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Old 03-30-2009, 09:50 PM
Roger Roger is online now
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Honda HRX review

As some of you know, I've been discussing hand mowers for the past year. My LawnBoy DuraForce was a very big hassle last season, and I was waiting for the new LB Commercial mower entry. We all know that didn't happen because of no engines for these machines. Now, as discussed in another current thread, these machines are red, being branded as Toro mowers.

After much discussion with many on LS, and doing my own research, I ended up with a Honda HRX, self-propelled model. This is not the machine of my desire, but was the "last one standing." I didn't want the former LB entry, now a Toro, fearing it would soon be an orphan. Of all the criteria, weight of the machine was very important. Also, it has to be a good bagging machine. We use a hand mower at least 600 hours per season, mostly bagging. [Save all the discussion of bagging vs. mulching, vs. discharge for another thread -- been through that valley far too many times to repeat here. Also, save all the discussion about "no need to use a 21" mower, use a w/b instead." Again, been down that path far too many times too. Thanks.]

The HRX is 90-95#, about the lightest one that might have a chance of standing up to our needs. I do not like the idea of the Honda GCV engine, but that is all that is offered.

So this is what I have for the 2009 season. Let's also not debate the "shudda" machines either. I've spent far too much time discussing all other choices, and this is the only one that emerged as a choice.

I picked it up more than a week ago. I tried it out a little last week, but today was the first day out. I only worked three properties, but came away some initial impressions. We don't have much growth here yet, and only the "early" ones are candidates to make a mowing pass.

Engine: I like the starting, and power. I don't like the way it runs. It seems very rough, will not idle well at all (surges). Also, it seems to have quite a knock.

Fuel: The small tank is a real problem. All it will run is about 1.5 hours on a tank. That will be a problem when we run it 6-8 hours per day -- perhaps will need five refueling stops. I think the tank is only one quart.

Ground drive: It is very easy to select the speed desired, able to change speeds on the fly with the hydro transmission. Top speed is a little disappointing -- only a good brisk walk. I am doubting this will be a problem when the real heavy mowing is at hand in a couple of weeks.

Handling: It seems very cumbersome to make turns. Yes, it is a much different setup than my old LB. But, it just seems awkward to be sure to manage two handles - one to keep the BBC engaged, the other for ground drive. I'm sure time will help find better ways to handle this machine, especially on slopes and tight places.

Cut: The quality of cut was much better than expected. To be sure, I'm cutting pretty low on the first cut. But, whether in bag mode, or mulch mode, the cut surface was picture perfect. This may change when we start to work at higher cutting heights, and have heavier cutting requirements. But, at first cuts, I am pleasantly surprised. It is on par with my old LB, and that is one of the LB's greatest assets.

Clipping handling: I tried some areas with the Versa-cut knob in the full mulch position. The results were good, but not much clipping burden to handle now. I am doubtful much work will be done in mulch mode in a couple of weeks. Other areas, I went to full bag mode. I can quickly see that the bag will not fill completely. I was excited about having a large bag, but now I can see all that volume cannot be utilized. The clippings enter the bag on the right side, blowing them to the rear of the bag. However, the flow of debris inside the bag must swirl some of the debris up the the front, on the left side. With the bag partially full, the front of the bag on the left side will have a wall of debris. When lifting the bag out, that wall of debris will falter, and some debris will fall out. It looks like there will always be a small pile of debris fall from the front of the open bag to the ground, even when the bag is partially full. This can lead to a mess to be cleaned up after every bag change. Maybe I will find a better way to remove the bag.

I did try the partial bag/partial mulch function, putting the knob at the 8/10 position toward full mulch. This left only a small opening in the discharge chute for debris. I don't know how much savings this meant. I suspect not very much. All the other openings (e.g. 1/10, 4/10, 6/10), are probably worthless. But, in more difficult cutting, I envision the small opening to quickly clog, putting the mower into full mulch mode. Time will tell how well this feature works for grass cutting. I'm not optimistic.

I did have one lawn that had some Fall leaves that blew into a hedge, and along a bed. I raked/blowed them out onto the turf, put the knob into full mulch mode, made a couple of passes, and swung the knob to full bag, and made another pass -- zippo, mulched leaves were quickly put into the bag! A half tarp of leaves was gone into a quarter of a bag on the mower. Great!

Conditions today were very good. The grass was not high, it was not wet, sappy growth. The sun was out (albeit only low 40s), and all was dry.

Stay tuned. I'm sure that I will have more comments as the weeks pass, and this machine gets some real service hours, under more extreme conditions.

