Now that I've about six weeks of use of the mower, updated observations are in order.
Overall, the machine is doing pretty well. It now has perhaps 160-170 service hours, Taking a few points to consider:
Engine: The engine runs well at speed, under load. At slow, or fast idle, it surges and does not run steady. I'm unsure how to fix, as there are no adjustment screws for mixture. It has great power, and only at heavy mulching use, does it show signs of laboring. Even bagging in heavy grass, it keeps speed very well.
The small fuel tank needs some time for me to adjust. It needs filled every other lawn, sometimes after every one. On the most demanding days, we go through five tanks of fuel. Often, we need four tanks of fuel for the day's work. I have a good 2.5 gallon can, with good spout, so the refilling goes quickly. Like I said, it is my adjustment in needing to remember to do the refueling. The "C" engine will run for about 1:30-1:35 on a tank.
I've changed oil after five or six full working days. It sounds like a hassle, but after a couple of times, I know where to put the drain pan, how to turn the machine over for draining. It goes quickly. I have a quart bottle with markings, and measure out 15 oz, keep it handy for quick refilling. The used oil is a bit strange in color. It is more brown than typical used oil, not black. Anybody know why? I'm using 10W-30 Shell Rotella. I consider the engine to be one of the vulnerable parts of this machine, and try to keep tight on the maintenance cycle.
Cutting: The most pleasant surprise has been the mulching capability. Our Srping ramp-up for growth was slow, which means the grass clippings have not been as sappy as usual. However, we are now into a heavy growth spurt. For the lighter growth, the mulching function worked pretty well. As some of you know, my huge concern was for a good bagging mower because that had been our primary mode of work. Now, that growth is going strong, some of the mulching work is finished, and we are back to bagging for many properties.
The good mulching function is undoubtedly related to the double blades. That is the good news, AND the bad news. When the grass is wet and sappy, the last thing I want is recut grass clippings. I posted a thread a couple of weeks ago, asking if anybody could point me to a single, high-lift blade for this machine. I received no leads, and checking elsewhere, no leads. The repeated cutting of clippings just packs up the underside of the deck. This was a big concern of mine earlier, but I've come to realize that mowing conditions change rapidly. Yes, in some situations, the deck will pack up, but being able to use the double blade arrangement is useful in too many other locations to swap blades in/out.
The Versa-Mow feature is good in one respect, a joke in another respect. The good part of the feature is the quick and easy change from bag to mulch. Yes, it usually requires some digging out of debris so the baffle slides to the fullest extent, but that can be done pretty quickly. The useless notion of the Versa-Mow is the variable adjustment, intending to mulch some clippings, while bagging the rest.
Assume, for the sake of discussion, full bagging position is setting 1, and full mulching postion is 10 (don't know exactly how many notches are on the control). Setting 1 has the baffle fulling concealed, leaving the chute fully open. Likewise, setting 10 has the baffle fully extended, closing off the chute completely. From my experience, any setting less than about 7 will put all clippings in the bag. Closing to 8 or 9, more clippings are being mulched, but the air flow to the bag is so badly restricted that the clippings don't reach the back of the bag. Rather, they just sit on the bottom part of the chute. The idea sounds great on paper, but in reality, the closing off of the baffle limits the air flow too much to be effective as a bagger. And, putting the setting down at 3, 4, or 5, all the clippings flow out the chute anyway. So, for me, it is either setting 1, or setting 10, nothing between.
When bagging (remember, I only use setting 1), the clippings fill the bag bottom to top, not back to front. Why? I'm not sure. The reason this is important is that when taking off the bag, the clipping build up near the front is subject to falling out unless the back is tipped backward immediately, and the clippings are shaken toward the back of the bag. In other words, the pictures of just lifting out the bag, in a vertical direction, is just plain wrong. Too much debris is left in a pile at the rear of the bagging chute.
The bag is deceivingly large. Rarely have we filled the bag because a full bag is too heavy. The heavy bag upsets the balance of the machine too much. Also, a full bag is a heavy load to carry and dump into the trailer. It is hard to know how full the bag is when working.
