Reviews

For a Clean-Cut Lawn With Electric Convenience, Take a Look at This Ryobi Lawn Mower

Ryobi promises gas-powered cutting performance with all the advantages of electric in its 21-inch Whisper Series lawn mower. Does it deliver?
Beth Cranston Avatar
The Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower on a neatly trimmed lawn
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

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Competition in the cordless products category gets tougher each year as consumers become more accustomed to untethering everything from earbuds to vacuums to chainsaws. Each year, lawn mower brands roll out improvements in charging times, runtimes, power, and more. Ryobi, for instance, recently introduced its Whisper Series of lawn-and-garden tools, which is designed to be the quietest yet. I tested the mower to find out how loud it was, in addition to exploring its other notable features.

Ryobi is a part of Techtronic Industries, and since 2000, Ryobi has been an exclusive partner of The Home Depot (but it is not a brand of the home improvement retailer). Techtronic Industries is also the parent company of Milwaukee and Hoover, so it’s adept at understanding what home improvement–minded consumers and tradespeople want.

The Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower that I tested is a part of the Whisper Series lineup. With some assistance from other mowers in my household, I mowed my lawn five times over 8 weeks, extending the time between mows to account for a particularly dry spell in my region. My lawn is nowhere near being picture-perfect, and once it grows out, it has healthy and lush areas along with some spare, less-than-pristine spots. I used the Ryobi to cut it all, and here’s how the mower performed.

Ryobi 21-Inch Self-Propelled All-Wheel-Drive Mower: At a Glance

The Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower in a garage with its handle folded down for storage
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

Rating: 8.5/10

Product Specs

Runtime: Up to 70 minutes
Drive: Self-propelled, all-wheel-drive and rear-wheel drive options
Deck size: 21 inches
Weight: 77 pounds

PROS

  • Slices easily through dense, thick-bladed grass
  • Evenly cuts and distributes grass clippings for a cleaner-looking finish
  • Both handle and self-propel paddle height are adjustable for greater user comfort
  • Handles fold down for compact, vertical storage
  • Self-propel feature works even when blades are turned off to always move easily

CONS

  • Included charger holds only 1 battery at a time
  • Sensitive self-propel paddles take some getting used to
  • Might be too heavy for some uses to maneuver or for those working on very uneven terrain

Get the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower at The Home Depot for $899.

What is the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower?

As with most battery-powered lawn-and-garden equipment, the Ryobi mower is part of a suite of more than 85 lawn-and-garden products powered by Ryobi’s 40-volt (V) lithium-ion batteries. These batteries also can be used in string trimmers, leaf blowers, edgers, and more.

The Ryobi lawn mower is a heavy-duty electric mower that boasts a brushless motor for excellent power efficiency and comes complete with two 40V 6-amp hour (Ah) lithium-ion batteries and a rapid charger. It features an option to use all-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive (the previous model, RY401015, offered rear-wheel drive only), and it comes with a 21-inch cutting deck with a two-blade cutting system underneath.

The underside of the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower showing its cross-cut multiblade system
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

Users can adjust the blades to cut grass between 1 inch and 4 inches tall (a half-inch greater range than the previous model), and seven height adjustments are controlled by a simple lever. It also includes three grass-disposal options—bagging, mulching, or side discharge—as well as a new integrated mulch plug that toggles from mulching to bagging.

A closeup of the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower's battery gauge and mulching lever
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

To make mowing even less of a chore than with its predecessor, this Ryobi RY401210 features Smart Trek self-propel paddles designed to easily match the mower’s speed to the user’s pace. Paddles are right on the handle, so users simply push them to adjust propulsion. The paddles also move up or down to adjust their position for user comfort. A speed selector button, also on the handle, slides left to right so users have even more control over the mower speed. A simple switch controls the drive system from all-wheel (for hills and rougher terrain) to rear-wheel (for flat terrain).

A closeup of the handle and controls of the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

Bright LEDs on the mower deck illuminate the surrounding space at sundown and around dense trees and brush. Its light aluminum handle folds down for more compact storage, and the mower can be stored vertically for even more space-saving convenience.

How easy is the Ryobi lawn mower to set up? 

There is virtually no setup required with the Ryobi. I simply pulled it out of the box, lifted the handle, and adjusted the handle to one of the two height options. I then charged each of the batteries, although this had to be done one at a time since the charger only holds one battery. While this isn’t a major downside, it could pose a problem if you forget to charge one of the batteries after a round of mowing; the next time you want to mow your lawn, you’ll end up waiting for the battery to charge instead of simply heading outside.

The batteries came about 25 percent charged, with one solid bar and one flashing bar out of four total bars. Each battery took a little under an hour to charge fully.

The only other setup necessary is for those who want to use the side-discharge chute or the bag for clippings. After lifting the side flap, I was able to slide the side chute into place very easily. Attaching the collection bag to its frame was a bit cumbersome because the attachment clips were stiff and tight, but once it was on, it was easy to attach behind the deck.

The Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower in the corner of a neatly trimmed lawn next to a fence
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

Is the Ryobi lawn mower easy to maneuver?

The self-propulsion on the Ryobi is formidable, and it’s necessary for a lawn mower of this weight. At 77 pounds with batteries, it’s a hefty mower to maneuver on anything but flat terrain, and would be even more so in the absence of self-propulsion. Though my entire lot is just under a quarter-acre, my lawn slopes in three different directions and has small dips here and there, so my family and I have a strong preference for self-propelled mowers. While the Ryobi’s weight is comparable to other battery mowers, I noticed a huge initial difference in maneuvering the Ryobi compared to my own mower, which weighs 15 pounds less.

