Reviewed: ride-on mowers

With mowing one of the key tasks at Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, the team are ideally placed to try out the latest machines. Sally Drury reports.

Countax C60 ride-on mower - image: HW
Countax C60 ride-on mower - image: HW

Countax C60

If you want a neat and tidy cut, all clippings in the bag and stripes left behind, you can have it. This machine will also pull out all the stops when it comes to leaf collection in the autumn.

The C60 is the stalwart of the Countax range of garden tractors. It is both workhorse and performer. Fitted with the 42in XRD cutter deck, we use it with the Powered Grass Collector (PGC) to consider its striping ability. The C60 can also be used with the 36in High Grass Mulching deck to tackle dense grass, brambles and nettles.

We cannot find fault with the engine, a twin-cylinder air-cooled Kawasaki. But the main feature of the machine loaned to us is the PGC. As grass is cut, clippings are thrown into the middle and the collector sweeps them up. The brush also picks up lateral growth at the same time, so the first time you cut may not leave the best results but thereafter it is a different story.

"I would say this is a goer for the front of a country house type of setting. It's an excellent cut, though conditions are dry here at the moment, and it is responsive with tight steering," says Bawcliff. Clay studies the finish and agrees. "It is not entirely suited to us but for outside the visitor centre, a focal area, to be able to give stripes like that and to collect at the same time, it's quite an appealing machine. It's also very comfortable and it has a good speed."

The tractor has hydrostatic power with two pedals giving forward and reverse. For safety, the handbrake must be on to start up the engine. An operator-presence control switch is under the seat. Driving and mowing are simple. The most important thing to remember is to drive it flat out. That keeps the deck speed up, which in turn provides the cutting quality. There are two main types of control - "what you want" and "make it work". Just select cut-and-collect then hit the big yellow button to make it happen.

The colour-coded Operating Management System is shown on the dash. If the section for the deck shows up red, something is wrong. Ditto for the PGC. Green denotes that everything is working.

The PGC works a treat and fills too fast, but it is a doddle to empty. Bawcliff would like a box-full indicator. Clay would like a scarifier. "It's great that it collects leaves but the option to scarify and collect at the same time would be good."

Specification

Engine 603cc twin-cylinder Kawasaki FS481V OHV air-cooled petrol
Power 9.9kW @ 3,600rpm
Transmission Hydrostatic, foot control
Cutter deck 42in (97cm) rear discharge
Fuel tank capacity Seven litres
Forward speed 0-9.66kph
Turning circle 115cm
Dimensions 286cm x 112cm (LxW) including Powered Grass Collector
Machine height 114cm
Weight 245.5kg
Cutting height 12-101mm, nine steps
Blade engagement Electric clutch
Seat Adjustable
Tyres 0.8-1.1 front and rear
Sound power level 100dB(A)
Standard features Operating Management System, Powered Grass Collector, electric power take-off, adjustable seat
List price £4,186.67 + VAT
Tel Ariens - 0800 597 7777.

Lean Green Mowers SK-48 and CXR-52/60

Could these be the quietest commercial mowers on the market? We reckon they are perfect for mowing around schools, colleges, hospitals, care homes, residential sites, cemeteries and crematoria. With questions being asked about diesel and a potential ban on diesel machines in cities looming for several authorities, these mowers may have a major role to play in grounds maintenance.

The name gives it away. These are American mowers, designed by a former aircraft designer and manufactured in the USA since 2008. They are imported and distributed in the UK by Overton (UK) of Lincoln, who had them independently CE tested.

Lithium-ion batteries

Mean Green Mowers are powered by lithium-ion batteries but they are day-long machines. You should expect seven or eight hours' working time and they have all the benefits of battery powered kit - low noise, low vibration, no fumes, no risk of fuel spills, no fire risk, no oil, no belts, no filters, no hydraulics and no cables.

You may need to change the blades from time to time, but otherwise servicing and repair bills do not exist. You can arrive at work and get straight down to it - no checks, no waiting for the engine and hydraulic oil to warm up in winter and no roasting hot power unit in summer.

