TOUR DU FRONT BELGIUM & FRANCE "RIDE THE LINE"

2016, 2018, 2023 

1500+ KM, SMALL GROUPS, GUIDED, VAN SUPPORT

Next ride 2023 (tentative)


A tribute and a challenge

When Austria's 29 year old Archduke Ferdinand sailed into Sydney in 1893, principally to trophy-shoot our koalas, platypus and any other innocent wildlife he could line up, no-one could have imagined the apocalypse his own shooting would trigger.

A ride the full length of the Western Front we thought could be both a personal challenge and a way to give tribute to the tragic sacrifice of our gt/grandparents' generation. 

We couldn't see anything organised so "Why not?". We named it the 'Tour du Front' and pay our respects to the grueling Great Ride as well as the gruesome Great War.
Our first ride in 2016 marked the centenary of ANZAC troops on the Western Front. 
2018 was the Centenary year of the German Spring Offensive, the Aussie successes in halting their advance around Amiens and the Armistice.

The Western Front as a bike ride

The Tour du Front traces the Front Line from the Belgium coast to the Swiss border. For most of the Great War, the Line didn't shift much. It is around 800 km but we will cover a fair bit more, around 1500 km. 

Along the way, we're biased towards: sites significant to ANZAC and Commonwealth forces, minor roads, towns of historical and scenic interest, nice character accommodations to overnight (most with bistros/restaurants), patisseries and cafes - and bars!

Route and key points (2018)

Nieuwport, Dijksmuide, Ypres and surrounds, Armentieres, Fromelles, Vimy Ridge, Arras, Bullecourt, Bapaume, Pozieres, Albert, River Somme, Villers-Brettoneux, Amiens, Compiegne, Peronne, St Quentin, River Aisne, Route des Dames, Reims, Argonne Forests, Verdun, River Meuse, Nancy, Mosel River, Meurthe River, St Die, Vosges Mountains, Grand Ballon Summit, Haute-Alsace and on to Basel (Switzerland).

Rest days (2018): In the major centres of Amiens, Reims and Nancy.

Small groups: Maximum 12 riders (minimum 6).

Participation costs per rider for 2018:

Guided, 2-3 star hotels and gîtes x 21 nights, vehicle support for bags, hotel breakfasts.

3000 Euro if sharing a room (approx 4500AUD)

+800 Euro for single rooms (add approx 1200AUD)

Gîtes are BnBs, farmstays and self-contained rental properties.

Crew of rider-guide and van support driver:
In 2018 we had Carl Ooghe riding and guiding as far as Nancy. Carl is a cycle tour guide and battlefields expert, living near Ypres. Carl accompanied the June 2016 event for 11 days from the Belgian coast to Reims. On these rides, Outbike's Ralph did support through to Basel. Carl has now added the Lorraine and Alsace battlefields to his expertise and in future is ready to ride/guide the entire way. Carl has an 8-seater van and accompanying crew person to provide support.

Extras:
Lunches, dinners, bike hire, admissions.
Travel to Ypres to commence and away from Mulhouse or Basel.
Bike hire is 15 Euros per day (2018). 


From Outbike's Ralph Jackson:

Our next ride will be dedicated to the life and many achievements of Tim Fischer

I have special reason for this...

I dedicated our 2016 and 2018 Tour de Front rides to 3 of my forebears, 2 of whom fought and were wounded on the Western Front: my English Grandfather Henry Jackson and my Aussie Gt Uncle Ernest McKinnon of the 31st Battalion AIF. 

The other is my Gt Grandfather Major Henry Krone, OIC of Emerald Hill (South Melbourne) Artillery through the 1860s.

Major Krone's life played out well before WW1 but allow me to share some more about him:

Born to an émigré Central-European Jewish family living in London's East End, Henry sailed to Port Phillip on the news of the gold rush, along with his two brothers, future postmaster Alfred Lionel and pioneering masseur, hypnotist, magnetic healer and electric shock therapist Maurice (sometimes alias Professor Leslie). 

Henry joined the Victorian Volunteer Force as a gunner in 1855 and did well both in military and civilian life in colonial Melbourne, rising to be Registrar-General. Major Henry Krone and General John Monash have some common ground. Both were among the first Jewish-born officers of Australian forces. Both were promoted through the ranks to became majors in the Victorian Volunteer Force artillery garrisons. Krone at South Melbourne, Monash at North Melbourne. Krone was a generation before Monash and never had to fight a war. He did have some discipline issues however and was in a mess room punch-up that made front page news in 1870 Melbourne. And we're glad he didn't go to NZ to fight the Maoris.