We are using two bags. This is a bare minimum to keep the machine running. Sometimes I wish I had three bags, but at $90 each, … ouch. But, I am sure happy that I bought the second bag when buying the mower.
The discharge function is nearly useless. When the clipping count is too high to mulch, and I don't need to bag, having the discharge function to spread clippings would be useful. But, when the clipping count is high, the debris will not flow out evenly from under the chute cover. It will leave clumps, and not spread clippings out evenly. My fear was that it would leave a row, but the row is not where I expected. I thought that since the chute is discharging on the right side of the machine, the row would be left on the right side. But, this is not the case. The row and clumps are on the left side. Apparently, it is throwing the debris to the left out of the chute so well that the primary flow is out from under the cover on the left side. All in all, this feature is disappointing to me, and we will not use it much.
We are left with the primary method of working as mulching (when possible), or bagging. The discharge and partial-mulch features do not work for me in my environment. I've heard others speak positively about the Versa-Mow feature, but, in my experience, not much of a feature there. Having said that, the convenience of on-the-fly changing from full bag, to full mulch mode is a real time saver.
More comments about the blade setup are in this thread,
See my posts #4 and #7 (pics of the blades).
Controls and handling: The double handle seems unecessarily complicated. Also, the fact that the left and right side are different (yellow button to engage blade brake control, is on the left) adds to the problem. The mower does not handle as well as we had hoped.
One of my primary criteria for a the mower was weight of the machine. Our former LawnBoy was about 85#. This one is about 95#. We also have a Toro ProLine 21” at about 120#. I've learned that weight isn't everything. In sum, I think the heavier Toro is easier to handle (despite having the two-part ground drive/operator presence handle) than the lighter Honda. The vertical handles at the control just don't seem intuitive. Time and use doesn't seem to change my perception of this problem.
One annoying feature is the disengaging the BBC. The procedure: Push down the yellow button, the hook under the handle catches the control link, push forward on the handle and the BBC engages the blades. The problem is the hook often doesn't engage the link well enough to stay in position. Sometimes it will slip out after 10 seconds, sometimes after two minutes. There is no adjustment to extend the hook so that it more fully engages the link. Does anybody else have this problem? Is the 216 Commercial models work the same way? Is it possible to buy parts from the Commercial model and mount them on this 217? This is frustrating, and I don't know what to do about it. Apparently the tolerances of manufacture are not tight enough to insure that the hook engages the link properly at all times.
By making a concerted effort to push the yellow button down on the far left side (which will extend the rod to the hook), the engagement is more positive and usually will not slip out. But, a more casual pushing down of the yellow button by just putting a hand over the button will not work.
We have learned that the best way to overcome this problem is to do the depressing of the yellow buttom is with the right hand. In other words, it is effective to reach across the handles, so that the yellow button can be most easily depressed on the left-most portion of the button (the side where the rod linkage is connected).
The other problem I've encountered was a degradation of ground speed by the hydro transmission. At about 90-100 hours, I noticed the machine was not moving as quickly. What was a brisk walk at full speed position on the control, was no longer the case. My walk was a casual pace with the lever in the most forward position. It was a slow change, nothing distinct. The ground drive was not jerky, not sporadic, but just the fact that it slowed. It was as if something was stretched and the cable was not engaging the transmission as before.
I solved the problem by making adjustments on the two nuts holding the ground drive speed control cable. The adjustment was quite minor, perhaps 3/16” inch, pulling the cable a bit further back. Of course, the question arises about future use. Was this a one-time event, or will it continue to degenerate requiring another adjustment? So far, it seems to be holding to the same speeds as when I made the adjustment (perhaps 60 hours of use afterward). Maybe something had to get “seated in.” I'm hoping that to be the case, and not a degeneration of the hydro transmission.
In summary, we are pleased with the Honda HRX, Cruise Control, hand mower. It is proving to be productive, bagging is done well (even in difficult conditions), we are able to mulch clippings where we were unable to do so previously,