Reviewed - Tractor-mounted mowers

Three rotaries and one flail mower put through their paces at Bridgwater College. Sally Drury reports.

Amazone GHL-T 150 -image: HW
Amazone GHL-T 150 -image: HW

See tractor-mounted mower reviews, buyers' guides and machine listings at whatkit.co.uk.

Need to cut grass fast? You could opt for a ride-on mower and, if the area to be cut is large, go for a batwing. You will be spending £20k, £30k, perhaps more.

What if you have a tractor? There are so many mowers for use on the back, front and middle of a tractor that it is hard to know where to start. Perhaps you want the quality cut of a cylinder mower. Gangs "zinging" up and down sports fields were once the norm. Now, with purse-holders looking at every penny, you are just as likely to see a low-maintenance rotary or even flail collector doing the job.

In this review, we look at three rotary mowers - each reputedly leaving a high-quality finish. We also inspect a flail collector to see whether it is worthwhile removing the clippings. In this instance, the flail mower offers more than just grass cutting.

The test took place at the Cannington Land-based Studies Centre of Bridgwater College in Somerset. Conditions on the day were dry and sunny but the grass had been left to grow prior to the test. Long and dense, the grass was also lush when the mowers arrived.

 

Wessex ProLine RMX180

On your marks, get set, go. What a fast mower. We wind the tractor up to 12mph and the cut is still superb. Gardner seems awestruck as he watches the clippings fly from the full width of the rear roller on the RMX180. And this is only the baby of the range. There are 2.4m, 3m, 3.6m and 4.8m models.

If you want a mower that will outpace many others, this is the one. The secret to its excellent performance is a staggeringly fast tip speed of 86m/sec. This creates a draught that lifts the grass under the deck, preparing it for cutting. It also creates a vacuum to hold clippings while they are recut before being sprayed out at the rear.

"It mows at a good speed without bouncing," says Gardner. "It's distributing grass the full width of the roller - it's impressive." Tyrrell inspects the cut and adds: "It spreads the cuttings evenly. There's no channelling."

The RMX180 is a development of the line. Wessex first introduced the roller mower range about 15 years ago. It was refreshed five years ago, keeping the best bits and fitting it all in a heavily built 5mm steel deck, reinforced to 10mm at the spindles.

Of course, the ProLine gives all the benefits you would expect of a roller mower - a high-quality cut without the maintenance hassle of a cylinder gang, low servicing costs and the ability to cut over the edge of pavements, reducing follow-on trimming-up.

Drive is transmitted through a precision bevel gearbox for smooth operation and two B-section belts take up the drive to each of the rotors. Fixed jockey pulleys maintain correct belt tension, ensuring performance.

You might think that being belt-driven is a downside. But the twin belts are easily accessed - a quarter-turn of a flathead screwdriver is all that is needed to remove the belt covers for replacement or tensioning. When necessary, belts on a new machine can be tweaked, checked occasionally and adjusted at the front. Belt drive also makes the RMX180 energy efficient.

Taking a look under the deck, it has three spindles that need greasing once a week. Height adjustment requires a 13mm spanner, with setting from 10-100mm made quickly by raising or lowering the rollers at each corner.

The blades incorporate a zone-hardened cutting edge to extend service life. When it does come to replacement, simply unbolt the old blade and bolt on the new.

In use, our testers find the RMX180 manoeuvrable. "It turns tightly in the corners and reverses nicely - that's very useful," says Tyrrell. "And notice how it doesn't flick out rubbish". He ran over two golf balls but neither took flight.

For its performance and economies, the RMX series should interest local authorities, colleges and schools needing to cut playing fields and sports pitches. It should also appeal to golf courses. Tractor requirement for the RMX180 is just 30hp.

Specifications

Working width: 1.8m

Overall width: 1.95m

Rotors: Three

Cutting height: 10-100mm

Weight: 460kg

Tractor requirement: 30hp

List price: £4,950 + VAT

Tel: Broadwood International - 01420 478111


Major 4200 Roller Mower

One glance at this roller mower and you can see that it is built to last. Run it over the grass and you will be impressed instantly with the quality of cut. We reckon the Major 4200 Roller Mower is worthy of closer inspection whether you need to cut a racecourse, pitches or lawns.

