Review - Pedestrian mowers

The wide variety of walk-behind rotary mowers ensured plenty for our review panel to test in difficult conditions at Derby College, Sally Drury reports.

Weibang Virtue 53 Pro - image: HW
Weibang Virtue 53 Pro - image: HW

Tested This Issue
- Weibang Virtue 53 Pro
- Weibang Legacy 48 Pro BBC
- Weibang Virtue 53 SV
- Lawnflite 448S JW
- Makita and Cobra cordless models
- EGO Power+ cordless lawnmower

Review Panel

Mike Baldwin, director of horticulture, Broomfield Campus, Derby College

Mark Ekin, lecturer, Broomfield Campus, Derby College

Walk-behind rotary mowers are used by contractors, groundsmen and professional gardeners. The huge variety makes them indispensable. Most are wheeled, but there are models with rear rollers. Most provide rear collection, but there are ones that give side discharge or will mulch. With models available that can handle the rough, present stripes on a lawn, nip in and out of obstacles or clip off young growth on an establishing sward, this is one of the most versatile mowers.

We wanted to look at a broad range. Rochford Garden Machinery, Henton & Chattell, EP Barrus, Toro, Hayter and Makita provided us with 14 mowers. In this, the first of two reports looking at pedestrian mowers, we test the Weibang, Lawnflite, Cobra, EGO and Makita brands, covering a range of styles including roller, three-in-one and even battery models.

The testers were joined by horticulture students charged with an assignment looking at mower specifications for different tasks. Test conditions were less than perfect. Heavy rain on day one was followed by more rain on days two and three. A brief lull provided difficult conditions on day four so it was necessary to look at some mowers several weeks later in drier but much colder conditions.

Weibang Virtue 53 Pro

This four-wheeled rotary looks every bit your typical lawnmower, but look closer and you find lots of features to set it apart. Powered by a Kawasaki engine, it is high on performance. With a heavy-duty, corrosion-resistant aluminium deck, it is built for life in the professional sector.

The drive and operator levers close nicely around the main handle without pinching palms or gloves. AV mounts reduce vibration to a comfortable level. Removing and refitting the grass box is not a strain - it fills in layers from back to front, ensuring maximum collection without blockages.

We like the variable-speed gearbox allowing you to match the mower's pace to your own and to the conditions. As with other Weibang wheeled rotaries, the bull bar at the front protects the mower from head-on impacts but also doubles as a handle to help lift the unit on and off a trailer - but it takes two to safely lift this one.

If there is a niggle with the Virtue 53 Pro, it is a tendency to lurch when drive is engaged.

Cutter deck: Aluminium
Engine: Kawasaki FJ 180V-AM74
Cutting width: 53cm
Power drive: Variable, 0.8/1/1.2m/s
Cutting height adjustment: On each wheel, 25-76mm in seven stages
Wheel size: 204mm/229mm
Cutting system: Cut and collect
Weight: 54.9kg
Price: £1,099 including VAT
Tel: Rochford Garden Machinery - 01963 828000

Weibang Legacy 48 Pro BBC

A professional gardener seeking a striped effect from a rotary mower should be sure to take a closer look at the Legacy. The price makes it particularly attractive.

Powered by the same Kawasaki engine as the Virtue Pro, it also benefits from a heavy-duty, corrosion-resistant aluminium cutter deck, but it has a blade brake clutch and the gearbox features three speeds as well as solid aluminium case construction. It comes with a three-year warranty.

Cutting height adjustment is provided by a single lever and gives a generous 11 positions (13-67mm).

"It's well built, a little heavy, but the handlebar is adjustable so you find the right height and balance to counter the extra weight," says Ekin. "It will cut low and I am impressed with the finish it gives."