If this information is useful to somebody else making a decision, good! If anybody who has an HRX has any comments about some of my first negative impressions, let me hear what you think, or different thoughts. Thanks.
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Old 03-30-2009, 10:04 PM
pinto n mwr pinto n mwr is offline
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have the same mower, without the hydro. Engine is fine except for the automatic clutch. Drivetrain and durability seem fine. Adjustment for height sucks. Cut quality IMO absolutley sucks. Mulching leaves trails, setting the versa-whatever varies on every yard. The twin blades are not the best idea out there. for $500 bucks one would think it would be great but it is not. Buy a cheap push mower but make sure it has a Hondao with a manual choke.
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Old 03-30-2009, 11:31 PM
dishboy dishboy is offline
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Roger, a velcro strap will solve involuntary BBC disengagement.
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Old 03-31-2009, 10:22 PM
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deere615 deere615 is online now
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I have 2 of those and love them. they are the best baggers hands down. for the idling and speed problems just spend a little time messing with/adjusting the cables, mine were like that also, now they idle a bit higher and don't "surge" and they move extremley fast
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Old 04-01-2009, 07:18 AM
Roger Roger is online now
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deere615 -- thanks. I will try your suggestion. I mowed seven properties yesterday, burning through three full tanks of fuel, plus more. We are learning better how to handle on turns to be more efficient.

I'm glad to hear the bagging function has worked well. That is very important for us. You and I are in the same region, so have similar conditions. Obviously, there isn't much to bag now, but in two or three weeks, we will be up to our eyeballs is wet, sappy clippings. We will know for sure how well it works for us!
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Old 04-01-2009, 02:42 PM
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Happy Frog Happy Frog is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger View Post
deere615 -- thanks. I will try your suggestion. I mowed seven properties yesterday, burning through three full tanks of fuel, plus more. We are learning better how to handle on turns to be more efficient.

I'm glad to hear the bagging function has worked well. That is very important for us. You and I are in the same region, so have similar conditions. Obviously, there isn't much to bag now, but in two or three weeks, we will be up to our eyeballs is wet, sappy clippings. We will know for sure how well it works for us!
In wet grass, you'll have to open the gate more to avoid clogging the discharge opening.
These HRX are great mowers
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Old 04-01-2009, 05:04 PM
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brucec32 brucec32 is offline
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Thanks for the great review. It's nice to get the whole picture rather than just bragging one's choice does everything perfect.


I almost pulled the trigger on one of these last week, but read a few more reviews and decided it might not mulch as well as I'm used to (toros) and I also wondered if turns would be smooth and easy. I admit mulching with 21" machines isn't ideal, as they can bog down easier than a really powerful big mower will.

Since you bag a lot I'm curious why you nixed the Toro "superbagger" commercial versions. They seem to be optimized for bagging. Was it just the weight? Wait, I see one reason why. They may not mulch at all. (unclear from promotional materials I've seen). And the homeowner versions have the same old personal pace drive.

I think the HRX ability to switch from bagging to mulching and back effortlessly is great. Leave the bag on and you can even please customers who might balk at mulching when conditions would permit by mulching while it looks like you're bagging. If they see a bag on the machine, the topic may not even come up as long as the result is good.

Honda's promotional videos had awkward looking users. Not smooth in turns or when changing speeds. I assume that gets better with use, but I read the long handlebars made it a little less nimble. Certainly not a lawnboy type machine. I have yet to hear a good reason why they quit making the staggered wheel, lightweight lawnboys. I was waiting for an excuse to get one.

For my type of use (small lots and back yards a couple times a day) the fuel capacity would suffice on the HRX. But I think large capacity tanks is big plus with the commercial units for you heavy duty users, for both time and safety reasons.

With the hours you put on them I may have gone with the toro commercial units, (though I can't imagine anything bagging great in wet grass, the toros sure don't) but I think you'll be happy with your Honda, and my hunch is the drive and other small items will need replacing before the engine.
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Old 04-01-2009, 09:00 PM
Roger Roger is online now
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bruce ... Yes, I'm not very concerned about the mulching function. I am willing to be surprised to see it work when conditions are tough in a few weeks. But, I'm pretty well resigned to bag most of the time. I have bought a second bag for this machine, so we can work with two bags. With the old LawnBoy side bag, we worked with two, three, and sometimes four bags. The name of the game is to keep the mower running, stuffing clippings into the bag. At bag change, drop one bag, put on the other that is sitting there. Whether or not this dance is properly orchestrated depends upon my tasks. I try to empty most bags, and so can pick up some of them between trimming, blowing, and when I'm working another mower (sometimes).