Once I found a comfortable speed setting, however, maneuvering the Ryobi became much easier. The self-propel paddles took me some time to get used to using. The paddles are particularly sensitive when the speed is set on high; I barely touched them and the mower practically pulled me forward. I found that low- and medium-speed settings were generally my sweet spot, with the low-speed setting perfect for maneuvering around my stone-lined plant beds.

However, making U-turns at the end of a row on the small hill near my aluminum fence (pictured above) was a different matter. Mind you, this was just to turn, not to mow; the user manual specifically states to mow across the face of slopes (which was already done near the fence, three rows deep), not up and down. Regardless of whether I used the self-propel feature on a low speed, changing direction from down to up in this tight turn was a chore because of the mower’s weight.

The mower also has rear-wheel drive, which I could simply switch to with the push of a button. However, I didn’t notice much of a difference in the maneuverability or speed between the all-wheel-drive option and rear-wheel drive. Both options were comfortable to use.

The Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower in action cutting a lawn with long and dense grass
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

How powerful is the Ryobi lawn mower?

Three years ago, when I bought my current electric mower, I was happy to rid the family of a gas mower and the maintenance that accompanied it. What I lost, however, was power. This is a common complaint among many owners of battery-powered tools: They don’t have quite as much power as their gas counterparts. My electric mower didn’t quite pick up and cut all the blades of grass when the lawn had grown longer and denser.

A closeup of the difference between grass height before and after using the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

But as my colleagues have noted in various tool reviews, battery-powered products have come a long way. The same can be said for the Ryobi lawn mower. It sliced easily and (mostly) evenly through our longest, densest patches of lawn, although it did miss longer, thicker blades here and there. To be fair, there were a few extra-long (8- to 10-inch) patches of grass, as I had to let the lawn grow longer during weeks without rain.

That said, the Ryobi moved through those denser patches more easily and evenly than my own mower. It also mulched evenly and dispersed clippings evenly from the side chute—no clumps of grass were left anywhere. Its power was undeniable.

Together with formidable battery power, the Ryobi’s cross-cut multiblade system delivers a better overall cut. What is a cross-cut multiblade system? Underneath the deck is a stacked pair of blades. One blade cuts at a higher level and the other blade cuts at a lower level, so the blades can work together to produce even cuts and finer clippings—and therefore a better-looking lawn.

The batteries and charger of the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

How long do the batteries last?

In the specifications for the mower, Ryobi states an official runtime of 70 minutes with both batteries. While it doesn’t take me that long to mow my smaller yard, it does take about 30 to 35 minutes. After I mowed the lawn with both batteries fully charged, one battery was still fully charged while the other one sat at about 25 percent. Based on my experience, that runtime certainly seems feasible.

How quiet is the Ryobi Whisper Series lawn mower?

Gas lawn mowers tend to run at about 90 to 95 decibels (dB). Based on their testing, my team members would say that all electric mowers are quieter than gas-powered ones. It’s one of the many advantages of going electric, in addition to less maintenance and pollution. To offer an example, Ryobi has posted a video comparison of a gas leaf blower to an electric version.

While I did not have an earlier model to which I could compare this one, I did reach out to reps for sound stats but do not yet have them as of publishing. Without that information on hand, I decided to compare the Ryobi to my own electric mower with the NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) sound meter app. The Ryobi measured 77.5 dB compared to my own electric lawn mower, which came in at 75.1 dB—not a scientific measurement to be sure. Still, even without the measurements, I could tell the Ryobi was a bit louder, though not considerably so. For a point of reference, a vacuum is about 75 dB.

Even still, the Ryobi is much quieter than any gas mower. Plus, I’m inclined to chalk up Ryobi’s bit of extra noise to its extra power.

A close-up of a neatly trimmed lawn after using the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower
Photo: Beth Cranston for Bob Vila

Should you buy the Ryobi Whisper Series lawn mower?

The Ryobi lawn mower falls on the more expensive side for electric lawn mowers at its current price of $899. For that reason, if you have a smaller lawn that takes less than 45 minutes to mow and is fairly flat, this mower might be more than you need. You might get a better bang for your buck with the Makita XML03CM1.

A lightweight mower might be a better bet for those who have tighter turning radiuses to contend with or a hillier yard. In those cases, the Ego Power+ LM2102SP-A is a great option. It still offers the 21-inch cutting swath but at a much lighter 62.61 pounds.

However, for those with larger yards and dense lawns, the Ryobi fits the bill. It delivers a great-looking cut with the least amount of maintenance both in terms of lawn care and mower care (less upkeep than gas counterparts). The Ryobi easily handles lawns that go for extended periods between mowing, since this mower slices everything into a fine mulch. Take pride in your lawn? Take a look at this Ryobi.

Get the Ryobi 21-inch self-propelled all-wheel-drive mower at The Home Depot for $899.

Meet the Tester

As an editor at BobVila.com, Beth Cranston designs the testing guidelines and rubrics for the product reviews team, having developed more than 300 rubrics. She is a writer and editor with more than a decade of experience, with a focus on all things home since 2017. She has covered everything from kitchen design ideas to electrical plans. For her, low-maintenance lawn-and-garden care is a must, so she has perennials-only plant beds; and if the grass needs to grow longer for a stronger root system, that is just fine by her.

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Beth Cranston Avatar

Beth Cranston

Editor

Beth Cranston is an editor with the Commerce team at BobVila.com. She has been a writer and editor for over a decade and has focused on home improvement since 2017.

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