Right foot dips forward, left lifts, tarmac blurs. The view through my visor turned to a streak, as I launched forward at a spooky pace. I felt my heart press into my ribs, as the accelerating force was so strong I forgot to breathe. It’s not a sensation you get on a ride-on lawn mower too often.
(Full Disclosure: Honda paid for a hotel room and some snacks so we could test drive the Mean Mower V2.)
As the interwebs are all atwitter with the announcement of Honda’s newest version of its Mean Mower V2 hitting another Guinness World Record, accelerating from 0 to 100 mph in 6.29 seconds, and topping out at just over 150 mph, a small group of journalists were invited to actually drive the thing at Honda’s proving grounds in the California desert. Who are we to decline the opportunity to drive a 200 horsepower riding mower with a top speed exceeding 150 mph? Honda must be crazy, right? Where did this thing even come from?
Back in 2014, Honda UK, with its British Touring Car Championship partner Team Dynamics Motorsports, built a one-off special project called the Mean Mower using a 1000cc Honda VTR Firestorm motorcycle engine; better known as the Superhawk here in the United States.
It earned the charmingly superfluous title of Fastest Lawnmower, topping out at 116 mph, and going 0-60 in less than four seconds. After being dethroned by a LS1-powered Viking T6 (133.57 mph), Honda decided to up the ante with the significantly updated Mean Mower V2 you see here.
Originally revealed in 2018, Team Dynamics based the new Mean Mower V2 on the HF2622 riding mower model. The donor mower’s front engine cowl, grass catcher basket, and cutter deck were all used in the new lightning fast Mean Mower V2.
Believe it or not, those carbon fiber blades are functional, and Honda claims it will cut grass as quickly as 50 mph. What better way to test this out than on a paved straightaway... in the middle of the desert?
Seeing as this is a fun, silly project for the folks at Honda UK and Team Dynamics Motorsports, you might be wondering why they went to the trouble to bring it to the USA. It’s not like this is something Honda will build and bring to the masses. Honda doesn’t even sell ride-on mowers in the U.S. anymore, leaving us with only a healthy selection of push mowers, and a small Roomba-like automated mower called the Miimo.
So why did they bring the Mean Mower V2 here? Turns out a car fanatic you might have heard of by the name of Jay Leno convinced Honda’s people to bring the new Mean Mower over to the states, so he could drive it for his show. We might call this trickle-down opportunity. Thanks, Jay!
Before Team Dynamics flew its overpowered garden equipment to our side of the Atlantic, the only two people who had driven this thing were its engineer and test driver, Craig Smith, and the race car driver who set their world record, Jessica Hawkins. You could say we feel pretty special getting to drive the record-setting mower.
Squeezing into the custom-made Cobra seat was the first challenge. Turns out childbearing hips don’t always jive well with narrow form-fitting race seats; I struggled for a few seconds, so much so that for a split second I wasn’t sure I would fit properly.
“Scoot your butt all the way down,” Team Dynamics’ James Rodgers instructed, and then, like a puzzle piece clicking into place, there I was, firmly planted in the racing seat. I wasn’t going to move an inch. The reach to the pedals was comfortable for my legs. At 5’5”, my 30-inch inseam means my legs make up a bit more of my height than most would expect. It was a tight cockpit, so my arms reached the steering wheel just fine. All four extremities were comfortable enough with a bend in each joint.
I’m glad I didn’t wear my motorcycle boots, because having fine-tuned agility in my ankle was super important for maintaining throttle input control. And with my limited experience driving racing or supercars, you could say my foot is not at all trained to give quite the kind of precise touch that seemed to be required here. So I managed with my Chucks, since I didn’t think to request proper driving shoes in time.
And that foot pedal input was really important, as I learned when I first stepped on the gas pedal. Instant throttle response. As a motorcyclist, I have a little more confidence in controlling a sensitive throttle with my hand and wrist, but my foot is not used to it. Then there was the clutch, which thankfully was only necessary at takeoff, since the Mean Mower uses the CBR1000RR’s SP1 wet multiplate quick shifter. No clutch needed from second to sixth gears. But the friction zone is very small for the takeoff, and it took a few different trial and errors to take off from a standstill without hopping the whole mower about, or stalling altogether.
