Tractor-mounted mowers

Is the familiar zing of the cylinder mower being replaced by the whirr of the rotary? Sally Drury investigates

Roller mowers: chosen by many councils ahead of cylinders due to ability to handle larger volumes of grass from less frequent cuts
Roller mowers: chosen by many councils ahead of cylinders due to ability to handle larger volumes of grass from less frequent cuts

When was the last time you saw a cylinder gang mower racing up and down a playing field, with clouds of clippings billowing out behind it? Rotaries appear to be a more popular option.

Suppliers of tractor-mounted mowers report good sales this year, with local authorities and contractors buying. "We had a very good start to the 2015 cutting season," confirms Wessex International sales director Steve James. "The private sector is being more careful but there is still some good business being done."

It seems that buyers know what they want. "Customers are looking for quality of product, reliability and return on investment," says James. "It is a fact that to buy on price gives only short-term satisfaction. A serious customer will look further than the initial purchase."

All the right questions

Customers are asking all the right questions. What job will it do? How long will it last? What will it cost me to maintain? But one of the biggest questions is: will it cope with my mowing regime?

"With reduced cuts during the season, the equipment needs to handle larger volumes of grass," says James. "This is leading many councils and contractors to switch from cylinder to roller mowers for larger areas, and from out-front rotaries to flails for maintaining verges."

Rotaries and flails can tackle the reduced mowing regimes that cylinder gangs struggle to cut. But there are also maintenance advantages. The traditional cylinder, long relied on for a premium cut, has associated annual costs of cylinder regrinds, bottom blade replacements, constant bed knife adjustments and hydraulic oil filter changes.

When Wessex ProLine roller mowers were introduced in 2007, they heralded the turning point in sports and amenity turf maintenance. As more roller mowers came to market, so their popularity has grown - turf managers migrating from cylinder gangs to roller mowers as they sought the best possible cut at a cost-effective price.

At the start of the 2014 season, Fife Council services manager Damien Woods considered tenders to replace old trailed gang mowers. With changes in the economic climate and needing to make savings without sacrificing quality of cut, the council opted to buy five Wessex ProLine RMX-560 tri-deck roller mowers.

"The operators take a real pride in what they do and these machines meet their high standards," says Woods. "The cut is as good as the old gang mowers and we've enjoyed reduced maintenance, which is saving us money, as well as reduced fuel consumption."

The Wessex RMX-560 is known for its high output, fast forward speeds and high tip-blade speeds. Operation is straight forward, with no electro-hydraulics or electric clutches, and wing control is independent. The folding wings can cut gradients from -30 degs to +30 degs while the middle deck remains on level ground.

Reduced mowing regimes

With 240ha of parkland to manage, City & County of Swansea has also had its work cut out to keep grass looking good with reduced mowing regimes. Until recently its parks were cut 14 times annually, but successive budget cuts mean the cycle has been reduced to just nine cuts a year. As in Fife, previously used cylinder mowers were replaced with tractor-mounted rotary mowers.

"We were having problems with the amounts of cut grass laying on top where our previous mowers weren't able to mulch and evenly spread the grass to our requirements," explains Swansea parks department assistant central services manager Andrew Collins. "Additionally, where the grass was long and hence a much heavier strain was placed on the mowers, the belts were slipping and burning out."

In July 2014 the council carried out research and trials on grass four weeks old. "What became immediately apparent was the need for a robust machine that would be capable of handling our requirements and represented good value for money," says Collins.

The 12000GR towed mower from Major Equipment was chosen and an initial order placed for two units to pick up work midway through the 2014 season. "Put to work on arrival, the new mowers immediately proved themselves in heavy, wet grass. They performed brilliantly and to our expectations," says Collins. "Because we are mulching long grass we need it chopped fine and spread evenly to allow for re-growth, without causing dead spots, from lying grass."

The 12000GR's twin swinging blade arrangement is felt to be a key factor in producing such a good mulching effect. Being shaft-driven, the rotors do not stall when a heavy load is encountered, helping to maintain an even mulch quality and uniform spread. It also allows the mowers to run at speeds of 8-12kph.

