A couple in their 70s are strolling through a country park. They are enjoying the song of the birds and the fragrance of the flowers.
Over the road, a young mum and her four-year-old son pause for a breath of fresh air after chasing each other round the playground. In both situations, the last thing they want is the piercing, screaming noise and stinky smell of an old two-stroke engine. It will spoil their day - not to mention their moods.
Only a couple of years ago, firing up a line trimmer or brushcutter could mean you were in for a spell of noisy, smelly work. Protected by ear defenders and with the exhaust behind you, you might be oblivious to the whine of the engine and the smell of the fumes as the machine works. But other people nearby will be hurrying to get away.
Two-stroke engines have, for years, been seen as the perfect solution to tools that need to be lightweight and work at an angle.
Many two-stroke engines have improved in recent years. In striving to meet European emissions standards, manufacturers have given brushcutter purchasers more choice. This is especially beneficial for working in public places and comes with the additional benefit of fuel savings. Four-stroke, hybrid or stratified charge - the choice is yours.
Back in the 1990s, Honda fitted a four-stroke engine to its brushcutters and showed everyone that a mini four-stroke engine provides power and performance without adding too much weight. It was not long before Solo followed with a machine powered by a 25cc Fuji Robin four-stroke engine. Then Makita launched its first four-stroke brushcutter.
The latest Makita brushcutter is the BCX2500. Brought to the market as an entry-level four-stroke machine for professional grounds-care operations, it is powered by a 24.5cc engine that delivers 600W of power. It boasts electronic ignition and, running on lead-free fuel, meets emission standards. The engine is quieter and less intrusive than two-stroke machines and has a decibel rating of 102dB(A). Vibration has been kept to a minimum - just 2.2m/s2 for the right-hand grip and 2.9m/s2 for the left handle with the engine running at wide-open throttle (WOT).
The first hybrid engine arrived in 2002 on a Shindaiwa brushcutter. It was developed to overcome the problem of "enleanment" - rising engine temperatures that can lead to seizure.
The hybrid combines the best features of two- and four-stroke engines while reducing emissions and noise. Around the same time, Komatsu Zenoah began fitting Strato Charged engines to its handheld products.
Seen as a breakthrough in small-engine technology, other companies joined the search for solutions that would be lightweight and provide the two-stroke versatility.
Stihl wrote a new chapter in engine development six years ago when it developed the 4-MIX engine and fitted it to some of the company's range.
Its key feature is the bypass channel in the cylinder head, which distributes part of the fuel/oil mix to the engine. This allows the engine to work in any position. But the 4-MIX also gives users a machine that is lighter than a four-stroke, much quieter and cleaner than a two-stroke, and yet runs on a fuel/oil mix - business as usual when fuelling up.
Much of Stihl's product line-up is now equipped with the 4-MIX but the latest items feature stratified-charge engines. Models FS40, FS50 and FS56 have engines borrowed from Stihl's chainsaw portfolio and are designed to deliver significantly reduced emissions and improve fuel economy with fast acceleration and impressive torque.
Stihl has also equipped the trimmers with the simplified starting system that reduces the start-up procedure from eight steps to four: pump the primer, set the choke to full, pull-start the machine and flick the throttle to go. Flicking a switch stops the engine and resets the controls.
Husqvarna initially opted for the catalytic converter route in 2003, fitting E-TECH engines and cats to some of its brushcutters. The company's latest engines are the X-TORQ and E-TECH II.
It is the latter engine that has been fitted to two new models for this year - the 323R-II and 327Rx. Both these 24.5cc units are designed for work in parks, golf courses and gardens and benefit from Smart Start to give a 40 per cent reduction in starter-cord resistance. The cutting attachment on the new Husqvarna machines features the Combi-Guard for operation with either a nylon-line trimmer head or a grass blade where denser vegetation needs cutting.
Last month saw Echo introduce its first hybrid-engine brushcutter, boasting lower engine noise and up to 33 per cent better fuel economy, as well as low levels of emissions. The 34cc air-cooled Hybrid 4 engine is fitted to the SRMF-340U and provides a maximum 10,500rpm, high torque and throttle-response speed usually associated with two-stroke engines.
The SRMF-340U operates on a 50:1 fuel/oil mix, so there is no separate oil tank to worry about and the engine's rotary valve carburettor allows the brushcutter to be operated in all positions.
Showing commitment to promoting environmental protection, Emak has developed new engines to comply fully with applicable Euro 2 standards. Branded "Burn Right", the engines reduce emissions by 80 per cent compared to previous models. There is also a reported 40 per cent reduction in fuel consumption. Emak says that engine performance is on par with similar Euro 1 engines.
The Burn Right engine features on Emak's latest brushcutter - the Efco DS3800T. Intended for heavy workloads, this machine is equipped with a 1.9hp engine and boasts a nickel-plated cylinder and generously sized paper filter element to accommodate heavy-duty, dust-laden operating environments.
The machine has vibration rating of 3.2m/s2, a figure achieved by the combination of self-lubricating brass and rubber brushes in the drive shaft complemented by shock-absorbing rubber mountings between the handlebar and tube. The sound-insulated muffler reduces noise emission levels at all speeds. This handlebar-type brushcutter is supplied with a professional S-format harness with four fixing points.
A nylon-line grass trimmer and a brushcutter are two of the five interchangeable tools available for the new Efco Multimate from Emak UK.
A complete Multimate kit costs under £500 (ex VAT) but accessories can be purchased on an individual basis, enabling users to tailor their product requirements.
Based around a central petrol-engine power pack, the kit has a coupling system that allows tools to be securely attached in a matter of seconds. Other tool options include leaf/debris blower, hedgecutter and general-purpose pruner.
A two-stroke 25.4cc Echo engine and upper shaft unit provide the drive to a range of attachments making up the Echo PAS-265ES Multi-Tool.
Changing attachments is a simple operation and user controls are unified for all tool options in order to make the PAS-265ES an adaptable and user-friendly tool.
The engine and upper shaft unit has a suggested retail price of £259 (ex VAT), with the trimmer unit costing an additional £99 (ex VAT).
Versatility can be increased by purchasing the other attachments that include edger, cultivator, power pruner, scarifier, brush and articulating hedgetrimmer.
With so much choice in engines, visitors to parks and gardens should no longer be disturbed by unpleasant smells and the screeching of old two-stroke engines.
Targeted at landscapers needing to clear heavy undergrowth and even small trees, Echo's new SRM-335ES is noted for its low-vibration and low-tone technologies. The unit is available with loop handle for manoeuvrability or U-handle for mowing, the latter recording vibration figures of 2.5m/s2 and 2.8m/s2, and is fitted with a 30.5cc two-stroke engine. It has a shaft of 1,845mm in length and a 0.84-litre fuel tank to give longer operation between fills. It is also equipped with Easy Start. The machine's weight is 7.5kg for the loop-handled version and 7.6kg for the U-handled machine.
Seen Stihl's website recently? It is worth a look if you are struggling with the impact of vibration legislation. The downloads section includes guidelines for employers, data sheets stating the figures for all Stihl's products and a simplified risk-classification procedure, along with a calculator for determining daily vibration exposure.
IT'S A TOUGH LIFE
With 41.5cc and 45cc engines, the new Husqvarna 143-II and 343R are intended for commercial duties. Model 143-II has a heavy-duty clutch for tough work using long cords or a large-diameter knife. A stand-alone starter makes it easy to change the starter cord in the field if necessary.