If there’s one thing I hate more than house work, it’s gardening. I go outside, I get covered in plants and scratches, possibly get sun burnt and definitely get sweaty and it gets me in a bad mood. I’ve requested my landlords rip up the garden and replace it with either astroturf or tarmac, but to no avail.
This is probably a good thing because, to be honest, as much as I hate gardening I do enjoy having a garden. The other thing I enjoy is toys, so when my tiny little lawnmower broke I took the opportunity to replace it with the biggest, baddest machine I could find that didn’t have its own seat.
When making such purchases, I have the mantra that you should always by the biggest you can afford. Biggest is usually the best and size matters. This goes for a lot of things, especially memory capacity in gadgets, although possibly not for things like fake boobs where small and perfectly formed trumps unnatural balloons all day long.
However, in sticking with my usual guidance, I found the Ryobi RLM53190s 190cc Subaru Lawn Mower which is big in every way. Out the box it is massive. In a game of Top Trumps, this just won at every figure I could find. It has a 53cm cutting width, a cutting height range of 2.4 to 7.6cm, a 70l bucket for clippings and, most impressive of all, a 190cc engine made by Subaru. And it looks particularly badass.
My lawn is uneven and used to be part of a field so is full of weeds. My hope was that it would now have met its match with as little effort from me as possible. So how is it?
The first thing I noticed is the handle. The is a self-propelled mower that works the same way they all do with one handle to hold when starting the engine and another to engage the wheels and make it move. These two handles combine into one soft-grip handle when the mower is in use and it is far more comfortable than anything else I’ve used.
Talking of handles, being able to adjust the cutting height with one lever is a bonus, and seven height settings is more than enough.
I quite like the idea of the mulching plug, which is a bit of plastic that goes in the hole that would normally eject the clippings in to the bucket. This means that the grass spends more time round the blade and is cut quite fine before being left on the lawn to feed the remaining rooted grass. More on this later though.
I used the mower on its second lowest setting and it made a good job of cutting the grass. It didn’t struggle at all with dense areas and the grass and weeds were evenly trimmed. I liked once again using a self-propelled mower but it is maybe a little on the slow side and does only have the one speed setting.
Noticeable is how quiet and efficient the Ryobi seems to be. I don’t have any official figures so you’ll have to take my word for it, but I have quite a large lawn and only added what I thought was a splash of unleaded petrol to get it going on its first run out. That splash allowed me two complete mows. I guess the bigger engine means it doesn’t have to work as hard as smaller versions, and such a wide cutting width compared to my old mower means less laps of the garden.
As I mentioned, I use the mower on it’s second lowest setting. I don’t know the exact height of this, but a quick calculation suggests a cutting height of just over 3cm which, to me knowing my lawn, seemed about right.
A selling point of this mower to me was the 70l bag for collecting clippings. The thought was that I would need to stop less, making cutting the grass faster. However, I didn’t expect to have to not stop at all. The reason for this doesn’t appear to be the size of the grass bag, though. It appears to be that the mower simply leaves more cut grass on the lawn than it puts in the bag.
I would normally empty a 40l bag at least 5 times, so that’s 200l per mow. I think the Ryobi caught maybe 50l. Disappointing, especially when the grass is bone dry. The fact that the mower does mulch pretty well makes the clumps of grass less obvious, but when I don’t want to mulch I don’t want anything left on the lawn.
The other thing with the grass bag that annoyed me – it’s staggeringly difficult to attach due to the spring mounted cover on the mower. It’s possible, but I expect it to be easy and this isn’t.
The obvious downside to the size of the mower is maneuverability. I have lots of overhanging bushes and hedges at the side of my lawn that I need to go under and the size of the mower doesn’t make this easy, but I knew that this would be a compromise when I bought the Ryobi.
This is a £400 near-as-damnit lawnmower. It’s expensive. I realise that I’m paying for the size and the engine more than anything else, but I expected a certain degree of all round build quality. I’ve mowed my lawn twice with the Ryobi and already two pieces of plastic have broken or fallen off.
The plastic that sits on the height adjustment lever simply pulls on and off, meaning I lost it on the first run. I found it on the second, lost it again and found it again once it hit the blade.
The Ryobi uses a clever mechanism for tightening the fasteners that hold the handle in place. You tighten using a screw and then pull round a lever to lock it. One of these levers was the second thing to break, and it wasn’t subtle in how it went. The tightening nut flew in one direction, the lever in another, both ending up on either side of the garden in what could have been dangerous fashion. I didn’t over tighten them so to break in such a way is poor.
I contacted Ryobi by e-mail and Twitter a few times and they’ve never replied.
As an experiment, I decided to test the lowest height setting after going round on the second lowest. The Ryobi simply can’t handle the extra 6mm. The wheels don’t grab the lawn to propel the mower and the front gets jammed making pushing impossible. When you try to use it, either the wheels or the blade just cut into the soil.
This isn’t a massive problem and it will probably work on bowling greens, but you don’t buy a 190cc mower to cut a bowling green, you buy it as a heavy duty mower for difficult terrain. A Subaru is a rally car, after all.
As you can see, on the lowest setting even less grass goes in the bucket.
Of course, the counter argument to “biggest is best” is “it’s not what you’ve got, it’s how you use it”. Oh, how reassuring! The Ryobi no doubt does the job, but that’s all it does at a level that’s no better than my previous mower that was a fraction of the cost and which has lasted me a decade. I still end up covered in plants, I still end up sweaty and there’s still clippings left on the lawn. The price tag, the marketing, the aesthetics and the affiliation with Subaru meant I expected better.
I didn’t expect to all of a sudden start enjoying cutting the grass, but I didn’t expect to end up disappointed afterwards either.