Collins has additionally noticed a benefit in terms of transport. "Being trailed, the Major mowers are much more stable and put less stress on the tractor," he explains. "Our operators are happy because they travel so much better on the road - there's reduced bounce."

County council contract

It is a similar story at John O'Conner Grounds Maintenance, where two Trimax Pegasus rotary roller mowers were purchased to fulfil a county council grass-cutting contract involving school and parish sites in East Sussex. Each site is mown on a 10-day cycle from April to October.

Tractor driver Barry Fisher says the move to the 4.93m hydraulically folding rotary produced a marked reduction in downtime and maintenance with no adverse effect on the quality of cut.

"I'm using the Pegasus to maintain the very same grass that I was mowing four years ago with cylinder gangs," he says. "In my opinion, the Trimax mower produces a finish comparable to that of cylinders in dry conditions and does a much better job when the grass is wet, minimising clumping. Apart from the excellent finish produced by the Pegasus, a major benefit from my viewpoint is the elimination of costly damage and downtime that can result when a cylinder mower hits a solid object lying on the ground."

At King's Ely, a co-educational school with 35 acres of sports grounds, grounds and gardens manager Will Temple and head groundsman Chris Young chose the Progressive TD15 tri-deck roller mower from The Grass Group. They explain that the reasons for their choice included power, speed, quality of cut, finish, maintenance and overall cost-effectiveness.

With the benefit of nearly 10 months of use, Young reports that the mower stripes up lovely and adds that any build-up of grass is easily removed by reversing the unit.

There can be little doubt that for many turf managers the roller mower has many advantages. With the running costs of roller mowers estimated at between 35 and 45 per cent of those associated with cylinder gangs of the same size, it is not surprising that we are hearing more whirring as amenity areas and sports fields are mown.

Latest parts and mower options

Lower-maintenance spindles

Earlier this year Trimax introduced reduced-maintenance spindles on its Pegasus and Procut rotary mowers. The spindles, already fitted to the Striker and Snake mowers, remove the tedious task of regular greasing.

RMX-500 tri-deck mower

Having seen a rapid increase in demand for its ProLine roller mowers, Wessex International has expanded the range to encompass tri-deck machines, the latest of which is the RMX-500. In keeping with the rest of the family, this 5m-wide machine has no electro-hydraulics. The rollers have double taper roller bearings, helping to minimise servicing costs. Other tri-decks are available in 5.6m, 6.8m and 8m working widths.

CRX MultiCut mower

Unveiled at BTME in January, the Wessex CRX MultiCut is finding homes with local authorities, contractors and grounds-care professionals. The unit combines a roller mower with full-width rollers to the front and rear and a finishing mower with four fully castoring wheels or a combination of the two. The CRX can be frontor rear-mounted. There are also the options of mulching or collecting. Working widths of 1.5m, 1.8m and 2.4m are offered for matching to tractors of 20hp upwards.

ZHE-2500 flail mower

Yet another addition to Wessex International's portfolio is its new range of verge mowers. Top of the range is ZHE-2500, a 2.5m flail designed for demanding applications and capable of working between -60 degs and +90 degs of horizontal. ZMTE and ZLE verge mowers are offered in 1.6m, 1.8m and 2m widths, with a left-hand version also available for highways work. The tractor requirement is 50hp upwards, but for smaller tractors of 20hp the ZME-125 and ZME-155 are offset verge and bank mowers suitable for work in private estates and public gardens.

Maschio Bufalo flail mower

A mulcher that is suitable for use with high-powered tractors up to 200hp, the Maschio Bufalo flail mower is available from Opico in working widths of 2.5m, 2.8m and 3m. The machine has a 1,000rpm twin input gearbox with six-spline power take-off shaft and is capable of being offset hydraulically by up to 50cm. A double-skin 5mm-thick hood prevents any damage being caused by stones.

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