertical feet up a canyon where it would be much colder at the top.
The Test Ride
It was a steep climb and during the ascent I never went over 15 miles per hour and mostly stayed around 10 MPH. I did not feel any of that tingling warm sensation, my legs just felt fine, in fact they felt just great and it was nice to not have on the extra bulk of leg warmers or long pants. It was a spectacular fall day: the leaves were at the height of their autumn colors and the wide creek was rushing down the mountain cold and fast. In fact, on this cold, cloudy day I was surprised at the bright beauty of everything until I realized, it was because of the rose tinted lenses I wore that day. (Try that! Rose-colored glasses really DO help on those dull grey days!)
So yes, the cream did great for a leisurely scenic autumn ride, but the real test is the wind tunnel that we get as we ride down the mountain at 25-35 mph. I zipped up my jacket and let gravity do the rest: during one long straight-away we hit 43 mph! Guess what? The “In Heat” cream truly works: my legs never felt cold! In fact, my upper body was cold until the air was able to wick away all the moisture that I had created during the climb up the canyon. My knees did not ache like they sometimes do when they get cold. After my ride, I jumped in the shower and lathered my legs with soap to wash off the embrocation cream. The shower got most of it off, but the warming feeling on my legs lasted another 30 minutes after the ride (perhaps, I should have extended my ride?)
I am usually a bit cynical about the various chemical topical compounds that companies offer athletes, so I am impressed when one actually produces the promised results. Still, I will continue to try the In Heat cream over the winter and try it in various temperatures and in the wet weather, where it really promises to have an advantage over leg warmers.
Ancient Belgian Secret?
Embrocation Creams have been used by cyclists and cyclo-cross riders as they ride, race and train during the bad weather seasons of Belgium. Cyclists can ride in their shorts and actually be warmer with embrocation ointments on a cold and very wet day than they might while wearing wet tights. The heating qualities of these Belgian cycling ointments have earned them the nickname of “Belgian knee warmers.” The heat from Zabriskie’s cream comes from capsicum (a.k.a. cayenne pepper) which has been used as a warming ingredient in herbal remedies for years.* One thing about capsicum is that it can take a little while to warm up. You don’t want to do it just before you head out the door for a cold, rainy ride, instead rub it on about 30 minutes before. The variations in heat mean that high heat will be “too hot” for some temperature ranges, but it is the most long-lasting of the three, so it is perfect for a 5-hour ride.
Two notes of caution: Keeping in mind that it contains a hot pepper ingredient; wash it off your hands immediately so you don’t inadvertently rub your nose or eyes with the stuff. (That would not be good!) Also, I discovered you don’t need to rub it on places you will cover with clothing such as your feet or upper thighs—that can be way too much heat!
In Heat Mixology:
Blend instructions when using Dz-Nuts InHeat:
Low is obviously the lowest heat for brisk fall days.
Use Medium for colder days, possibly as a substitute for tights. Use on knees as substitute for knickers.
Reserve High for very cold days, and cyclocross racing when you would normally wear tights. Many experienced embrocation users will use Medium on total leg and supplement with High on the knees.
*Old Wives’ Remedy using capsicum/cayenne for cold feet: Wear a thin pair of socks, then get a thicker pair of socks, sprinkle the inside with cayenne pepper and put them on over the thin socks. The pepper will send a warm soothing sensation to the soles of your feet. Or so they say!