Review - Pedestrian mowers

Four manufacturers submit new models for testing on the grounds at Derby College, Sally Drury reports.

Viking MB 756 YC pedestrian mower - image: HW
Viking MB 756 YC pedestrian mower - image: HW

Tested This Issue

Viking MB 756 YC

Cub Cadet CC53SPBE-V

Masport 800AL

Masport 500AL

Makita PLM4631

Makita PLM4626

The Reviewer - Mike Baldwin, director of learning, Broomfield Campus, Derby College

The walk-behind wheeled rotary mower is the backbone of many machinery fleets and often a first choice for anyone with small or awkward areas of amenity grass. Lightweight and easy to pop into a van, these mowers are loved by garden contractors and in municipal spheres they are used for trimming up after the ride-ons have flown past.

With plenty of options, such as collect, side or rear discharge or mulch, wheeled rotaries find work in locations as different as cemeteries, highway roundabouts, newly germinating sports pitches and back lawns. At the Broomfield Campus of Derby College, where we held our test, walk-behind rotary mowers are used around beds and borders, along verges and in between trees.

We look at new models from four firms. Viking, the mowing side of Stihl, is an increasingly recognised name in professional grounds care circles as well as providing a wide range of domestic lawnmowers. We test the company's latest premium mower for commercial use. It is the most powerful and most expensive of the bunch, but what will our tester make of it?

We also look at a self-propelled and push mowers from Makita. Joining us for the first time we have Masport and Cub Cadet. While all three brands submit what appear very normal lawnmowers, we find each has something to set it apart from the others.

In the test, we were assisted by horticulture students undertaking an assessment of machinery for ease-of-use and health and safety considerations. Conditions on the day were cloudy but dry.

Viking MB 756 YC

Different from the other mowers in the test, not least in price, we look at the Viking first. The unit delivered to us is a pre-production machine and has spent the past three months under test with a contractor. But that has no effect on the results. This is a beast of a machine, capable of demolishing dense vegetation yet equally at home giving a quality cut to a high-standard lawn.

Added to the Viking 7 Series this month, the MB 756 YC is robustly built. The housing comprises a replaceable polymer liner and a metallic outer chassis made of magnesium. Weighing significantly less than conventional metal, the use of magnesium keeps the weight of this mower down to 59kg without compromising stability.

The deck, which has a 10-year guarantee, also has replaceable steel side impact protectors and a solid rubber front bumper. Stihl clearly has confidence in it and we reckon it should not mind the occasional crash into a lamppost. "You can feel the strength in this machine. It's solid, built like a tank," Baldwin confirms.

The mower starts first time and we find it extremely manoeuvrable, despite the usual-looking torsion-resistant mono-handle - the point of which is quickly appreciated when we need to remove the grass catcher. There is nothing to get in the way and the box can be slid out and refitted with ease. Furthermore, blade brake clutch means there is no need to restart the engine while emptying the clippings.

With its 3.9hp air-cooled, vertical shaft four-stroke engine, the Viking is powerful, and the high-torque hydrostatic gearbox provides variable speed to suit conditions. Baldwin drives the mower up a bank and into the woodland edge. Thick rubber tyres with a "grippy" traction pattern see him safely over the rough ground. The wheels have aluminium rims and double, sealed bearings to protect against moisture and dirt.

Then Baldwin admits the extent his test drive. "It's an animal. There's loads of power. We took it through the undergrowth, up the bank, dropped it on a stump - it just kept going," he reports. "I like the fact you can alter the height of cut on all four wheels, so you can up the front if you are going through tall material."

But what is the quality of cut like? Baldwin looks back across the lawn. "The cut, when set down low, is beautiful," he says. "The uniformity is phenomenal - and that's after a contractor has been using it. This really is an all-rounder. It copes with the rough and enjoys the smooth."

If you do not want to collect, a mulching kit is available comprising mulch insert and special blade that shreds the grass finely to aid decomposition in the sward.

It looks as though servicing will be easy on the MB 576 YC. Air filter and oil filter are certainly accessible. With low vibrations and generous guarantees, we find it hard to fault. It is a machine that ticks all the boxes and therefore the price must be viewed as an investment.

