One of the most rewarding aspects of being an editor for TurfPro is having the opportunity to delve into so many different areas of work and meet up with so many turf and horticultural professionals. I particularly like visiting sports venues and meeting up with people who dedicate their lives to managing our landscape features and turf surfaces.
However hard they work, the are only as efficient as the machinery and tools they have at their disposal. As we all know from attending our annual trade shows (BTME and SALTEX) our practitioners have a wide choice and array of machinery to choose from – and there’s nothing quite like getting your hands on some of the latest bits of kit and machinery!
Last year, I was lucky enough to attend a STIHL factory visit.
The factory site was formerly the production line for the Viking brand of garden shredders in 1982, before progressing to making Viking lawn mowers in 1984.
In 1992 STIHL bought out Viking and began the renewal of the range of garden tools they could offer. The company were still producing a range of mowers and selling them under the brand name of Viking. However, in 2017 the process of amalgamation began and by 2019 all products are now being sold with STIHL orange branding.
A family-owned business based in Germany, STIHL employs more than 17,000 staff worldwide and sells products in more than 160 countries globally. The company’s range spans chainsaws, hedge trimmers, grass trimmers, brush cutters, multi-tools, pressure washers, construction machinery, lawn mowers, lawn tractors, robotic mowers and other garden equipment and accessories.
During the visit I asked if I would be able to test some STIHL products back in the UK with the aim of giving myself and some fellow professionals the chance to review these products in the work place.
Hence today I can write about the testing of two new products, the STIHL HTA 85 cordless pole pruner and their latest professional battery-powered lawn mower, the STIHL RMA 765 V. Both machines are part of the AP System, which includes cordless tools designed for large gardens and professional application.
HTA 85 cordless pole pruner
First up for testing was the STIHL HTA 85 cordless pole pruner.
The HTA 85 is a designed as a lightweight and powerful cordless telescopic pole pruner, suitable for grounds maintenance, orchards, tree maintenance and arborists. Weighing 4.9 kg (without battery), the HTA 85 can extend from 270 cm to 390 cm quickly and simply and is equipped with a 1/4” PM3 saw chain as standard. It came with a AR 3000 L and AR L carrying system, and their AP 300 battery, AL 300 charger and AP adapter.
Private garden useage
My first task was to check over the machinery and ensure the batteries were fully charged and ready to go. To test the equipment I enlisted Robin Bryon, a neighbour and friend of mine, to help as he had a tree he wanted to crown reduce in his garden. Also helpfully, Robin is experienced in the use of chainsaws and has spent most of his working life in mechanical engineering.
From watching Robin using the pole pruner it soon became apparent it was seemingly easy to use, with its telescopic arm soon at full stretch to reach some high branches working from ground level. The PM3 chain easily coped with sawing through the branches and was relatively quiet in its operation. We used the AP 300 for this first test.
Robin then tried out the pole pruner using the AR 3000 L backpack battery and AR L carrying system, all of which was easy to set up and use. The cable from the AR 3000 L plugs into the AP adapter, which transfers power into the battery slot on the HTA 85. The pole pruner coped very easily with the size of branches he needed to cut - anything between 25 mm - 75 mm in diameter.
I then tried the pole pruner and found it easy to control, with little or no vibration. The pole pruner is easier to use at its shortest operating length but does need a bit more thought and concentration when fully extended.
Having the shoulder harness, which comes as standard with the HTA 85, helps balance the pole pruner when in use and I liked the simple extension system and locking device on the pole of the tool.
We both liked the combination of being able to either use a single AP battery in the pole pruner or having the opportunity for longer running times using the AR L backpack battery and carrying system.
However, one point to note, the AR L battery pack is quite heavy (9.5 kg) but the harness system is extremely easy to fit and relatively comfortable.
Professional setting useage
Following our home testing, I visited Harper Adams University where I was able to get the pole pruner heavily trialled by Mark Hall, their estates manager, who was keen to test it out over several days.
On my return, Mark was able to give me a thorough report on its performance. No stranger to using STIHL products, Mark already has a raft of their petrol driven machinery and in fact has the petrol version of the HTA 85.
He even took it out with him to compare the two machines. He told me he was certainly impressed with the battery equivalent, making particular comment on the battery life of the machine using the single AP 300 battery (approximately 55 minutes on a full charge).