All the machines - stand-on, ride-on and walk-behind - are made from sheet metal bolted together, giving some movement when bumping up kerbs and allowing easy replacement if damaged. In the event of hitting a hidden obstacle, perhaps a rogue aerator tine, the blades take the brunt but the mower cuts out to protect the motors.

All batteries and all motors are identical so they are interchangeable. The batteries can be plugged in and charged any time because they have no memory and the machines have a low-battery warning as well as a get-me-home mode.

Vibrations are low so you can use them all day and noise is low so no ear defenders are needed. Yes, the prices seem high - the ride-on is £20,000 - but you are buying the fuel up front and machines in America are reportedly still running on the original batteries. Recharging costs are approximately £1.60 for the biggest machine and it is estimated that users will recoup the difference in costs after two years compared with buying a conventional diesel rider.

Some people may question the wisdom of stand-on machines but they come into their own when you need to cut close in confirmed spaces, where access is limited or where there are numerous obstacles.

The 48in rear-discharge (side-discharge available) stand-on has two batteries. It will run on one but only for three or four hours because the fully charged battery shares its energy with the other. The left and centre blades rotate clockwise, the right one anticlockwise, to give good discharge. There is also a front-mounted blower to clear cut grass from pathways.

Simple controls

The controls are simple. There are hi/lo travel-speeds and blade speeds plus forward/reverse levers. A key starts the machine - and that is when you ask: "Is it running?"

"This could be a very useful machine once you have mastered the controls," says Clay. "They are quite sensitive and take a little getting used to but it has the potential to cut in really tight places and it cuts really well, even on the longer grass, although it takes some practice to cut straight. From the operator's point of view it is a comfortable machine to use."

The blower works but Clay finds it somewhat "underwhelming", believing it would need more power to shift wet grass off Tarmac. The lack of noise impresses. "Sometimes operations can be obtrusive noise-wise but this has the potential to be more sociable," he adds.

The seated version has three battery packs, equivalent to 32hp diesel. They are positioned to the rear, allowing mowing of slopes up to 15 degs. There is a choice of 52in and 60in sideand rear-discharge decks.

"It's quiet and is nice on a hot day - no heat coming up from an engine - and you don't need ear defenders," says Bawcutt. He is impressed with the cut, even of longer grass, but likes more comfort.

"Although not excessively so, the ride is a bit hard," he complains. But do not worry, this is the demo machine. The latest version has double-yolk suspension.

For Bawcutt, however, the greatest advantage is the lack of maintenance. "It's not the cost of oils and filters, it's the labour costs that put the bills up on ordinary machines and the fact that the mower is out of action."

Specification

Model SK-48 stand-on/CXR-52/60 ride-on
Width of cut 33in (83cm)/52in (132cm) or 60in (152cm)
Cutting height 0.5in-4.75in (12-120mm)/0.5in-5in (12-127mm)
Cutting blades Two/three
Discharge Side or rear
Anti-scalp wheels Standard
Electric deck Lift not available/standard
Hi/Lo blade speed Standard
Running time Seven hours
Charging time 4-10hrs/7-11hrs
Mowing hours 6,000-8,000
ROPS Not available/standard
Peak horsepower 24hp/36hp
Sound pressure level 83.5dB(A)/82.8dB(A)
Speed 8mph/8-9mph
Weight 282-313kg/408-540kg depending on deck
List price £13,595 + VAT/£18,995 + VAT (52in) and £19,995 + VAT (60in)
Tel Overton UK - 01522 690011

Husqvarna P 525D

If first impressions count, then this one has what it takes. It is well made and robust, easy to use, eats up the ground and, with armrests and suspension seat, is a dream to drive. "For operator comfort, this is a machine I would like my boss to consider," says Clay, hopefully. "And it is perfect for our environment here. I like it."