Engine: Kawasaki K FJ 180 V KAI OHV
Output at working speed: 2.9kW/3.9hp - 2,800rpm
Drive: Hydrostatic variable speed + blade brake clutch
Cutting width: 54cm (21in)
Cutting height: 25-90mm adjustable (seven stages on each wheel)
Cutting type: Cut, collect, mulch
Housing: Magnesium with polymer lining
Grass catcher box: 75 litres
Weight: 59kg
Fuel tank capacity: Three litres
Measured sound power level: 88dB
Guaranteed sound power level: 98dB
Vibration value ahw: 2.4m/s2
Warranty: One-year commercial use, five-year on mono handlebar, 10-year
on mowing deck
List price: £1,475 + VAT
Tel: Stihl - 01276 20202

Cub Cadet CC53SPBE-V

The horticulture students at Derby College are quick to spot the Cub Cadet. "It's a mower with a hi-viz vest," yells one from the other side of the lawn. They quickly name it "The Wasp" and decide that being visible when mowing is a good idea from the health and safety point of view.

This 21in mower sits at the top end of Cub Cadet's Triloy Series. What sets it apart from others - other than its brilliant yellow livery - is the composition of the deck. It is zinc-coated steel with an aluminium front and rear end, and high-strength polypropylene composite impact panels for durability.

In fact, materials technology is packed into this mower. The low-vibration handle, for instance, contains a gel of polymers and synthetic hydrocarbons and the blades are Teflon-coated.

A Briggs & Stratton 750 EX Series DOV powers the mower. It's Ready Start but what is really appreciated is the key start. "It's a dream. There's no cord to break," says one student. Actually, there is a cord, but just for back-up in the event of a flat battery.

"It's a good piece of kit," says Baldwin. "It has a comfortable drive speed. It's variable so you find the pace to suit you and the conditions. And it gives a nice cut. It certainly picks up well and it is simple to use - not much to go wrong."

All the adjustments you need are quick and easy to make. The handlebar can sit in one of three positions. It can also be folded over for storage or transport. Cutting height adjustment is central via a soft-grip lever. When it comes to servicing we find that we need a screwdriver to access the air filter.

There is no shortage of attention to detail on this mower. The aluminium front end has a rake to guide grass towards the blade for a cleaner cut. The 80-litre grass bag has a "bag full" indicator. A mulch kit is supplied with the mower and there is a deck wash nozzle for cleaning after use.

Engine: Briggs & Stratton 750 EX Series DOV
Capacity: 160cc with electric start
Nominal power: 2.8kW at 2,900rpm
Drive: Six speeds + blade brake clutch
Cutting width: 53cm (21in)
Cutting height: 28-92mm adjustable (central in six positions)
Cutting type: Cut, collect, mulch
Housing: Zinc-coated steel/aluminium/polypropylene composite
Grass catcher box: Soft bag, hard top, 80 litres
Warranty: One-year commercial, three-year domestic conditional
List price: £679 including VAT
Tel: Barrus - 01869 363636

Masport 800AL

What's not to like about this machine? It has everything a professional gardener or mobile garden maintenance team could want - and more. Best of all, this one gives a remarkably close cut.

This is a self-propelled, three-in-one machine, so you cut and drop, cut and collect or mulch. It has one of our favourite engines - a 190cc Briggs & Stratton with Ready Start - so there is plenty of power and starting the machine does not take much effort. Zone Start on this mower helps further and reduces the potential for back strain.

Aimed at large lawns, the 800AL has a 54cm cutting width. What we particularly like is the ability to cut down to 10mm. We didn't know rotaries could go that low. But is that heading into the danger zone for the blades? Not with this one. Masport AL mowers have Quick Cut blades with swinging tips to provide some protection to the crankshaft.

"The swing tips give you that confidence when there might be obstacles or debris on the ground," says Baldwin. Then he racks up the cutting height - quick and easy with the centralised height adjustor - and heads for the woodland edge.

"It's quite a roughty-toughty machine," Baldwin observes, as he emerges again from the undergrowth, drops the cutting height down and sets about finishing off the lawn. "It is very easy to manoeuvre and it handles anything," he adds. "And look at the quality of cut - uniform and clean. I like it."

The machine has a heavy-duty aluminium deck with wash port. To aid mowing around flower beds, the deck is slightly offset. The handles are upturned with soft grips; they are comfortable and vibration was not noticeably an issue. Variable speed provides a comfortable walking pace to match user and conditions.

Engine: Briggs & Stratton XVS 675 Series
Capacity: 190cc with Ready Start
Drive: Self propelled, variable speed
Cutting width: 54cm (22in)
Cutting height: 10-70mm (single lever, in 11 steps)
Cutting type: Cut, collect, mulch
Deck: Aluminium
Grass catcher box: Fabric, 54.5 litres
Weight: 40kg
Warranty: One-year commercial use, two-year domestic
List price: £424.17 + VAT
Tel: FGM Claymore - 01789 490177

Masport 500AL

For those smaller, perhaps less taxing areas, this 18in Masport may be just the job. It is a push mower, so you are totally in control. The cutting width may only be 18in, but this mower has features to delight.

