Imagine trying to learn how to drive a stick-shift at 100 mph. That's precisely how terrifying it is to attempt high speeds in the Honda Mean Mower. Honda's hellacious grass-cutter (yes, it can still cut grass) is the antithesis of a Sunday cruise.
This work of mad science is a sub-500-pound machine that makes more than 200 horsepower at 13,000 rpm and 86 pound-feet of torque at 11,000 rpm. Beneath the front cowl, you'll find a tachycardic 999-cc, four-cylinder engine ripped from the Honda CBR1000RR sport bike.
Honda worked with its British Touring Car Championship partner Team Dynamics to convert what was once a run-of-the-mill Honda HF 2622 lawn tractor into the fire-breathing harrier we now know as Mean Mower V2, or version two. The original Mean Mower, with half the V2's horsepower, earned the Guinness World Record for fastest lawnmower when it achieved 116.58 mph in 2014. That record has since been surpassed, thus the creation of the V2.
When the pedal hits the metal, the Mean Mower V2 is supercar-quick: this grass-muncher can sprint from a standstill to 100 mph in 6.3 seconds. As Roadshow reported earlier this month, that time was good enough to earn Honda the Guinness World Record for "."
If you're brave enough to keep your right foot buried, the Mean Mower will surpass 150 mph, which would make it officially the fastest lawn mower on the planet. Honda, naturally, is still working on organizing that Guinness certification.
(Not) strapping in
Apparently, I was born to drive the Mean Mower. It uses a fixed seat, which means anyone taller than 5 feet, 11 inches and heavier than 180 pounds is out of luck. I'm 5 foot 10 and 135 after gorging myself on 11 tacos, so even on my most gluttonous day, I fit the bill.
But as thin-boned as I am, even I struggle to shoehorn myself into the Mean Mower's seat. This is the first time in my life that my hips are too wide for anything, but once I'm in, the snugness provides a modicum of security, at least in my mind. The Mean Mower lacks a safety belt or a roll cage, but has a weight-to-power ratio superior to that of the 1,500-horsepower Bugatti Chiron.
Once I'm seated and staring down a quarter-mile of 100-degree asphalt at Honda's Proving Center in Cantil, California, Team Dynamics team manager James Rodgers briefs me on how to get this bladed brute up to speed. He points out that the clutch, brake and accelerator pedals are made of thin steel bars, not unlike the setup you'd see in a shifter kart. The problem is, the pedals are separated by a centimeter, and I'm wearing wide, MotoGP-style Alpinestars boots, so the threat of simultaneously stepping on the gas and brake pedals is real. My blood pressure is climbing.
Rodgers then shows me the carbon-fiber paddle shifters that actuate the six-speed, sequential-shift transmission. The gear pattern is like a motorcycle's: you grab the left paddle for first gear and the right paddle for second through sixth. Having been a licensed motorcycle rider for 15 years, "one down, five up" is second nature to my left foot, but not for my left and right hands. Oh, and to initiate a gear change, simply touching the shifter paddles won't do. Instead, you have to hold the paddles for one whole second, otherwise you'll miss a shift and freak out the 999-cc chinchilla ahead of your feet.
My four quarter-mile runs will take three minutes to complete, which means I have only 180 seconds to rewire years of muscle memory. The Mean Mower can get up to 85 mph in first gear, so messing up a shift at that speed could mean bricking a vehicle that's estimated to be worth $120,000, and that's the best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario? Uhh...
Quick doesn't even begin to describe it
Earlier that day, Rodgers warned me that the clutch is extra grabby, like that of a racing car, but as I carefully release the left-most pedal, the engagement is actually more progressive than I'd expected. Rodgers coaches me as I take off. "So clutch out gently. Nice and gently. Feel the bite and then ride the clutch," he says. I smoothly slip away at a conventional ride-on lawnmower's pace. So far so good.
In spite of my smooth start, I feel in over my head. I attempt to grab second gear, but my brain gets in the way. I still have "one down, five up" in my mind, so I grab the left paddle to shift into second, failing to realize that I only have to grab the left paddle for first gear and that the rest of the upshifts are all on the right. Good thing my habit of pushing in the clutch pedal took over at the same time, so my misguided hands really only amounted to the jerkiness of engaging and disengaging the clutch while in the same gear. Not really harmful to the sequential transmission; the only thing I hurt was my pride.
I redeem myself with the second part of my first run, successfully short-shifting at 8,000 rpm all the way up to fourth gear, never lifting off the gas. But then on my next run, I miss another shift into second. Coasting in neutral, I make the mistake of engaging second gear at a slow speed without using the clutch. This time, the transmission makes the sound of a gunshot inside a meat freezer. I can't believe I haven't shattered the gearbox, but somehow, the transmission looks past my utter incompetence and engages second gear.
Seconds later, as though I'm kicking down a front door while leading a SWAT team, I crush the throttle pedal in anger and frustration. Once again, I redeem myself on the second half of my run, but I'm still miffed. After what feels like a week of mental anguish in the span of three minutes, everything begins to click on my final run. I gradually apply throttle through first gear, and about a second after pinning it, I shift into second gear and hold it past 12,000 rpm, then I blast into third gear past 12,000 rpm again before letting off.
Returning to the staging area, Team Dynamics test engineer Craig Smith gives me a thumbs up and is smiling. "The last one sounded good," he says. Then he points to the Racelogic speedometer on the steering wheel hub that's reading out my top speed: 104 mph. Sure, it's not 150 mph, but 104 mph on a lawnmower is still absolutely terrifying.
The Mean Mower is certifiably insane, and unlike anything I've ever driven. Sure, 0-100 mph in 6.3 seconds might be comparable to supercars, but this goes so much farther beyond the numbers. The Mean Mower is a million miles removed from a supercar with a carbon fiber body, windshield, cocooning leather interior and federally mandated safety equipment. The Mean Mower is a friggin' lawn mower, and its brutal acceleration is enough to cram several souls'-worth of terror and excitement into one body.
Honda's wild creation has intimidated, terrified, upset and depressed me more than any other conveyance. Yet at the same time, the Mean Mower is the one machine that's done the greatest job (so far) of helping me appreciate the benefits of facing my own fears. As a result, this ridiculous lawnmower has made me feel more alive than anything I've ever driven in my life.