God bless the Brits. I mean, leave it to them – and by “them” I mean Honda UK and its British Touring Car Championship partner, Team Dynamics – to make the most of their bad weather and go after a Guinness world record. In this case, stuffing a CBR1000RR engine inside a riding lawnmower. All in search of going after the title of World’s Fastest Lawnmower. If ever there was such a thing as an answer to a question nobody asked, this is it. Usually, though, those answers are stupid. The Mean Mower v2 is the rare exception. Yeah, it’s absolutely pointless – but it’s also absolutely brilliant. And less than a dozen people on the entire planet have had the pleasure of piloting it. I’m lucky enough to be one of them.
If you read closely, you’ll notice this is actually the second version of the Mean Mower. Honda UK and Team Dynamics built version one back in 2014, stuffing a 996cc V-Twin from the VTR1000R (better known as the Superhawk in the US, or the Firestorm in the rest of the world) into a Honda riding lawnmower to beat the existing top speed record of 87 mph (taken as an average of two runs). They beat the record soundly with a 116 mph average.
Little did Honda know this would set off a war for the fastest lawnmower record, as the Norwegian Speed Factory Team took it upon themselves to stuff a C6 Corvette V8 into a Stihl lawnmower to take the record for themselves. They did so; upping the bar to 134 mph. (You’d think a V8-powered mower could do more, but I guess traction became the issue). Nonetheless, the Norwegian’s mower, while clearly fast, started to veer away from the essence of the record. Its mower sported a full roll cage and the wheels/tires from a Formula 3 car – you could hardly tell it started life as a lawnmower.
It was no matter, as Team Dynamics and Honda UK wanted the record back, all while staying true to the regulations of Guinness World Records, which state the mower must also ‘intrinsically look like a lawnmower’ — in this case, the Honda HF2622 lawn tractor.
To get the record back, the Superhawk’s V-Twin wouldn’t cut it anymore. Instead, power comes from a CBR1000RR engine, still running standard electronics and stock internals. Horsepower does get a bump, as Team Dynamics installed larger, freer-flowing headers and 3D printed a custom airbox 30 iterations in the making (and counting). They claim power is a stout 200 bhp and weight is about 220kg, or 485 lbs – which isn’t much heavier than a CBR1000RR. Because the folks at Team Dynamics build race cars for a living, they tell me the Mean Mower has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Bugatti Chiron; which I’m sure is a pretty big deal to car guys.
The standard CBR transmission remains, but shifting is done via paddles on the steering wheel. Power is delivered to the custom made 4130N steel live axle (ground down to 50mm) through a beefy 525-pitch Tsubaki chain and three sprockets – front, center, and rear – for gearing flexibility and to help avoid the need for a huge sprocket and the space it would require.
Putting the radiator in front of the engine would have ruined the natural looks of the mower, so instead Team Dynamics cleverly hid the radiator underneath the stock HF2622 grass box in the rear, put two electric fans on it, and worked with Samco to have custom plumbing run to and from.
Underneath it all, Team Dynamics ditched the standard chassis in favor of TIG welded T45 steel. A material often used in the aerospace industry, it was chosen here for a few reasons: First, it’s easy to weld. More important, says James Rodgers of Team Dynamics, is its ability to flex without snapping. Why is this necessary? Because the Mean Mower doesn’t have any suspension! The T45 frame, along with the 10-inch wheels wrapped in custom Hoosier slick tires are the only things absorbing bumps in the road. Rodgers says they routinely have to check the welds for cracks, but they’ve never had a problem with the frame itself.
Clearly, the Mean Mower is an order of magnitude more gnarly than the Honda it’s based on, but in order to preserve the standard looks of the HF2622, the grass box and the engine cowl remain. Lengthened side decks help hide and protect some of the components, while retaining the stock look.
But does it still cut grass?! Of course it does! Team Dynamics kept the original cutter deck, only now the two six-inch carbon fiber (yes, carbon fiber) blades are operated by an electric motor. We’re told the Mean Mower can still cut grass up to 55 mph(!). Too bad I didn’t get the chance to find out.