The late, great and very Honorable Tim Fischer, former Deputy PM, is also a descendant of my Gt Grandfather Major Krone (we discovered the family connection to Tim in 2014). Tim is the son of my 2nd cousin, Ralph Fischer. We had some longer generation-gaps on my side of the family!

Tim is also a former Lieutenant and wrote a book on General John Monash ('Maestro John Monash'), campaigning for his posthumous promotion to Field Marshall!

So it is fitting that we dedicate our next ride to Tim.

I was privileged to meet Tim a number of times and on the last occasion enjoyed most of an hour in March 2019 and bantered an idea for a 'National Hall of Shambles' that would be like a museum of major Aussie blunders (where we could all "learn from our mistakes")

Knowing Tim also liked chess, I'd been trying for a few years to get him to the board - I never did but he was chuffed when I found out we shared a first cousin (2-3 x removed), Antony Guest, who was a leading English master in the 1880s, playing against the world's greats.

I wore the slouch hat - as an army reservist for 4 years - with 4th Field Engineering Regiment (Gladesville) and 3rd Royal NSW Regiment (Wagga) in 1979-83. My service came to an end when our crusty CSM (who was 'Regular Army') insisted I get a discharge before travelling across China and the USSR on my way to Europe! There I cycle-toured Northern France and Belgium, my first encounters with WW1 Western Front sites.

I am proud to present the Tour du Front - however WW1 was all up an unbelievably horrific and senseless carnage of mostly shell-slinging.

Technically, warfare was changing: new machine-guns, new heavy artillery, new aircraft, new tanks, new gases, new subs, new ships and new mines.
New tinned food made feeding troops possible all year.
New reinforced concrete made stronger fortifications.
New motorised trucks, buses, train transport and ocean liners made it possible to move tens and hundreds of thousands of troops like never before.
New communications made co-ordination easier.
Many diseases that previously ravaged armies were understood and measures applied to prevent them.
However in September and October 1918 the Spanish flu wiped out so many troops in a few weeks to become one of the biggest killers. 50% of US Army deaths were from disease, 43% were through fighting (is being shelled 'fighting'?). All armies on the Western Front lost tens of thousands to the pandemic. Morale hit rock-bottom and already in retreat, Germany declared they'd had enough and it was all over.

But without the world-changing WW1, history would have followed another course.

For a final thought, without WW1 it's fair to say we'd all NOT be here today - the world would be populated by a different set of people!

From Allan (retired Sgt Major, Australian Army) on our 2016 ride:

G'day Carl and Ralph,

I wish to thank you both for a most memorable cycling tour of the WW1 "Western Front " Oostende to Basel. With my military background and having visited Gallipoli, I needed to see the Western Front to get a "feel" of this "War to end all wars". 

War in all its forms from the dark ages to the present are totally wasteful in terms of human suffering but my view is that this war was perhaps the most wasteful and horrific with so many paying the ultimate price with their lives due to a large extent bad leadership.

Our journey was for 23 days covering 1500km. There was just so much to see and absorb. To absorb is a factor I am still and will continue to do for some time. As with my trip to Gallipoli, being shown around the various cardinal points of that, by comparison, small theatre of war, was most informative. Unfortunately, no tour operator can allow sufficient time to a visitor to sit and analyse or get the feel of what actually happened at a particular battle site. The entire Western Front in 23 days is a large chunk of real estate to cover plus 4 years in largely stalemate and attrition situations in the progress of that war makes it even more difficult to fully comprehend. I am absolutely in awe of the scale of it, the conditions, the battles, the deprivation, the massive loss of military life and civilian sacrifice as well. 

I extend a most hearty thank you to you both for a tour which was for me unlike any other and one I would never to have been able to do by myself. I will never forget the informative dialogue and assistance you provided to me. 

PAX LEST WE FORGET. 

Kind Regards,
Allan

Riding the routes of the Great War - Guide book by Carl Ooghe

Carl Ooghe's guide book, English edition

TOUR DU FRONT 2018 itinerary

Images from past events