One of the newest members of the JAM Fund elite team will be racing at the Marathon Mountain Bike National Championships near Augusta, Georgia on Saturday. Rhys May was selected for the JAM Fund team last month, and since then, she’s been revving up for cross season by racing on her mountain bike.
“My goal is to make noticeable jumps in every area, which JAM will help me with,” she said. “I built up my athletic base and handling and know how to use equipment, but I can improve in all of those things.”
May made strides by racing a lot this past season. In January, she competed in just about every event she could at Cyclocross National Championships in Asheville. She finished fifth in the non-championship race despite flatting and pitting.
“I reached a level of cracked that I had never felt before,” she said. “I got on the podium in fifth, which I refer to as the bronzer-er medal.”
After that, she raced the singlespeed and industry races and the team relay, where her group came in sixth.
“It was really, really cool,” May said. “I got off that course and lined up for the next race. It was pretty crazy. I was so cracked to race in front of all those people. I was grinning the whole time.”
And finally, she tackled the seriously fun donut race.
“There’s debate as to who won that race,” she laughs. “I ate six donuts and did four laps.”
May fell in love with cross six years ago while living in Athens, Georgia. She immediately started racing because she wasn’t afraid of a new challenge.
“It’s accessible. I wasn’t scared to show up not knowing anything,” she said. “I like doing laps. Even long laps. I like to plan attack spots, know the good places to put my butt on my rear tire and slide down a little bit. I have a lot to learn about race tactics, but I like the purity of everyone going hard the whole time.”
Her first steed was a steel singlespeed Univega.
“Someone gave me the bike for free and I took it to Sunshine Cycles and said, ‘Hey, these gears don’t work and it’s really heavy, can we remove them?’” she said. “It was when singlespeed was cool.”
So for the next two years, May commuted and raced on that bike. She moved from Athens to Atlanta and conducted a jewelry business out of Loose Nuts Cycles. In 2014, she started a grassroots cycling team named after the shop.
“Our kits were camo and orange,” she said. “People would say they are ugly, and I’d say, ‘but you noticed us!’”
The team started out small with May and three guys.
“We were all Cat 3, and three of the four of us got state CX championship jerseys that year. We had a ridiculous amount of fun,” she said.
That same year, May met Cycle-Smart Coach Adam Myerson at the Athens Twilight Criterium. It was a chance encounter that changed her cycling career.
“I was excited to race my bike and get better at cyclocross,” she said. “And Adam said, ‘you have all this passion and you don’t know what to do with it. You’re doing it wrong.’ And he set me off on this awesome path.”
So that summer in 2014, May went to the Cycle-Smart Cyclocross Camp in Southampton, Massachusetts, which also happens to be the area where she was born.
“I put cross camp and a plane ticket on a credit card and made it happen,” she said. “I got a big bag and told Delta that it was tradeshow display so that I could fly with my bike for $25.”
Last summer, May drove up to cross camp again. Only this time, she stayed longer and was invited to go for a ride with the JAM'ers.
“It was me, Ellen Noble, Jeremy Powers, Anthony Clark and Scott Smith, and I was like, wow, how do I stay out of everyone’s way,” May said. “We went to a crazy sand dunes place and rode a bunch of sand. And I was riding behind Ellen and watching her handle her bike, and that was really cool. And [Stephen] Hyde was on that ride, and I was bloody and bruised by the end of it. I did a move that Al refers to as a ‘turtle.’ I fell over in the sand with my feet still clipped in and couldn’t get back up, and I was sliding down a dune and Jeremy’s trying to train and I’m trying to wiggle on my back and get out of his way. I was like, oh boy. Here it goes.”
May, who is now 26, stands out in a crowd with her contagious smile, pixie dark hair and tattoos.
“I have tattoos of cogs from my left hip up to my shoulder blade. They’re all different sized cogs but all have the same number of teeth: 14, which is wrong. I was 20. I rode a fixed gear all the time. What did I know about the number of teeth on a cog back then? I just knew I loved bikes.”
May is a medalsmith with talent that reflects her love of cycling. She designs and creates brass and silver jewelry and other items with bicycle themes. Her company is called Rhys May Jewelry.
“I made awards for the Georgia CX Series and Grant Park races and I make custom head badges,” she said. “Anthony [Clark] got me in touch with Squid Bikes, so I’m making badges for them of a squid roasting marshmallows and another one of a squid eating pizza and donuts. So those are my two worlds coming together.”
In April, May got an offer from JAM Fund asking her if she’d like to join the team and relocate from Georgia to Massachusetts.
“I got an email that said we have a spot open for you on JAM if you’re interested,” May said. “And I’m crying, jumping up and down, and of course I’m interested. They asked if I can make the move, and I said, see you soon!”
Other new members of the JAM Fund Team include Natalie Tapias of Brooklyn, New York, who will join May on the elite team with Scott Smith and Jack Kisseberth. JAM also has two new members on its development team; Ian Gielar and Trent Blackburn will be racing alongside Chris Niesen and Case Butler who continue on the development team for a second year.
After competing at Mountain Bike Nationals this weekend, May will load up her 1997 teal-colored Volvo she has named Ingrid and move to Easthampton, home to the JAM Fund family of riders.
“I’m very mentally willing to work hard,” she said. “I’m weird. I like doing intervals. They looked at my numbers to know whether I’m physiologically able to keep up with what I want to do. I sort of passed the test.”