It has got a Briggs & Stratton 190cc Ready Start engine, so turning it over and firing it into life is easy. Like its bigger 22in brother, it has a non-rusting aluminium deck and simple single-lever cutting-height adjustment as well as the same upturned handle with soft grip.

There are other shared features. The 500AL has zone start, Quick Cut blades and a wash port to help cleaning the deck. It also has the same swing tip blade system for confidence in rougher vegetation.

What enthuses us about this mower though is the ingenious Smart Chute device. In just a couple of seconds, a hinged portion of the rear flap can be opened up to give side discharge. There is no need to purchase the chute as an accessory - it is already there, ready for use, open or closed.

In dry conditions, the flap can be closed to aid mulching. It is a huge bonus and gives a true three-in-one mowing machine. "It means the mower can handle anything," Baldwin concludes.

Engine: Briggs & Stratton XVS 650 Series
Capacity: 190cc with Ready Start
Drive: Push
Cutting width: 46cm (18in)
Cutting height: 10-70mm (single lever)
Cutting type: Cut, collect, mulch
Deck: Aluminium
Grass catcher box: Plastic, 46 litres
Weight: 30kg
Warranty: One-year commercial use, two-year domestic
List price: £357.50 + VAT
Tel: FGM Claymore - 01789 490177

Makita PLM4631

Over the past decade or so, Makita has quietly gained a solid reputation in the delivery of grounds maintenance kit. This mower, replacing the PLM4611, only serves to reinforce that reputation.

A four-stroke mower with 190cc Briggs & Stratton engine, the 18in PLM4631 has a lot going for it. There is sufficient power to cut dense and wet grass - and this is where the additional side discharge will be appreciated. Collection, rear discharge and mulching kit are standard, and with a weight of 34kg the 4631 should appeal to mobile gardening crews needing to lift a machine in and out of the van.

The mower is targeted at lawns of up to 1,400sq m and has centralised cutting-height adjustment from 20mm to 75mm. With wheels shifted inwards, it is also great for getting up close to boundaries and there is no reason to be uncomfortable - the handlebars adjust to three positions.

If there is a downside it is that the gearbox provides just a single speed. But it is a comfortable walking speed - not too rushed and not so slow you feel you have to push.

Baldwin likes it. "With its steel housing this is another solid, well-built machine. Handling it is easy and the controls are so simple you can't go wrong. I like the handle at the front - ideal for lifting the unit in and out of a van and perfect for the one-man business. What's more, this one really sounds like a mower."

Engine: Briggs & Stratton four-stroke
Capacity: 190cc
Output: 3.12hp
Drive: Self-propelled
Cutting width: 46cm (18in)
Cutting height: 20-75mm (centralised, in eight steps)
Cutting type: Cut, collect, mulch
Housing: Steel
Grass catcher box: 60 litres
Weight: 25kg
Warranty: One-year commercial, one-year domestic
List price: £405 + VAT
Tel: Makita UK - 01908 211678

Makita PLM4626

Some people prefer push mowers. On flat ground they have the advantage of being totally in the control of the operator. If you don't push, it don't go - and, of course, there is a price advantage.

With a 140cc Briggs & Stratton engine and 18in cut, the PLM4626 is recommended for lawns of up to 1,200sq m. It has cutting heights of 30mm to 75mm in eight steps from a central control. You cannot miss the height control. It is a mammoth ring-type lever, easy to use, that encourages operators to set a suitable cutting height for the site.

Like its brother, it has a steel deck and comes with mulching kit and 60-litre collection box. Baldwin has always been a fan of push mowers, in the right place, and he is particularly impressed with this one. "It's got the large wheels at the back and they seem to help with manoeuvrability."

He adds: "It feels robust, gives a good quality of cut and is relatively easy to service. The air filter is accessible and I love the handle at the front to help lift it from the transport vehicle. It's ideal for the one-man business." The unit weighs in at 28kg.

Engine: Briggs & Stratton four-stroke
Capacity: 140cc
Output: 2.56hp
Drive: Push
Cutting width: 46cm (18in)
Cutting height: 30-75mm (centralised, in seven steps)
Cutting type: Cut, collect, mulch
Housing: Steel
Grass catcher box: 60 litres
Weight: 28kg
Warranty: One-year commercial, one-year domestic
List price: £309 + VAT
Tel: Makita - 01908 211678

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