For what is clearly a commercial machine, the controls are simple. The parking brake is on the right and needs to be on to start the machine. It also needs to be engaged when the operator exits the seat, otherwise the engine quits. It is a hydrostatic machine, so no clutches and no diff lock. What it has is a clever system whereby weight shifts around the machine as the steering wheel is turned, so no scuffing.

Locking forward pedal

There are two pedals - one for forward, one for reverse - but the clever bit is the locking of the two-position forward pedal. There is a transport position and a mowing position. The advantages here are that the operator always has a firm footrest, there is less reaction to bouncing and calf muscles do not strain trying to hold the pedal in mid-air.

"I found the transport speed to be more than adequate for our setting but perhaps slightly shy of what I would want if I had to take it on a public road," says Clay. At full speed he races over the ground, leaving a good-quality cut. On rougher ground there is some bounce, but Clay is quick to respond. "It's fine, really comfy and there's no vibrations passing through me - no pain-in-the-spine jolts. I would be happy to use this all day," he says.

To the right there is a socket for connection of a beacon. There is also a switch to alter the plane of the snowplough when attached. Yes, it is more than a mower. Options include flail deck, broom, blower, utility bucket, weed brush, spreader and snow thrower, blade and plough.

But we are cutting grass today, so the controls we need are for deck lift/lower and blade engagement. Once mowing, the deck lift/lower lever can be pushed further forward to give the float position and allow the deck to follow undulating ground. Height of cut is variable from the seat - on the move - by pulling back on the adjuster to lift and forward to lower. As the deck lifts and lowers, it automatically alters pitch to remain at optimum.

"I so like being able to adjust the cutting height on the fly," says Clay. "It's really useful on a site like this where we are tackling grass of different heights."

The power unit is remarkably compact and has rear-wheel power steering, hence a tight turning circle can be achieved with 58cm left uncut. The cutting deck is offset to the left to facilitate over-cutting on verges, mowing around trees and lamp posts, under benches and caravans or for scratch-free mowing below thorny shrubs and hedges.

"It turns tightly," Clay confirms. "The back end doesn't step out quite as much as you sometimes experience on rear-steering machines. I was getting really close to obstacles. You can cut in really tight when you get the confidence. I really like it."

Good airflow

The deck is deep and is made from a single piece of steel, pressed and with well-rounded shoulders to give a good airflow and force grass upright ready to meet the blades. The Combi deck has a mulch plug, fitted and removed via three screws. To assist cleaning and blade maintenance, the deck can be tilted to vertical. While in that position, we quickly remove the mulch plug.

"It seems an easy machine to adjust," Clay points out. "The plug was easy to remove and I think it would be easy to deal with any issues out in the field."

Having left a first-class cut in the overflow grassed car park, we try the Husky on longer grass in the arboretum, and what a result. Clay sums up: "I was cutting grass that I wouldn't with other machines, but it didn't struggle. This machine was more than man enough to cope with long, dense grass." It also coped with an anthill or two.

Specifications

Engine 1,123cc three-cylinder Kubota D1105 liquid-cooled diesel
Power 18.7kW @ 3,000rpm
Transmission Kanzaki KTM 23 hydrostatic all-wheel drive
Fuel tank capacity 25 litres
Speed 0-18kph forward/0-11kph reverse
Uncut circle 58cm
Wheel base 106cm
Ground clearance 14.5cm
Dimensions 207.5cm x 114cm (LxW)
Machine height 203cm ROPS up/133cm ROPS down
Weight 677kg
Blade engagement Electric clutch
Deck Combi 155cm, 4.5mm thick
Optional cutting deck Combi 132
Seat Full suspension
Tyres 20x10 - 10 front and rear
Sound power 105dB(A) guaranteed
Sound pressure 92dB(A) at operator's ear
Standard features Power steering, all-wheel drive, oil cooler, hydraulic deck lift, lift to service position, digital hour meter, 12V outlet, suspension seat, hinged armrests
List price £17, 170.69 + VAT (with 155cm Combi)
Tel Husqvarna UK - 0844 243 5263.


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