I had looked at the Toro Bagger model (not the old LB try at a 4X4). I thought it a bit heavy, and it looks like it cannot do mulching at all, nor any discharge. Sometimes the leaf mulching function in the Fall is important. Also, sometimes, we can use discharge in more scrappy areas. I'm not optimistic about the discharge idea with the Honda HRX, but time will tell. I'm concerned about leaving rows of clippings.

Remember, I have a Toro ProLine 21", with a 5.5hp Sizuki. It is a workhorse, and we use it as a second hand mower. It is heavy, great piece of equipment, great engine, moderately good bagger, not so good mulcher (except in the Fall leaf season with Gator blade). So, the general nature of the Toro machine was not foreign to me.

The switch from bagging to mulch, visa-versa, and "somewhere between" may be better on paper than in reality. I remain open, but an not optimistic. From the little time I've tried it, shutting down the chute means less discharge force. The bag doesn't even fill out from discharge flow into the bag. During heavy conditions, I can foresee any small opening clogging up quickly, turning it into a mulcher anyway. Time will tell us.

Also, I used the mower on seven properties yesterday. On five of them, the mulch function (full closure) was used. This is first pass mowing for us, and clipping count is pretty low. Lawns can be quite uneven in growth at this initial growth spurt. The day was warm and dry. On the last job during the evening, the growth was better than most places during the day. I wanted to open up the chute -- move the knob from mulch to bag. One of my concerns when I first looked at this feature during the Winter -- will this thing just get clogged up (I even investigated the possibility of taking it out). My suspicions were confirmed -- the knob would not move last evening. Debris had built underneath (or wherever) to make the chute movement impossible.

Today, we had rain this morning, and I spent the afternoon in maintenance. I spent time trying to understand why the closure mechanism would not move. I learned the debris build-up underneath prohibited the mechanism from move. After a little time with the scraping knife, the closure was free to move again. I think the lesson learned here is to keep moving that mechanism frequently, only if to exercise it back/forth a time or two to keep things clear.

Yes, turning the mower is a new experience. As noted earlier, the machine seemed a bit cumbersome. But, the different motions of the handles (lifting up on the ground drive bail on the LawnBoy, over against pushing the Honda bail forward) takes some practice. I have learned that when making turns, my left hand stays on the BBC clutch, and the right hand stays on the ground drive. By staying on, I mean keeping it in hand, and USING THE BAIL as a handle. In other words, one can use two hands to handle the machine, one on the BBC, and the other on the ground drive bail. This permits using the ground drive to work for me when making the turn, not just having it return to neutral. Also, I think the traditional three-point turn I use for my w/b and ZTR will work fine on this machine too. I learned to make it the most effective turn on the LawnBoy. It takes a bit if "man-handling," but is the most effective and quickest.

I changed the oil in the GCV today for the first time (about five hours of service). I hate the "turn the mower over" technique. After consulting the manual, I learned it takes only 12.5-13 oz for an oil change. Yes, only 12.5-13 oz! Actually, I measured out 14 oz, and the level was right on the dipstick. There surely isn't much reserve. Apparently, it is not possible to fully drain -- full oil capacity was 18 oz (I think, but a few oz more than a refill).

I also learned today that somebody with an overzealous impact gun put on the blade bolts. One more tale of woe that makes me glad that I don't own one of those things.

I hope these explanations and observations are useful to somebody.
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Old 04-01-2009, 09:56 PM
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deere615 deere615 is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roger View Post
deere615 -- thanks. I will try your suggestion. I mowed seven properties yesterday, burning through three full tanks of fuel, plus more. We are learning better how to handle on turns to be more efficient.

I'm glad to hear the bagging function has worked well. That is very important for us. You and I are in the same region, so have similar conditions. Obviously, there isn't much to bag now, but in two or three weeks, we will be up to our eyeballs is wet, sappy clippings. We will know for sure how well it works for us!
Yeah they leave such a nice cut in the spring and the bag has a huge capacity, the fuel tank may be small but for as much work as it does they are excellent on gas
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2003 Chevy 2500HD


6x16 Tandem Trailer
5x10 SS Trailer
5x8 Dump Trailer
Bobcat CT225 tractor-loader
Wright Stander 48" RH & 48" X
Quick 36”
JD GT225
(2)Honda HRX 217's
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Old 05-16-2009, 09:32 PM
Roger Roger is online now
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Update, after further use

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,

http://www.lawnsite.com/showthread.php?t=275030

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,
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