Monday, February 23, 2015

Ryobi Battery Powered Snow-blower Review (Does it Blow?)

How did I get here?
About 7 years ago, while working on a article, I purchased a battery powered lawn mower. I thought, “You know, these things are starting to come out, it must be usable…” Well, my hypothesis was wrong… The battery took 18 hours to charge, it only had enough charge to get through half of my yard, and with thicker grass it would start to chug. By the way, my backyard at the time was about the size of a 4 car garage and way smaller in the front. With a regular lawn mower, trimming would take me about 15 minutes and that battery mower couldn't hack it. It used a lead acid battery which made the mower feel like it was made of cast iron and it was unwieldy to maneuver. Once I finished the backyard I would have to charge the mower for 18 hours before I could work on the front yard. Needless to say, it went back to the store.

However, that experience was positive in ways I couldn't have comprehended without this experiment. When it worked, it worked well, and was extremely quiet! It sounded like a box fan and you could hear the *tick,tickticktick* of the grass actually being cut by the blade. You could hear the birds, you could carry on a conversation with the neighbor, no ear plugs required! As you were strolling through the yard you were experiencing your environment, you weren't stuck in a noise bubble, offended by the exhaust. To turn it on, you just push a button and pull up on the handle, and it just works... on the first try! No oil to change, no gas to buy, no maintenance! The whole thing should have turned from a pain in the butt chore to an almost zen-like experience.

Since then I longed for a battery powered experience with an interchangeable power source that solved all of my issues. Obviously, the negative experience really hurt my willingness to branch out and try new battery powered devices, heck it has been 7 years! After 2014’s crazy snow storms I decided I could not go through another Michigan winter hand shoveling my driveway. I made the decision to get a snow-blower. I compared different models, talked with many people, and remembered my terrible experiences with gas powered ones in the past. The one thing a gas powered snow blower is good at, is not starting when you need it. You spend an hour fiddling with it, changing the gas, checking the spark plug, yanking on the cord, then usually, for the first snow you just give up, hope you didn't get frostbite, and hand shovel anyway.

Taking all of this into account, I decided to take a risk and purchase the Ryobi 40V battery powered snow-blower. My expectation was that I would be returning it once I realized that the two supplied batteries couldn't do half of my driveway. I mean, lofting snow 20-30 feet in the air has to be harder than cutting thin blades of grass with a spinning blade right!?

One thing that appealed to me is how Ryobi handled their conversion from NiCad to Lithium batteries in their power tools. As part of this conversion, Ryobi allowed you to use your old batteries in your new tools and your new batteries in your old tools. Their standardization of batteries and their long support for old standards is one of the biggest reasons I made this choice. Also, last fall I dipped my toe in the water with Ryobi’s 40V Chainsaw (I plan on doing an article on that as well) which worked incredibly well! The beauty is that this new snow-blower uses the same battery as that chainsaw. Not only would I be adding another great tool (if it worked) but would also be tripling my power for the chainsaw. Also, if this all worked out I had the potential to invest in a Ryobi lawn mower...

Normally, when accomplishing an unboxing you start on a table. Unboxing an appliance quite a different situation, hello floor! The box itself wasn't particularly significant, everything was packaged well enough. Pretty bland on the inside. They really aren't shooting for the consumer gadget market (they probably should though). Putting the snow-blower together was straight forward. One thing I would point out: installation of the rod that moves the re-director is not intuitive. There is a rubber grommet that looks like it plugs the hole but, you are supposed to shove the rod through the rubber piece. The rubber piece does NOT come out. Other than that, everything went as planned. In the box you will find: 2x 40V batteries, a velcro bag that allows you to strap the spare battery to the snow-blower, the snow-blower, and  a 40V battery charger

These batteries are relatively tiny if you consider the job that they are about to do. The batteries are about the size of a 6” sub sandwich and I was expecting it to plow through a foot of snow on a driveway that can fit 10-12 cars. At the time that seemed like fantasy. The batteries are pretty light and have a power indicator to tell you how much charge you have remaining. The design is robust and solid and have a rubber bumper all around. They seem built to take a significant drop, if necessary..

Design/Build Quality
When you first handle the Ryobi snow-blower, it feels really light and almost like a toy. After using it anywhere from 3-14 inches of snow, it seems much more robust than it feels at first glance. The battery slot is covered with a spring loaded door, and the re-director spout is solid. The rod that turns the re-director is a bit tricky to move in small increments and the part of the re-director that determines height of the spray can sometimes ratchet down to a lower level. I have heard this happens with all snow-blowers and is easily fixed.


This is where everything comes together. I will just say it now, this exceeded all of my expectations. I am able to get through my entire 10-12 car driveway, plow 2 extra spots in the grass and do the sidewalk. If I skip the 2 places in grass, my driveway usually takes one battery and then the sidewalk barely uses the second battery. There is no sign that the snow-blower has a lack of power, the one time it had power issues was the same place a single stage gas powered snow blower would, in dense (moist) deep snow. Only when I tried to plow the 13” snow that had melted to about 8 inches of super heavy and wet snow did I get it to stop the blade. Pull it back and try again and it goes like a champ. When you are in 10-13” snow, the snow is sometimes higher than the snow-blower itself, and it still throws the snow without a problem. The issue becomes your ability to continue to push it. Once you get the first line (which can be difficult in over a foot of snow) you can plow through subsequent lines without a problem. “Refueling” is as easy as pushing a button pulling out the old battery and inserting the new one... with your gloves ON! To start the blower, just hold the button and pull up the handle, it starts every time. This snow-blower has headlights, which I used extensively and they worked great. The headlights don’t seem to affect the battery life.

This was an exceedingly pleasant experience, it worked much better than expected and the universal battery could be beneficial if you decide to get any of Ryobi’s other tools. With the power that this snow-blower has it would compare favorably to any single stage blower. The only reservations you should have is if you are accustomed to a self propelled snow blower. This one doesn't have propulsion and also doesn't have a blade that hits the ground, so that will not provide additional propulsion. A week after I purchased this package, it dropped $50 from $400 to $350. The snow-blower alone is $279 so with the 2 provided batteries at $350 you are essentially getting a free battery, one at half price and a free charger. It appears as though the battery powered revolution has arrived and I could not be happier!

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