Cutter deck: Aluminium
Engine: Kawasaki FJ 180V-AM74
Cutting width: 48cm
Power drive: Three-speed
Cutting height adjustment: Single lever, 11 positions, from 67mm down to
Cutting system: Cut and collect
Roller: Heavy-duty double ratchet
Weight: 65.6kg
Price: £1,099 including VAT
Tel: Rochford Garden Machinery - 01963 828000

Weibang Virtue 53 SV

Yes, it has got a steel deck, but we reckon that for anyone wanting a decent mower for less than £620 (including VAT), this machine could make it onto the shortlist. This is a quality, value-for-money mower that delivers versatility.

Need to cut and collect? This one will do it. Want to discharge to the side? Simply insert the chute. It is also supplied with a plug, quickly turning the mower into a mulcher.

The engine is easy to start with a gentle tug. Being Briggs & Stratton, it should be reliable. Convenience is offered through a central cutting height adjustment from 80mm down to 25mm in eight stages and a variable-speed gearbox is provided to match pace to conditions.

"I like the price," says Baldwin. "This is real value for money, especially when you experience the power. It's a sturdy mower and I can see it being of interest to professional gardeners and those just setting up in garden maintenance business. Being a three-in-one model, it will suit lots of different jobs."

A little vibration is noticed through the handlebar, but we are pleased with the finish. This mower may be a three-in-one but it cannot be accused of being a "Jack of all trades, master of none". It collects well, gives good side-discharge and is an impressive mulch mower - providing, as with all mulchers, you do not try to cut grass that is too long.

Cutter deck: Powder-coated steel
Engine: Briggs & Stratton 750 Series DOV
Cutting width: 53cm
Power drive: Variable speed, 0.94-1.22m/s
Collection box: 70 litres
Cutting height adjustment: Central, eight positions, 25-80mm
Cutting system: Cut and collect, side discharge and mulch
Wheel size: 204mm/229mm
Weight: 48.5kg
Price: £619 including VAT
Tel: Rochford Garden Machinery - 01963 828000

Lawnflite 448S JW

Another four-wheeled rotary, this Lawnflite features the only Subaru engine in the test. It does not disappoint in terms of power and is fairly quiet, but what we like about this 19in (48cm) mower is the two-speed gearbox. This allows you to slow down over uneven ground or where you need to manoeuvre round corners but put your foot down on a straight run when conditions allow.

The drive to the rear wheels is shaft rather than belt and gives a good positive engagement. The deck is alloy and the handles fold with the convenience of a wing nut. Height adjustment is also simple - single lever from 15mm up to 77mm.

We find starting is easy, though of course this a new mower just out of the box, but there must be some sort of assistance because not a lot of effort is required to pull the engine over. The 75-litre grass catcher fills well and is easy to remove from the mower thanks to the rear grab.

"It's a good all-round mower, nice and sturdy," Ekin sums up. "It copes particularly well with the rough yet leaves a neat finish on lawns. Vibration is low (factory recorded at 2.2m/s2). It should appeal to professional gardeners and those with a maintenance round."

Cutter deck: Alloy
Engine: Subaru, delivering 3.3kW nominal power
Cutting width: 19in (48cm)
Power drive: Shaft-driven, two speeds
Collection box: 75 litres
Cutting height adjustment: Single lever, 15-77mm
Cutting system: Cut and collect
Weight: 50kg
Price: £899 including VAT
Tel: EP Barrus - 01869 363636

Makita and Cobra Cordless models

Okay, so they are decidedly domestic. You are not going to want to bounce these in and out of the van day in, day out. Neither are they going to provide the muscle to cut down a jungle or mow acres of grass.

The Makita, for instance, is ideally matched to small lawns of up to 540sq m. However, if you have new grass or have volunteers assisting in your garden or park, do not shrug off these mowers. They could offer advantages in certain situations.

The first thing we notice is the lack of weight. These are so light they could be just the job for the first mowing of a freshly germinated lawn. They could also be perfect for use by volunteers, who are often retired. Then, because of their weight and complete simplicity of operation, perhaps they would make a good work-experience machine for less able persons.

There is nothing complicated about any of these mowers. To run, simply grasp the lever to the handle. All have soft start and all feature single-lever height adjustment.

