Story: Cut From a Different Cloth - Louis Hamilton
How about this for the start of a profile….
When Louis Hamilton was 11 years old, he rode sweeper at the ‘06 World Downhill Championships.
Did that get your attention?
The event was in his hometown of Rotorua and his father, Dave, had raced the course the year before, at the Oceania Championships. Dave Hamilton has been at the centre of most things downhill in Rotorua since the beginning of the century, and racing or organising events and courses have occupied many weekends for the Hamilton household over the last two decades. When Dave lined up at those Oceanias, Louis had watched from a vantage point up in the infamous ‘larches’, a particularly nasty part of the course, and the hook was set deep.
A year on, he owned a second-hand Specialised DH bike, and was already able to get down the course - so he got to be the sweep. A baptism of fire, for sure, but after making as many runs as he could over the week of racing, he ended up getting down the track only a minute slower than Sam Hill, who was World Champion that year.
It was only natural that Louis would take racing seriously after being immersed in an event like that.
Competition became his passion for the next decade; battling it out for the summer in New Zealand, and like so many of his colleagues, taking the trip to Europe and North America during our winter.
Racing the World Cup circuit for five years is a huge undertaking. Louis and his brother Connor visited many places they would never have gone to if not for bike racing. And testing yourself year in and year out, against the best in the world, is an opportunity few people get, and an education that escapes most.
Getting started so early had a nice by-product: when the time came to cut back on the racing life a little, Louis was still a young man and, while he cut his teeth in the construction arena, he started building the life he has now.
During a racing season a few years back, the Rotorua downhill organisation Descend Rotorua decided to run a coaching clinic for young riders. Louis and Connor put their hands up to lead it.
On the day, up in front of a group of hopefuls, they realised that while they both knew how to do the things they needed to be fast down a hill, they didn’t have the skills required to translate that knowledge for somebody else to grasp and execute.
That was a challenge for Louis, and he spent the best part of the next six months diligently analysing his methods - figuring out what he was doing so he could impart that knowledge to another rider. The methods he used to do that are proprietary information, and are to remain undisclosed, but be sure they were thorough and accurate.
Some of the things Louis discovered during this period of self-examination surprised him. They did address the challenges he faced back in that spur-of-the-moment clinic. He now knew what he was doing in a far more precise way.
And, he could break it down and deliver it to others.
By that time, he was ready to quit the day-job and launch his own business: Tuned.
In its second year, Tuned will take riders at any level and take them up a notch - or more.
Louis reports that his customers come from all points on the spectrum - complete beginners who want to get started correctly, old hands who have been doing it wrong for years, and pinners that need that extra one percent to elevate their performances.
All of them can benefit from a professional coach who is still able to mix it with the best in a race situation and has put in the study of his own methods to find out exactly what works.
At the same time as he has been developing his business, Louis has been building a family with his partner. Ashley Bond is a great rider, a handy person to have beside you in a business situation and has her finger on the pulse due to her involvement in another bike based operation. Together, they are kept busy with two-year-old Jayla, their daughter.
Recently, I was headed back to the car park at the end of an after-work pedal. I dropped into a clearing and found myself in the middle of a gang of very young riders, gathered around their mentors. Louis and his off-sider on this occasion, Cam Beck, were leading a Rotorua MTB Club youth coaching session.
Ten or so kids were obviously having a really great time, and enthusiastically following their coach’s instructions.
That Louis (and Cam for that matter) would devote an evening to help youngsters improve is clearly admirable but, in Louis’ case, it would have come after a day doing much the same for other customers. Yet, there he was, still out there, and looking to me as if he was really enjoying himself.
It crossed my mind then, that his charges were about the same age as he was when he rode that sweeper lap - a nice way to tie the whole thing into a neat circle.
Words: Gary Sullivan
Images: Cameron Mackenzie