Rides We Love: Going ‘Round The Bend

Tailem Bend is set to put Australian motorsport back on the international map - and you can have fun getting there.

Story and pics: Roderick Eime

Test Bike: courtesy Harley-Heaven Adelaide

I can’t count the number of times I have driven through Tailem Bend on my many journeys between Adelaide and Sydney over nearly 40 years. The former railway town at the junction of the Mallee and Dukes Hwy first rang to the sound of steam locomotives in 1886 which ran for more than 100 hundred years before Tailem Bend ceased to exist for trains at the end of the 20th century.

Today the Overlander daylight express charges between Melbourne and Adelaide ignoring Tailem Bend on its 10-hour journey between the capitals. Tailem Bend fell in a sort of hole after the station closed in 1996 and is now best known for the strip of service stations along the highway between the town centre and the Murray River. But that is rapidly changing.

Older locals will recall when The River Bend Raceway Park hosted its first drag race meeting in April 1979 on a tarmac strip laid on the hard limestone base a few clicks from town at the junction of the two interstate highways. But the strip was short-lived, quickly going broke in a few months. It was purchased by Mitsubishi as a test track until they ceased local manufacturing in 2008 and in 2013 the land was bought by the prominent Shahin family who owns the dominant On The Run (OTR) BP petrol stations and announced a major motorsport development.

The doubters and naysayers were quietened when the ground was broken a year later and then totally silenced when both V8 Supercars and Australian Superbike rounds were held last year. The complex is set to host more events, including internationals, on the multi-million dollar site which is claimed by the developers to be the second-largest permanent racetrack in the world.

Eager to see the new site for myself, I cajoled a sweet H-D Road Glide Special from Harley-Heaven in Franklin Street and headed to The Bend with cousin Jason on his trusty Honda.

With the stunning Road Glide Special at Old Tailem Town

Now, it is perfectly conceivable that many hundreds of motorcyclists will make the journey from Adelaide to The Bend to see such events as their next round (3) of the Yamaha Motor Finance Australian Superbike Championship in April. It’s too easy to just belt down the M1 past Murray Bridge and there you are an hour later. But why not use the opportunity to detour and see a little bit of the countryside en route.

Essentially you have two main options, each customisable within themselves. One, south of the M1 via Strathalbyn (B37) or two, north of the M1 via Murray Bridge township (B55) and the Old Princes Hwy. My personal recommendation is to head out on option one and head back on option two. But hey, it’s your call.

If you’re an Adelaide resident rider, you’ll be familiar with popular Sunday spots like Crafers, Hahndorf and the roads around Mt Lofty. If not, then these roads are a treat. Head to Mt Barker, across the M1, where you will see the main road (B37) heading south to Strathalbyn. We stopped there on an earlier ride in Issue #144 to see the Collectable Cars shed. But not this time. Sunday drivers can spoil your fun, so just out of Mt Barker, Jason waves us onto the Wellington Road and its wide, fast sweepers down to Langhorne Creek and the B45 through to the riverside town of Wellington. Here the pub has very decent digs just across the river (by ferry) from Tailem Bend. Bookmark that if you are staying for the races, because you won’t get into the onsite hotel for quids.

Crossing the Murray River at Murray Bridge

On the way back down the M1, you can stop to check out Old Tailem Town, a recreated pioneer village with lots of cool ‘junk’, before heading into Murray Bridge township proper for a photo opp at the old bridges. Back out (still on the B55) you’ll see the old Princes Hwy heading to Monarto Zoo. Follow the old road through to Littlehampton where you can either rejoin the M1 (nah!) or meander back through Balhannah and Uraidla. Much better.

Facts and Fun:

The Bend Motorsport Park

Yamaha Motor Finance Australian Superbike Championship

Visitor Information

The Wellington (Welly) Hotel

Old Tailem Town

National Motor Museum Birdwood (detour required)

Google Maps (with riding routes):