One of a series of four three-point linkage mounting roller mowers from Major Equipment, the 4200 has front and rear heavy-duty rollers fitted with internal bearings and complete with scraper bars as standard. It is 4ft wide and has two rotors, each with four blades. It is gear-driven so there should be less maintenance and no faffing about with belts.

The blades are contra-rotating and synchronised so they constantly overlap by 75mm, regardless of whether one set is working in long grass and the other cutting shorter material. Being enclosed within an aerofoil chamber, the blade recuts the clippings into small pieces. Tip speed is an astonishing 75m/sec. The result is a remarkably fine finish and excellent distribution of the cut grass across the full width of the machine. Gardner is excited: "I want one."

We found the 4200 was comfortable at 5-6mph, giving a quality cut, following the contours well and with no bounce. While it is not the fastest machine in the stable, what it loses on the sprints it more than makes up when turning. There is no need to lift this one. It will carry on cutting on the turn and even when reversing.

"That's a big advantage," says Gardner. "You don't have to lift the unit every time you want to turn or reverse - just get on with mowing rather than constantly manoeuvring."

The finish is a good stripe and well dispersed clippings, which surprises us considering the height and lushness of the grass being cut. Height of cut is adjustable from 150mm down to 12mm so this machine should be happy mowing parkland, pitches or cricket outfields.

It takes a couple of spanners to set and lock the cutting height by raising or lowering the rollers. This is done at each corner of the mower. The lower nut is the lock nut. The domed nut is the adjuster and rotated clockwise or anticlockwise to move the roller up or down. The grooves in between are in 0.25in increments so it is easy to count down the lines and check that all four adjusters are registering the same height.

"That's simple enough," Gardner confirms. "And it's a good range of cutting heights. I like the fact that it is capable of cutting right down for a cricket outfield or able to leave it much longer - it's got versatility."

We quickly discover another advantage of the full-width rollers. They make it possible to run over the edge of a path without worrying about blades digging into the ground and significantly reducing the need for follow-up trimming.

The 4ft model is likely to be deemed too small by many needing to mow pitches commercially, but we see it as ideal for parks and grounds and all those awkward spaces on campuses or around hospitals. The gearboxes, blades, rollers and scrapers are consistent throughout the range of Major roller mowers so the same results should be achieved from wider mowers in the range.

Maintenance is simple. In fact, it is minimal. The spindles and rollers need greasing, along with a quick squirt of grease on the PTO shaft. The 4200 also comes with an auto-reset slip clutch as standard - the modern version sheer-bolt PTO.

Specifications

Working width 1.35m

Rotors: Two, each with four blades

Cutting height: 12-150mm

Weight: 360kg

Tractor requirement: 20-35hp

List price: £5,170 + VAT

Tel: Major Equipment - 01524 850501


Major 8400GR-T Roller Mower

To prove that Major gives the same high-quality cut regardless of machine width, it also lent us an 8ft version. The 8400GR-T is a trailed unit similar to the 4200 but with four rotors instead of two and fitted with a wheel kit on the back to raise the machine for transport.

In the working position, the wheels are raised to leave the mower running on the rollers and cutting in the same way and to the same high standard as the smaller 4200.

Again, it is happy at around 6mph, but the extra width of cut makes the job quicker. This one, and its big brothers at 12ft and 18ft, should be at home cutting larger areas for a living. Try it on sports pitches, golf courses, racecourses and even airports.

Being gear-driven, and with all the gearboxes in a straight line, the effective cutting width of the 8400GR-T is at maximum. There is no staggering of the rotors. And, being only as wide and as deep as the diameter of its rotors, the mower follows contours well. A wide-angled PTO shaft is supplied as standard for tight turning.

"I am really surprised how tight it will turn," says Gardner. "And like before, it is handy being able to cut in reverse. Quality of cut is very good."

A fixed, rigid blade is available for close cutting of level surfaces such as cricket outfields. Major's machinery is supported by a full parts back-up service across the UK by overnight delivery for orders placed by 3pm.

Specifications

Working width: 2.4m

Overall width: (transport) 2.4m

Rotors: Four

Cutting height: 12-150mm

Weight: 610kg

Tractor requirement: 30-60hp

List price: £8,170 + VAT

Tel: Major Equipment - 01524 850501


Amazone GHL-T 150

If you want a machine to cut grass and lots more besides, then this one should be on your shortlist. The Amazone Groundkeeper is a proper four-season piece of kit.

