Herbert Schek has always wanted to participate in the race on ice in his hometown, Wangen im Allgäu. His father is a car salesman who was captured as prisoner of war by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Economic problems cause father and son to expand their business and they start repairing motorbikes. At the age of eighteen, Herbert competes in the race and wins it. “The others were going too fast and crashed, I went more slowly and won”, he remembers. He wins thirty titles and realises that he is particularly gifted for regularity racing.
They call him “den Langen aus Wangen”, “the beanpole from Wangen”. In 1952, he takes part in the first competition that resembles an Enduro test: The Oberallgäuer Mountain Ride. The national Enduro Championship starts three years later. Schek rides a Puch motorcycle, produced by one of the major Austrian companies manufacturing light scooters and low-powered bikes. A series of breakdowns slow him down and he doesn’t achieve great results. He decides to leave Puch in 1962 in order to join the German Maico factory. The German Fritz Betzelbacher had won the European Championships in the 250 motocross class on one of their models.
Although Schek wins the national German championship in 1962, he really makes history in the ISDT, the races that last six days. He participates in twenty-five of them, winning eighteen gold medals. After the victory at the Three Days of Passau in 1965, Schek races the Swedish ISDT at Karlskoga on a BMW in 1966. He also represents the same company in the edition at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Here, BMW aims for two gold medals with its two riders in order to reach 150 won titles, but this competition does not exactly go to plan. In 1973, BMW sends four motorbikes into the race at Dalton in the United States and Schek understands that the German models with their boxer engines are too heavy really to compete with the English bikes so he asks the mechanics to reduce the weight to 150-160 kilograms. BMW tells him that this is impossible: Schek accepts the challenge and builds them himself, with spare parts found at home. They weigh 125 kilograms in the end and become famous as “Schek’s BMWs”. Despite the gold medal, he isn’t happy with the experience at Berkshire Hills in Massachusetts. It’s cold and he notices that somebody has modified the bikes that bear his name before they got to the US when he has to change the carburettors’ float chambers.
He wins the Open on a 504cc Maico on the Isle of Man in 1975 and then moves on to tackle an intriguing challenge when Sachs invites him to contribute to the realisation of an Enduro motorbike with a Wankel engine. It’s the lightest “rotary” motor around and much cheaper than the traditional four-stroke pistons even if it turns out to be rather unreliable. From 1976 to 1977 Schek rides this model with seven gears he helped to design until Sachs closes its off-road department. Schek’s real success, however, still lies ahead of him. The federation that organises the national Enduro races in West Germany, the OMK, introduces a new class for bikes of at least 750 cc. The requests for his ultralight BMW multiply.
Schek doesn’t stop here. He’s a magnificent rider who also knows the rules extremely well. In 1980, he wins the Enduro World Championship in the 1000 cc class and, one year later, he participates in his twenty-fifth ISDT. After the competition, a OMK official praises him: “Nobody will ever beat your record of twenty-five ISDTs. It’s time to make space for the younger riders”. Sheck doesn’t believe him and doesn’t want to step aside at all. The prophecy turns out to be wrong in the end anyway when the American Jeff Fredette surpasses his record in New Zealand in 2006.
Having won four ISDTs in his class in 1966, 1969, 1971 and 1975, Schek looks for new challenges. He turns his attention to the Paris-Dakar and develops motorbikes for a French distributor with which Hubert Auriol and Gaston Rahier are victorious in 1983 and 1984. Schek never stopped racing. He continues participating in vintage Enduro races in Germany with his BMWs with the same spirit that first attracted him to endurance competitions: “You never know how hard you can push your bike.”