Rapha Winter Embrocation

Okay, let’s get something out there between us right away: Los Angeles and winter are as well acquainted Pat McQuaid and common sense. It’s not that one is hostile to the other, they’ve just never been introduced. It gets colder in Los Angeles during the months of December, January and February, but that doesn’t make it winter. Similarly, women race bicycles, but that doesn’t mean they deserve a minimum wage.

Wait … what?

Let’s move on. Winter. I’ve had this stuff for nearly a year. Why? Friends who had tried the Rapha Winter Embrocation told me is was spicy. Around these parts that’s code for “too much heat for the South Bay.” So I waited out our mild spring. And our unambitious summer. Even our tame fall.

I wasn’t presented an opportunity to even try this stuff until December. That was the first time temperatures dropped below 50 degrees. And this stuff proved to be warm. It did just the trick out on the road, keeping the legs both warm and shiny and smelling like a medicine cabinet from 1964. Heavy on the wintergreen with hints of lavender, cypress and juniper berry.

So how hot is this stuff? I’d give it a 6. It’s about the same as a Mad Alchemy medium, which is a good, all-pupose heat for most places that actually experience something like four seasons. The more I type, the more I destroy my own street cred. Step away from the keyboard, sir.

Frankly, all that stuff is just data. Here’s what makes the Winter Embrocation amazing. It’s a self-contained experience. Consider a time capsule in a cream. From the metal canister with the embossed screw top (which reminds me of the old metal film canisters from my youth) to the rich perfume, the embro evokes a bygone time. But that’s only part of the attraction of this concoction. While I respect that not everyone loves Rapha stuff (usually because it’s more expensive than a Fabergé egg), they do a remarkable job of conveying their obsession with cycling.

I couldn’t tell you the last time I saved packaging from something, but the box the embro arrived in is so cool I’ve been unable to throw it out so far. The pink seal on the box let’s you know unequivocally that you are beholding a Rapha product. But the seal bears a short note about Mont Ventoux, just as two of the four sides of the box are splashed with a photo of Mont Ventoux shot near the Simpson Memorial. On another side they reveal the connection of Mont Ventoux to the embro: The scent is taken from native flora in the area. All of the Rapha skincare products share this association with the flora of Provençe. You should try the soap. It’s like bathing in lavender itself.

Texture and consistency in embrocations doesn’t get discussed enough. I have to say that the consistency and feel of the Winter Embrocation is spot-on. It’s creamy enough to spread easily without having a watery feel. Unlike some embros, this one will travel well.

A 4.2 oz.tin goes for $27. While that’s a bit more expensive than some embrocations, it’s not so expensive as to continue to cultivate Rapha’s reputation as more expensive than everything else, save Assos. You can find out more here.

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  1. Paul I.

    I guess if your idea of cold is 50F this stuff makes sense. Here in the North East winter means long sleeve thermal undershirts, balaclavas, leg warmers and maybe even windproof pants over the leg warmers, windproof booties over the shoes, gloves that would be comfortable for skiing in, padded winter jackets … the idea of keeping warm with a thin layer of sticky cream is a bit laughable.

  2. Rod Diaz


    True, I live in Canada and ride to work daily. – 12 C today.

    I use all those layers AND embrocation. It’s awesome for the warmup period, wet cold days (CX!). And I use it for skiing too.

    So even if it is not the only layer you’ll wear, I think embrocation still has a purpose in locales with “real” winter.

  3. Dolamite


    As much as I enjoy and promote your site to my friends, riding companions, and pretty much anyone else that will listen, I have to say this is the first time I’m significantly disappointed with one of your posts.

    I’m disappointed not for it’s main content, but for your comment about women’s cycling. I’m sure that you have some well thought reasons for your feeling the way that you do, and frankly, I don’t understand enough of the topic to have a well informed opinion, but I’m surprised that you would be so flip with such a topic.

    Given my ignorance on the matter (perhaps it is as cut and dry as you seem to imply), it appears almost offensive that you would bring up the topic of women’s equality and so casually dismiss it as preposterous. Is this a topic which you have expanded upon on your blog previously and I missed it?

    I hope you’ll reconsider your choice of words in this, and that your opinion of female riders and racing is not as derogatory as it appears to me. I enjoy your blog tremendously and hope this is simply an oversight or a misunderstanding. I look forward to learning about and understanding this topic and your position. Thank you for your otherwise excellent work.

  4. Christian

    Dolamite, Padraig was being sarcastic. He was referring to Pat Mcquaid’s comments regarding women’s cycling not deserving of a minimum wage. Re-read the first paragraph and then google ‘pat mcquaid women’s cycling’.

  5. Dolamite


    Although I understand irony, your execution here still seems confusing to me. I’m glad to know however, that I misunderstood you. As a side note: I really appreciate that you take the time to interact with your readers here in the comments, thank you.