Riding, driving – Piloting? – the Mean Mower is a wild ride, to say the least. First, you’ve got to squeeze yourself into the carbon superkart seat, which is designed to hold you in tight, just like a racing go-kart. Actually, it’s designed for Craig Smith. Team Dynamics’ mechanic by day, he helped design and build the Mean Mower – and by virtue of being a skinny guy, he’s also Mean Mower’s designated driver (along with Jess Hawkins, stunt driver, British karting champ, F1 test driver, and fellow small person). Squeezing in is made a little harder since you’re wearing full motorcycle racing leathers, but once you’re in place, the cockpit feels like a proper race car…err, kart.
Even with my 5-foot, 8-inch frame, the steering wheel is right in my chest, meaning my arms didn’t have to stretch very far to grab the steering wheel. Shifting is done via paddles on the wheel – left paddle to downshift, right paddle for up – and steering ratio is extremely short. This thing is meant to go straight, after all. Three pedals are on the floor, just like a car, and are really close together because, well, packing is tight. The Mean Mower is meant to be driven flat out, so any hesitation with the gas pedal causes the whole thing to lurch and bounce – to the point you can physically see the chassis flexing down the road if you’re standing on the sidelines.
Push the clutch in, click it into first, ease the clutch out, and the CBR engine propels you in three phases. It’ll easily spin up the 10-inch Hoosier tires in first, so we were instructed to short shift before letting’er rip. Even still, acceleration is brisk up to 7,000 rpm. It’s neck-snapping quick from 7,000-10,000 rpm, and once you let it rip past 10,000 rpm things get absolutely mental. Sure, I’ve experienced speed like that before, but being squeezed in tight to the racing seat, inches off the ground, amplifies the sensation. The world is whizzing past just inches away, and I know there’s more to come as the Fireblade engine starts screaming, its exhaust exiting just under my left thigh, straight to my ears. The Mean Mower forces you into tunnel vision because everything is happening so rapidly. Peripheral vision has no use here. The only thing that matters is what’s ahead.
Unlike today’s sportscars, shifting isn’t a matter of simply tapping the paddle. I have to train my brain to keep the paddle pulled a tiny bit longer to allow the auto shifter to engage the next gear. Once I got the hang of it, I could both hear and feel when the gear engaged. But because my foot never comes off the gas pedal, the moment the next gear is in, it’s off to warp speed again. I’ve never driven a Tesla before, but judging by the YouTube videos of Model Ss accelerating in Ludicrous mode, this is what I imagine that feeling to be like.
Once past our designated shut-off cones (approximately a quarter-mile down the road), slowing the Mean Mower down is tougher than it looks. Four-piston calipers up front and six-pistons in the back can slow things down quickly, but without ABS or much travel in the brake pedal, the wheels can just as easily lock, as I experienced first hand. Catch it in time, as I was lucky enough to do, and you can release and get traction back. Miss it and the Mower is spinning around.
As these things go, it always happens that, just as I was getting the hang of things after my fourth run, my time was up. At least it was exciting right up to the end, as the notorious winds at Honda’s Top Secret proving grounds in the middle of the Mojave desert gave me a nice gust during my final run. Despite its low ride height, the wind caught the large body panels somewhere around 100mph and stepped the rear out just enough to make things interesting. Discretion being the better part of valor, I had to abort the run, but even as I type this, I can’t believe how nutty the Mean Mower is.
Finally, because I know you’re wondering; No, we didn’t cut grass with the Mean Mower.
Crazy. Absurd. Stupid. Awesome. All are fitting descriptions for the Honda Mean Mower. You either get it or you don’t, and I’m not going to try to defend it if you’re not onboard. All I know is, it’s definitely one of the more unique experiences I’ve had testing vehicles – in all the best ways possible. That much is obvious. But let’s not forget Mean Mower actually was built for something: records. As fate would have it, the day after our ride Guinness World Records officially announced the Mean Mower had set a new record – for the ‘Fastest Acceleration 0-100 mph for a Lawnmower’ with a time of 6.29 seconds. There’s also video proof (and I’ve seen it) of the Mean Mower hitting a top speed of 150.99 mph. It also hit 149 mph in the return run. Average the two and Team Dynamics should have the record again for fastest lawnmower, but as of press time Guinness is still verifying and hasn’t yet made an official announcement.
Nonetheless, Mean Mower is an experience – and Team Dynamics isn’t done (are projects ever really finished?) The team are going to integrate further electronics, including ABS and traction control, and more power is almost certainly on the table. This is a record they want to keep.