As I started to lift the clutch pedal, I eased as gently on the throttle as I could, to get a sense where the friction zone was within the pedal travel. The 999cc inline four-cylinder revved at a tenor pitch, crying out through the bespoke Scorpion Red Power titanium exhaust. It was not easy to make this transition smooth. Despite these test drives being only straight line runs, the Mean Mower is an intimidating machine. Rodgers and Craig Smith, also from Team Dynamics, gave us all sorts of tips and warnings about accelerating, shifting, downshifting, and braking, enough to make any sane person get cold feet. But here I was, in the seat, hands on the Sparco steering wheel, fingertips on the carbon paddles, engine fired up and foot on the pedal ready to launch.
And, boy, does it launch. After the mower did a little shudder and struggle, I leaned my right foot forward into the gas pedal, and the Hoosier R25B slicks hooked up, pushing the Mean Mower forward with so much force, it felt like being flung from a catapult.
Anything less than full throttle, and the engine would lurch, as if to plead “It hurts my motor to go so slow!” even if “slow” was still 70 mph. Faster, faster, the engine only smoothed out upon full acceleration. My nerves gave out before the end of the straightaway, and long before the engine topped out at its reported 150 mph top speed. This was unlike anything I’ve ever ridden or driven in the motorcycle or car world.
Stabbing the brake pedal, I felt the strength of the Kelgate four-piston calipers grip the discs up front, with six-piston calipers in the rear. Slowing down the 483-pound riding mower was clearly no trouble at all, as I quickly scrubbed speed. I clicked the left paddle shifter back down into first, and flicked the steering wheel to the left, quickly pivoting around to face the opposite direction. The turning radius is unbelievably tight, so long as the Mean Mower is still moving at about 10 mph. If the mower has already lost momentum, turning it around is an awkward operation from standstill, trying to feather the clutch and inch forward slowly in first gear. It’s only a graceful thing when it’s going stupidly fast.
My return run was a little more low-key, but on my third run, after getting some more coaching from both Rodgers and Smith, I refined my shifting technique. I’m not used to quick shifters, so the idea of keeping the gas pedal floored while shifting is foreign to my old-fashioned clutch-and-shift manual driving methods.
I started off a little lurchy again, but hooked up quickly and launched forward. The Team Dynamics crew advised shifting into second gear early, so I clicked the right paddle only 30 feet from the start line, and felt the power of second gear continue to pull me forward. Faster, faster, faster, the engine pleaded. Reaching 11,000 rpms revealed the CBR engine’s 85.5 lb-ft of torque, just before my nerves cried uncle. I clicked into third gear just before hitting the brakes, as I neared the end of the straightaway, and felt the blood drain from my face. The Mean Mower may have started off as a fun project for these guys to build, but this thing is no joke.
A ton of engineering, research, and design went into building the Mean Mower V2. Aside from the custom Cobra seat and one-off Scorpion exhaust, Team Dynamics also built the chassis from scratch, using TIG welded T45 steel. While they kept the CBR1000RR SP1 engine and six-speed gearbox stock, they improved the airflow by 10 percent with a custom 3D printed airbox. Adapting the motorcycle parts to work with the rider mower layout required tweaking some of the throttle and gearbox components. “First of all we had to add in a Gear Lever Powershift to imitate what your foot does when changing gear,” Rodgers explained. “This piece of kit (Translogic PSR PRO) comes with its own processor and we then put the steering wheel paddles in to control the power shift.”
The Mean Mower’s builders originally pulled all the components they weren’t planning to use, like the ABS, traction control, and lean angle sensors, but in the end they had to retain a lot of the standard road bike electronics. “We quickly realized that if we wanted to have a warning light-free dash as well as the quick shift working then we would need to reinstate them all to fool the electronics in to thinking they were still on a motorcycle,” I learned.
The biggest challenge they faced, aside from adapting motorcycle components to a rider mower, was the drivetrain, which caused some headaches at first. “Initially we had one chain which was exceptionally long,” Rodgers explained. “We couldn’t control the chain enough so we put an additional centre axle in with 2 sprockets to transfer the drive to the rear axle.” (That rear axle is solid, by the way, with no differential.) “The chain lengths now are similar to that of the CBR1000RR SP1.”
While the electronics might be fooled into thinking they’re still on a motorcycle, there is no doubt the Mean Mower V2 is anything but. Obviously, it’s hardly your garden variety lawnmower, either (pun intended).
Honda and Team Dynamics are now hoping the lawn mower acceleration record is secured for a while. I hope so too, because I can’t imagine how terrifying a riding mower would be if it were any faster than the Mean Mower V2.
Julia LaPalme is a photographer and former photo editor at Motorcyclist and Motor Trend.