John Deere 997 ride-on mower

John Deere 997
John Deere 997

When you see green and yellow streak past at high speed, it has to be a John Deere. This machine is JD's solution to cutting down mowing time and costs. It's fast and has terrific manoeuvrability.

Equipped with a direct-injection Yanmar diesel engine, the 997 has more displacement and peak torque. Also key to this machine are the shaft-driven mower deck, hydraulic PTO clutch and single-body pump, along with the heavy-duty chassis. This is a strong unit. Access for maintenance is straight forward, via the hood, under the seat or, in the case of the cutters, by removing a double-bolted tray on the platform.

But you have to sit on this mower to really appreciate it. The seat itself is wide, high-backed and has deep cushioning. It provides a commanding view over the cutting operation. We cannot fault it, but for sheer luxury you might want to upgrade to the suspension seat to tailor weight and suspension to personal preference.

Controls are easy to master. The deck-lift button raises the deck right to the top and can be operated on the move to take a run over longer grass or to alter cutting height via the dial. In the event of an emergency, a panic button on the stick-steer lever brings the blades to a halt without you looking for an on/off switch.

We also like the no-rattle folding roll bar. It's a clever design that removes the irritating chatter normally associated with a folding roll over protection structure (ROPS) yet causes no delay when the bar has to be lowered for under-tree mowing.

"It's a nice machine. It's got a good cutting speed and gives a quality cut," says Ekin. "It's simple to lift and lower the deck and I like the fact the deck is completely clear - there's no pedals, nothing at all to confuse the novice operator. The controls are dead easy, although the gap to place the sticks in neutral is a bit narrow."

However, Baldwin notes: "You have to remember that this machine is a bit longer than the others - you have to watch the back end as you whizz round."

Unfortunately, a bad electrical connection beneath the PTO on/off switch brought our mowing to an early end, although it was still possible to drive the machine.

Engine: Yanmar three-cylinder diesel - 29hp (displacement: 1,330cc)
Overall dimensions: (LxH) 243x193cm with ROPS
Weight: 805kg
Forward speed: 0-11.5mph (0-18.5kmph)
Reverse speed: 0-5mph (0-8kmph)
Fuel tank capacity: 45.5 litres
Mowing width: 60/72in (153/182cm)
Cutting height: 1.5-5in (38-127mm)
Number of blades: Three
Deck: Fabricated, 4.5mm thick, rear-discharge (side-discharge 7-Iron
one-piece stamped optional)
List price: From £16,686 + VAT
Tel: John Deere - 01949 860491

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The Review Panel

Mark Ekin, teacher, Broomfield Hall Campus, Derby College

Mike Baldwin, director of learning, Broomfield Hall Campus, Derby College

When you need to mow in a hurry but still want a smart finish, there is nothing quite like a zero-turn mower to do the job. Nippy in the extreme, these machines turn on the spot to save time at headlands.

They zing round trees and obstacles. With the deck towards the front, most can poke their noses under benches and shrubs to save time trimming up with a walk-behind model or corded trimmer. Saving time also means saving money and there are also some incredibly comfortable zero-turn mowers that provide relaxing seating for a full day's work.

But most zero-turn mowers have stick-steer levers in place of a steering wheel. This seems to be the feature that puts most people off. It is more like driving a tank than a ride-on mower. But it is not that difficult. To test how quickly stick-steer novices take to the controls, we invited 20 horticulture and countryside students to have a go.

Within minutes they had mastered the controls and were zipping around the golf course at our test site as though they had been driving zero-turns for years. "It's simple. Just like computer games," one student told me.

The test was carried out at the Broomfield Hall Campus of Derby College. A heavy dew in the morning was then followed by dry and sunny conditions.

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