The Makita is the smallest machine at just 15in wide (38cm) and is 36V - either a dedicated 36V battery or two 18V batteries, which you may already have for other Makita kit. Both Cobras take 40V batteries. Model MX4140V is a push mower with a 16in (41cm) width of cut and carrying one battery. The 18in MX46S40V is self-propelled and requires two 40V batteries. While all three have cut and collect, the Cobras will mulch and the latter also has a pull-out side-discharge chute.

Model: Makita
Cutting width: 38cm
Battery: One 36V or two 18V
No-load speed: 3,700rpm
Height adjustment: Single lever, six settings, 25-75mm
Collection box: 40 litres
Weight: 15kg
List price: £354 + VAT (body only)
Tel: Makita UK - 01908 211678

Model: Cobra MX4140V/MX46S40V
Cutting width: 16in (41cm)/18in (46cm)
Battery: One 40V/Two 40V
Height adjustment: Single lever, 25-75mm in seven stages
Collection box: 50 litres/60 litres
Weight: 21kg/29kg
List price: £299.99/£499.99 inc VAT
Tel: Henton & Chattell - 0115 986 6646

EGO Power+ Cordless lawnmower

Entering the market only last year, EGO Power+ is already making inroads into the professional gardener market with a range of kit that includes a hedge trimmer, blower, string trimmers and a chainsaw along with this 49cm four-wheeled rotary mower. Of modern appearance, it immediately attracts the attention of the students. "It's smart looking - pity it hasn't got an engine though," one comments.

Powered by a 56V lithium-ion battery, it is among the most powerful cordless lawnmowers available. The advantages are clear - no petrol to spill, little noise, hardly any vibrations and no fumes. It is a no-fuss mower. But what will our testers and the students make of it? "It's going through the same rough stuff as the Lawnflite did," says Baldwin, clearly surprised.

A true three-in-one performer, this versatile mower will let you bag, mulch or discharge to the side. It starts on the press of a button, bringing the blades quickly into action, and gives a very reasonable cut. A high-torque magnetic motor means it copes with wet grass as well as dry. There are only five cutting positions - 25, 35, 50, 65 and 80mm - and these are simple to engage via the spring-loaded deck-height adjustment lever.

For anyone short on storage space or needing to transport the mower in a small van or car boot, the mower folds quickly and easily into a neat, compact package. Weighing just 26.2kg without the battery, it is not impossible to lift the machine into a vehicle or onto a workbench. Batteries weigh between 1.3kg and 2.9kg depending on capacity.

We do not know the exact capacity of the fabric grass catcher, but it is comparable to others. Removing and fitting the bag is made easier by the handles, which pivot away from the bag. Spills of clippings are less likely with this one.

But what is making the students laugh? "It's got a headlight," one explains. "I bet that scares the cats away." The headlight is designed to help if you have an early-morning start or a late-evening finish. It may also draw attention to the mower, which could be significant when there is very little operational noise. But it takes power to keep it lit.

A gauge monitors the power and gives an instant indication of how much is left. It is a good feature but everyone wants to know how long the charge lasts. It depends on which battery is used, the condition of the grass and the operator's technique, but it is possible to get 65 minutes of mowing out of the 6.0Ah battery. Recharging times are 45 minutes with the rapid charger or 115 minutes with the standard. Clearly, you will want the rapid charger.

Other batteries are available. The 4.0Ah gives a runtime of up to 45 minutes and takes 30 or 80 minutes to charge. The 2.0Ah only gives 20 minutes of operation.

Cutting width: 49cm
Collection box: Supplied as standard
Cutting height adjustment: Single lever, eight positions, 25-80mm
Cutting system: Cut and collect, side discharge and mulch
Weight: 26.6kg excluding battery
Battery: 56V lithium-ion
Battery size: 2.0Ah/4.0A/6.0Ah
Runtimes: 20mins/45mins/65mins
Charging times: Using Rapid Charger 25mins/30mins/45mins
Battery weights: 1.3kg/2.1kg/2.9kg
Price: £499 including VAT
Tel: Henton & Chattell - 0115 986 6646

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