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.
I learned to wash bikes in 1990 from a journeyman mechanic who had just returned from a tour of duty with the 7-11 team. He was a master mechanic in every sense of the word. He carried a suitcase that looked all the spy novel to house his tools of the trade. It was a suitcase designed for electricians: an aluminum case with layers that had individual pockets for tools and small parts. I remember the first day he came to work at the shop he brought his case, a travel stand (in the days before travel stands), a 5-gallon paint bucket, a selection of specialty brushes, and a pair of honest to goodness firefighter boots (complete with steel toes). In the days of old, we simply wiped bikes down with a rag and washed the parts in a solvent tank. Those days were about to become a thing of the past.
I had no idea there were such specialized practices for bike washing. There were special brushes for specific tasks, a special type of soap, and a brush technique for drive trains, brakes, the frame, bar tape, and wheels. Over 3 years, I came to master the art of bike washing. I washed well over 1000 bikes in my day. In the summer, I washed them under the baking sun, in the winter I washed them in the small confines of a dark, dank basement. Below are some tricks I continue to employ today (in no particular order):
Wheel brush – As in wire-spoked British car wheels (not bicycle wheel). This long, cone-shaped brush is ideal for areas that are tight and difficult-to-get-to, from the area between spokes and the hubs to the brake caliper, and below the BB area and the cassette. This brush will also do a number on bar tape, allowing the white to stay PRO white.
Wide brush – This brush is intended for the wheels and sides of the rims and tires. It covers large areas and works beautifully on all flat surfaces. I prefer this type of brush to have a long handle. When the temps are cool and your hands are wet, there is nothing more painful than slipping with the brush and slamming your knuckles into the brake caliper, or worse, the chain rings.
Large sponge or wash mitt – In the old days, brushes were too harsh to use on a sweet paint job because over time they would leave light scratches on the clear coat and create a fog. Today, the concern remains a frame’s clear coat but now its carbon fiber’s clear coat. Sponges have differing textures, use a softer option so the appearance of the frame is retained.
A note on brushes: Brush selection is a matter of personal preference. When selecting a brush, insure the bristles are made of natural fiber. The plastic bristle brushes have a tendency to hold grease, causing it to spread around rather than remove it. Drop a nasty, greasy natural bristle brush into a a solution of warm water and Dawn liquid soap and the grease literally falls off the bristles.
Avoid harsh chemicals at all costs – If your chain and cassette are so gunked up with spent grease and road grime, it’s probably time to replace it rather than clean it. For the really dirty intervals, I use Simple Green, which is a natural de-greaser and all-round cleaner that is ideal for drive trains. Steer clear of harsh chemicals, especially on carbon bikes. Harsh chemicals are not good for clear coats, resins, bonded joints, and good ‘ol Mother Earth.
Dawn dishwashing detergent – This blue liquid soap is magic on dirty, muddy, greasy bikes and, if you clean your machine frequently, it’s all that is needed to produce a clean, PRO machine. I prefer the original formula and, when mixed with some hot water, there is very little ‘ol blue can’t tackle.
I opt for frequent washings, this helps to keep the drive train clean and, with the elimination of sand and road grime, the drive train components will not wear as quickly.
Be cautious when spraying water on the machine: avoid spraying water directly into the bearing areas. If your bike is equipped with electronics like an SRM, it’s wise to avoid water and chemicals altogether in this area. I use a clean cloth for the SRM and, following a wet Spring, I pull it off and clean the individual components by hand.
In the dead of winter when the hose is in hibernation, I use an tea kettle to perform the rinse. I fill it with hot water and wait until I’ve washed the entire bike before rinsing. You have to work fast so the soap remains effective but it’s key to removing the corrosive salts and oil/grease mixture that lays on top of the roads in winter.
After any wash, I apply a very light coating of lube on the chain and then hang the machine allowing it to air dry. Every mechanic’s technique for washing bikes varies and over time everyone develops techniques that work best for them.
I was fortunate to have learned this skill from a complete and utter PRO. A full bike wash takes me less than 10 minutes and a quick wash takes less than 5. In the spring, I’ll re-use the same bucket of soapy water for weeks at a time due to the frequency of washes. When I roll in from a soggy ride, the waiting bucket makes it easy to give the bike a quick wash.
A clean machine is a PRO machine and it allows for the components to work properly while reducing wear. Keep it PRO, keep it clean.
“The Art of the Bike Wash” makes it to print in Embrocation Magazine Volume II and we are proud to be among the contributors. Embrocation Magazine is a hand-made brew of personal experiences from passionate cyclists. Check it out.
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.
Every cyclist needs a place where they can both retreat and hang their equipment, a place where old tubulars go to die and plastic bins divide up small parts and little things that one day will prove their usefulness again. A place where chain lubes and embrocations stand side-by-side, ready to serve both rider and machine. This space maintains a degree of organization that differs as greatly as cyclists do, yet it allows every rider the ability to be prepared to roll out the door in a matter of minutes. It’s as much physical space as it is mental space. Whether it’s a closet, a corner of the garage, or a full-blown room, the area that houses your gear is called the bike room.
Over the years, my bike room has ranged from a messenger bag to the trunk of my car to a full-on basement complete with a roller cabinet filled with tools and a floor covered in anti-fatigue mats. My brain sees things in retail terms, a result of my years in the bike industry. Hooks for wheels and machines, a cabinet for tools, which is organized by things that open and close (pliers, cable cutters) to screw drivers and allen keys to frame tools. Everything has a place and aids in the efficient flow of bike building, simple repairs and, of course, coffee at dawn. During the coldest winter months, it’s a training studio complete with DVD player and rollers: a place to recharge the soul when the roads are unrideable and to tinker on old machines in a sort of “on-going, non-going” project.
The bike room is a vacation, a spa, a bunker, a spin class, a tool shed, and an all around hide-out. The bike room allows me to completely immerse myself in my passion and escape from the outside world.
The Bike Room was originally posted on 7-23-07