    1. Author

      Dolamite: It may be that even with the background on McQuaid’s asinine statement the joke wouldn’t have worked for you. That’s okay. And you’re welcome for the direct response. I’m grateful that you readers stop by here and join the conversation. You deserve to know that your input is read by more than just fellow readers. It’s important to me that you know your input is both respected and appreciated. It’s my hope and belief that this is why the comments here at RKP are so intelligent and not just another installment of rec.bicycles.flamewars.

  6. armybikerider

    I understand irony – thanks for the link. I’m just ignorant of McQuaid’s statement. I guess I should pay more attention to what Mr. McQuaid says so that I “get” the humor….on second thought I rather like what Chloe Hosking thinks of him and probably won’t waste my time.

    Re. Embrocation. I haven’t tried the Rapha product, only Mad Alchemy’s concoctions. And you’re correct. Embro is far more than just heat…it’s the ritual of the application…the look and feel – and smell when applying and when on the bike. It’s a multi-sensory experience that is part and parcel of cold weather riding for me.

  7. randomactsofcycling

    As a first time user of Embrocation, I have only had cause to apply the Rapha Embrocation three times during the last Winter here in Sydney. I liked it a lot but as a newbie, found it very difficult to remove!
    And I thought the quip about Womens’ cycling was hilarious…..wait, what?

  8. CaptainH

    27.00 for Rapha, 18.95 for Mad Alchemy. Hmmmm. The best thing that Rapha does is produce short films (Rapha Continental comes to mind) that embrace the cycling culture we would all like to be a part of (do the Rapha Continental riders have day jobs?). Unfortunately, all the slick videos and pink box highlights in the world won’t fix the fact that there are way too many reviews of their products out there commenting on the poor quality and durability of their products. Great PR, terrible execution. No thanks.

  9. Hobbanero

    I read (twice) the Art of Embrocation article from last year, because I always struggle with removing embrocation. The Rapha stuff seems to be particularly reluctant to wash off, which is great on a long wet ride. I have used alcohol, loofas…I even tried shaving to remove the top layer of skin. At the end of the day, the only thing that works consistently is to ride a long time in nasty conditions.

    1. Author

      Hobbanero: Here’s another trick that I use—baby wipes. They get off an awful lot. That’s what I use when I first walk in the door so that I don’t have to worry about a bad outcome should my young son hug my legs or a cat brushing up against me. Either could be disastrous.

      Baby wipes. They’re not just for field showers anymore.

  10. Keith_in_Chapel_Hill

    As a former Angeleno and Telluridian, I can unequivocally say that southern California has seasons, including winter. The beauty of the Los Angeles winter does not come from a blindsiding of arctic temperatures and lake-effect snow. Rather, it is a flirtation with changing light and crisp, clear skies — skies that the other nine months of the year are invariably hazy but now reveal right there in your back yard the steepest, youngest, and fastest growing mountain chain in the world (the San Gabriels). Angelenos appreciate the southern California winter like a sommelier distinguishes between a 2001 Sauternes and a 2003 Rhone (whatever those are).

    Not that changing light and clear skies are important considerations for the application of embrocations, can you tell us anything about the details of its ingredients? I looked at the Rapha website, but it was not clear whether or not the ingredients include such plasticizers as phthalates (e.g., fragrance) or parabens, both of which are commonly found in skin care products and the circulatory system following a blood transfusion.

    1. Author

      Keith: You’re right about LA having seasons. For the resident, you do notice the change, and it’s generally welcome. But I dare not call these seasons to anyone who lives elsewhere. My street cred is tenuous as it is.

      As to the phthalates and parabens question, actually I meant to include a line or two about that. The type was so goddamn small (I mean, it’s got to be 1 pt. type) that I gave up trying to read it. So just now I went and grabbed a magnifying glass. (This might mean it’s time for reading glasses, dammit.) I’m pleased to report that the magnifying glass did the trick, and I can report there are no phthalates or parabens.

  11. 68GT

    A thought on So. Cal “winters” I’m a native Angeleno, but from 1999 to 2009, I lived in northwest Connecticut and Denver (roughly 5 years in each) so I know well what a “real” winter is like. I find the challenge of winter in So. Cal to be about the massive swings in temperature within a 24 hour period.

    Where I live the temps can easily swing from 30 degrees in the early morning to 75 in the afternoon and back to 60 in the early evening, whereas in the Northeast or in Colorado, the temps in the winter don’t differ as much from the high to the low. The lack of consistency in the temps can make riding in 55 degrees seem colder than it really is. Embro comes in handy for me on the days when I leave the house with the temps below 60 knowing they will be at or above 70 when I arrive. It negates the need for knee or leg warmers that later need to be removed and stowed.

  12. Hobbanero


    I have discovered adult-sized baby wipes. Depends (the adult diaper brand) makes some, but I use the Walgreen’s private label brand–“Certainty”. Basically double the size of a normal baby wipe and more stoutly constructed. I have also used Action Wipes, which are more expensive but smell nicer.

    Of course, they may require some explaining when people see them in your race bag, but hell, you are basically riding in a diaper for a few hours anyway, so it makes sense.

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