Louise first came to my attention last year, at a small 4x Wednesdays (a community evening event run in Scotland). She was very quiet, almost painfully shy, yet when she got on the bike she was, well, a lunatic of the very best kind.
I quite liked that.
Louise couldn't be further from an "all show, no substance" rider that I'm used to seeing on my social media feeds. She's a ripper - the kind who clearly spends more time on the trail than online. She rolls with the punches in team banter and quite often shuts down conversations in the team WhatsApp with devastating, witty one-liners. More than just being a "team" rider, Louise has become solid friends with everyone involved in our small crew, probably because she lets her riding do all the talking.
There's a lot more than meets the eye with Louise Ferguson.
Hailing from Fort William, Louise has certainly inherited a west coast attitude of slackness; awful communication skills and being late everywhere. While this can be frustrating, it's often because she's out riding her bike up some big old mountain, or at the skatepark, or dry suit diving on the coast or climbing... the list goes on.
And who can begrudge that? It's the very reason we are so passionate about our sport. If you had all these natural adventure assets at your disposal then I'm sure you'd be out pushing your limits on them as well.
Fort William seems like the perfect place for Louise; its lack of rules, gritty, yet liberal, attitude towards life and a growing bike scene of riders who all share a common passion makes the self-branded "outdoor capital" certainly live up to the hype.
Attempting her first flip to dirt (there've been plenty landed in the park and wood to wood) on a solid 18ft double took some serious resolve. This very desire to push the limits is what sets her apart. There was certainly a very determined drive to get it done.
However pushing limits also brings risks, and we've seen some bumps over the course of the year to match the race victories at Scottish Enduro races and the gnarly Naughty Northumbrian.
We've dragged Louise around the country this year, and at first I was worried about the responsibilities that come with sponsorship might overwhelm her. It can be a nasty transition - going from a carefree schedule to suddenly finding yourself due here and there at a certain time, or having to regularly update your social media with sponsors product on show.
Yet, true to form, she's taken it in her stride. She's continued to push her limits and show vast improvements for a rider who's been on a bike in earnest a little less than 3 years. Ultimately, that's what the whole ethos is about, sure, we have sponsors, but they let us get on with riding our bikes rather than scheduling social media posts all day long.
"As the Wilko (AKA Tommy Wilkinson) says ‘nothing is for free’ and it’s true. I now believe it’s more about knowing the value of everything, including yourself and the illusion of confidence, it's not just about riding your bike. Confidence ties in with value, knowing your own value means being confident in what you can offer to brands in return for support. A little bit of confidence goes a long way and asking really is the best thing to do. I think it’s often cheeky, awkward and/or intimidating but that’s the only way someone knows what you need. No one can read minds. Personally I’m terrible for confidence and speaking my mind but slowly I’m learning to be more unreserved thanks to light encouragement."
Nevis Range ski and bike resort in Fort William is Louise's regular spot, and they've really put some solid graft in to make the hill more of a destination over the last two years. While in summer it's easy to spot Louise on her distinctive Bergamont Straitline, come winter it's all boards, split boarding and seeking out fresh lines in the "back corries."
While most of us can get a little obsessive over bikes (and rightly so, there's nothing better than ripping a turn) being able to enjoy other things in life is so crucial.
Fort William, despite being cold, wet and remote, offers a vast swathe of things to keep any lover of the outdoors engaged, and for those who like to seek out a spot of bother in the wilds, there is no better place.
"Physical items aside, a big part of the team support this year has been the intangible aspects. Having someone or a few people who believe in you as a rider and are willing to help has been invaluable. Being able to access a wealth of knowledge and experience has been especially helpful for races, this advice helps me understand or avoid obvious mistakes. Like every other skill, racing takes graft, practice and time to master, in the past I have had very little understanding of racing craft but with the help of the team I am getting there. "
Louise is undoubtedly a pinner. I've seen how hard she corners when her confidence is up, but translating RAW talent into race results is a challenge that overcomes 95% of the population (including myself). I noticed that she didn't have the strength to ride like she can for a whole run. She muscles the bike into turns, rails them and forcibly pops out - it looks so sick - but it's unsustainable on a long run, and a few crashes really knocked her confidence mid-season.
The other thing that struck me is that she's never properly walked a track before a race! The visualisation was something that every racer back in the day was taught, but it seems like the new school don't do it as much, but it's helped Louise massively. We've talked about walking the track and line choice, and how one line choice on a corner can impact the next 5 turns; This had never occurred to her.
We've had to work on the track walking part... let's just say it's a work in progress!
"With racing comes crashing. Everyone crashes but this year I’ve had more injuries than ever before and although it’s good to push it, the consequences aren’t always ideal. I missed a few races and quite a bit of riding but it’s been great to learn from the process and take positives from all this ‘experience’ to be better. So far I’ve been thinking about holding off on the sketchy backflips and learning some other tricks with some solid guidance from youtube and dark winter nights in the skateparks."
"The pure enjoyment of riding will always come first in my list of priorities because chasing friends down trails and pedalling around the woods won’t ever get old. However this year has invited me to look at biking in a different light and learn more about the industry. Joining the team has been a massive help in this sense, firstly to find my feet and secondly to give some well-needed direction. But as I said, everyone on the team is about the riding first and that leads everything else."
It's been RAD watching Louise's progression over the last 12 months, all while juggling getting her Honours Degree and bike packing the Colorado Trail on a self-planned and executed sortie to the west.
"Reflecting has eventually Brough a few topics to mind; 2018 has shown me that uni is hard work but achievable, backflips are sore but not impossible and the Descent World team are a beautiful bunch of humans but ultimately as mad as cats."
Next year brings new challenges and more adventures, and I've got a feeling you'll be seeing a lot more of this quiet shredder, even if she still shuns the limelight and just wants to rip turns, send jumps and smash DH runs. For me, that's the only way it should be, riding first, everything else second.