Use it to mow grass when the grass is growing, scarify when the thatch and moss need bringing under control, collect leaves in the autumn and pick litter after the party in the park. This is a true four-season machine and that should appeal to local authorities, contractors, golf courses and estate managers who are currently feeling the effects of difficult financial times.

We are impressed by its versatility. This is a machine that can cut grass once a week or once a year and will cut and drop or cut and collect as required. What is more, by mowing, scarifying and collecting in a single pass, there is a saving to be gained in terms of time, tractor use and diesel.

Whatever you decide you need to do with a Groundkeeper, the secret to success is using the right blades. They are simple to change - unhook one set from the rotor, hook on another set and away you go.

As standard, the Groundkeeper comes with 50 per cent cutting blades and 50 per cent H77 wing blades for cutting and collecting in all conditions. A combination of short H60 wing blades and 3mm scarifying blades allows leaves, cut grass and other debris to be collected - with the H60 wings helping to generate airflow and aid pick-up while the scarifying blades rip through moss and thatch.

Fitted with 2mm or 3mm scarifying knives, the Groundkeeper can be used for verticutting. Aggressiveness is determined by the position of the blades on the rotor.

The machine we borrow has been preset and has pairs of winged blades, with scarifying blades in between each pair so that some dead grass and moss should be removed at the same time as we mow. Alternate rows of blades are made up of back-to-back cutting blades and winged blades to give a flat finish. Changing the height of cut requires a ratchet to raise or lower the height of the rear roller. The front of the machine is dropped via the castor wheels on the front.

There are more than 25 different combinations and sizes of Groundkeeper - from 1.2m to 2.1m in mounted, semi-trailed and trailed versions. Hopper capacities range from 1,200 litres to 3,500 litres. Then there is a choice of ground level tipping or high-tipping to 1.8m, 1.9m, 2.2m or an astonishing 2.3m.

There is also a 40kmph model, suited to those contractors and public authorities that need a machine to travel quickly between sites. We use the 1.5m GHL-T semi-trailed with tipping to 1.8m. It has an adjustable chain so when the unit is working it will follow contours with a floating action. Tyrrell takes it for a run.

"It's good on the presentation. You can see the stripes from halfway across the golf course - being able to mow in a straight line is a must," he says, and laughs when he has completed four runs. "I am impressed with the cut and the ability to pick up clippings and debris. The grass here is long and juicy at the moment, so it has done really well to leave the surface looking so neat."

It may not be the sexiest looking machine in the line-up - the Groundkeeper is distinctly utility rather than stylish - but construction appears sound and there are some nice touches, such as the gauge that indicates when the hopper is full and requires emptying.

We find collection of cut grass to be efficient, thanks to the airflow created by the blades and the large-diameter rotor turning at 2,650rpm. An airflow deflector expels the air, as well as any dust disturbed by the mowing or scarifying operation, from the back of the machine. Cleverly, when the hopper is emptied and reset in the collecting position, it automatically opens the chute ready to receive more cut grass. A handle allows the operator to override the system and close the chute for cut-and-drop mode, if preferred.

Tyrrell can see a cross section of areas for using the machine, from cricket outfields through to pitches and parkland to golf fairways. But after the performance of rotaries earlier in the day, and especially the speed of the ProLine, Gardner is left undecided about using flail mowers on pitches and amenity areas. However, he admits: "If you are on a limited budget, you could get one machine and do a lot of different tasks with it."

We are all impressed by the price of just £12,045 + VAT (as used in the test). But we are using the high-tip model. You can buy a ground-tip - the same 150cm cutting width - for just £7,935 + VAT. That has to be worth another look.

Specifications

Working width: 1.5m

Overall width: (transport) 1.9m

Rotors: One

Cutting height: 0-100mm

Weight: 665kg

Hopper capacity: 1,550 litres

Tractor requirement: 34hp with doubleand single-acting spool valves

List price: £12,045 + VAT

Tel: Amazone Groundcare - 01302 751200

Tested This Week

Wessex ProLine RMX180

Major 4200 Roller Mower

Major 8400GR-T Roller Mower

Amazone GHL-T 150

The Review Panel

Andre Gardner, grounds manager, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College

Mark Tyrrell, gardener, Cannington Campus, Bridgwater College


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