I was very pleased to see the King Edward Park article with the photograph of John Dunscombe’s “Flying Bedstead” in OBA 59. As his passenger, on this occasion, my memories of John and his machines are vivid and undiminished by either time or age. When my father told me that Norm Greedy was thinking of retiring – as John’s long-term passenger – I casually said that I could be interested. Apparently he took me at my word, as a few weeks before the last (1967) hill climb my father announced that Norm had parted and that I should be early for the Saturday practice at the forthcoming Oran Park meeting, as John had entered me for both Oran Park and King Edward Park as his passenger. Riding with John was always an adventure. On this first occasion, at Oran Park, his old exambulance transporter broke down and he arrived on the Sunday, only 15 minutes before the Junior Sidecar race started. This did not allow much time for ‘dry runs’ as I had never been on any sidecar before and the climb over the front wheel of the Bedstead, for right-handers, was a little daunting and almost gymnastic. But the ride was exhilarating. Until then – as a solo rider – I had no idea of how sensational the speed seemed, when so close to the ground. It was only afterwards that I realised – from my aching muscles – that I had been holding on far too tightly, and discovered an alarming tyre burn on the side of my Cromwell helmet. I know there was much (mostly ‘official’) criticism of John’s design of the Bedstead – your OBA article describes it as “infamous” – but I think it was a work of genius. On a number of occasions, I was able to witness its stability: once weaving smoothly through a multiple crash in the first long, left-hander on the old Oran Park circuit. I wonder if any reader also saw it execute a 180 degree spin, without any toppling, on the King Edward Park ‘Shell Corner’ hairpin in 1967 (I ‘sort of’ missed that one as I was focused on the ground at the time).
It was certainly more pleasurable to ride on than John’s conventional Senior HRD Vincent sidecar. It was a brute; especially at the clockwise Amaroo Park circuit. I always got off ‘deaf and drunk’ there, after 5 laps of hanging with my head in its megaphone. I am sorry that John never exchanged that motor for the 500cc Vincent Comet in the Bedstead. He certainly thought about it. John’s passing has lost one of motorcycling’s most ingenious and colourful characters. To be honest though, my ‘hero’ of the 1967 Hill Climb will remain to be Jack Pearce. Jack had suffered a very painful back injury just before the event and had his friends lift him onto his sidecar for each ride. Motorcycling has been the major passion of my family, now, for four generations (as my son Chris and his son, Beau, will attest). So thank you for a marvellous magazine that allows me – among your many other readers – to recall, revive and re-live a little of those wonderfully noisy, pulsing, rattling, sometimes nasty, oilstained and often painful days of our youth.
Robert Ralston Katoomba, NSW
Robert Ralston on his brand new 250cc Mk3 Ducati at the 1966 King Edward Park hill climb.