He also tried using the AR L backpack battery and carrying system, but like me found it quite heavy and restricting. He was quite happy using the tool with the single AP 300 battery knowing full well he had a spare one if needed.
He was also complimentary about having the ability to change the cutting angle of the pole pruner, by simply twisting the saw on the rotating pole. He again was impressed with its low noise and vibration emissions, however, when fully extended it became more difficult to handle.
Mark, having compared both machines, says he would not hesitate to change to the cleaner battery powered pole pruner. Battery powered equipment will eventually become the norm in the coming years and, as technologies improve their reliability and performance, will only improve over time.
RMA 765 V lawn mower
Next up for testing was STIHL’s cordless professional RMA 765 V lawn mower. I was able to get this tested locally both in private garden settings and at Harper Adams University where their staff trialled the mower on some of the communal grass areas.
While unpacking the mower from its box, I was impressed with its build quality. Very well constructed, simple and robust, the mono-comfort handlebar suitably folds down easily too!
The lawn mower is powered by a 36 V lithium-ion battery from the AP System. STIHL says the robust RMA 765 V is suited for work in noise-sensitive areas and is highly manoeuvrable thanks to the zero turn function of the front wheels. Both front and rear wheels are height adjustable from 25 mm – 100 mm. The professional lawn mower can be run using the new AR L backpack batteries, helping to deliver longer running times for full-day work assignments.
With a 63 cm cutting width, it has been designed for professional gardeners and landscapers. The mower boasts a five-speed control panel, featuring an eco-mode and a battery power level indicator to ensure professional users have full sight of the performance of the machine at a quick glance.
The mono-comfort handlebar is adjustable to three different heights, allowing users to find the most suitable setting and providing easier access to the grass catcher box.
The aluminium and polymer hybrid housing features front, side and gearbox protection, as well as the polymer inner housing being impact and abrasion resistant. In addition, the 63 cm cutting deck utilises synchronised multi-blades that have been designed to lift the grass, cut it and blow the grass cuttings into the grass catcher bag.
Fitting the AR 3000 L battery is easy with location studs making it quick and simple. Starting the mower is easy and the mower controls are clear and easy to operate. The cutting height of the new RMA 765 V can be variably adjusted between 25 mm - 100 mm and can be adapted to different conditions due to the individual wheel height adjustment.
Private garden useage
Both myself and Robyn tested the mower out on his domestic lawns. It was simple to use and noticeably quiet.
We both found it exceptionally manoeuvrable thanks to the zero-turn function of the front wheels.
We were able to change the height of cut easily and were very impressed with its cutting quality, along with its ability to collect a full box of grass. Having twin rotary cutting blades was certainly the reason for this.
Professional setting useage
I then took the mower for the staff of Harper Adams University to trial, who again had it for a week. Mark and his staff said they were quite impressed with the build quality, cutting performance and battery life. However, they did have concerns over the front jockey wheels, in that they tended to have a mind of their own when running down slopes. Their only other comment was they felt that the safety handles could have been designed for use with both left and right hands and they felt that the safety handles should be set the other way round for turning on the blades and moving forward.
All in all, I feel the overall functionality of the mower is very good. I liked the cutting quality and its easy manoeuvrability. The twin rotary blades certainly provide a good finish and propel the grass well into the grass box. It was also easy and quick to change the height of cut settings on the front and rear wheels.
Battery life was excellent and charged quickly - within twenty minutes for a half recharge. The width of the mower (63 cm) makes it wider than most pedestrian mowers (53 cm) while it weighs in at 42 kg, without battery. The battery weighs around 9.5 kg, therefore giving a total weight of the mower around 50 kg.
As for price, the RMA 765 V lawn mower currently retails at £1499.00 for the machine by itself. The AR 3000 L backpack battery costs £1499.00 for the battery by itself, or £1599.00 with the connecting cable and AP adapter included. The RMA 765 V lawn mower set, which comes with an AR 3000 L backpack battery, AL 500 charger, connecting cable, AP adapter and AR L carrying system, retails at an overall £3299.99. I know this sounds like a lot of money, but once you have paid that, there are no fuelling costs over the life of the machine. You are also investing in a battery system that can be used with any other tool in the AP System, including the HTA 85 pole pruner
I really can see these mowers becoming a popular buy in the years to come. It will be interesting to see if STIHL has plans to introduce a rear roller to the battery range to deliver a stripping affect.