First thoughts: Brill manual reel mower
Now that I have a real house with a real yard, I have to (yuck) mow the lawn. I don't want a gas mower because of the noise and pollution. That leaves two options: manual and electric. Here's my experience to date.
After much research, I started with electric. About a month ago I picked up the Black and Decker MM875 corded electric mower from Home Depot. Price was about $230, plus I needed a 100ft 14 gauge power cord. I've used it twice, and my step-father used it once when he helped us move. His conclusion: "I'd lose my religion if I had to use that mower again." My conclusion: good mower, but the cord is a royal pain in the butt. Even after figuring out a mowing pattern where I'd have minimal cord hassle, I still estimate that I spent 50% of my time wrangling the cord. If you're thinking about buying electric, I'd suggest looking at the CMM1000 cordless mower instead of the corded ones.
So now I'm trying manual. I bought the Brill Luxus 38 from Clean Air Gardening and mowed on Saturday morning. My grass was about 2"-2.5" high, and the highest cut height on the Brill is 1.8". In hindsight, I should have mowed immediately after my last mow with the Black and Decker rather than waiting a week. The Brill bogged down in many places for a reason I hadn't thought of before: a 2-wheel mower follows the terrain differently than a 4-wheel mower. With every subtle dip the Brill will follow the dip instead of skimming over it, as a 4-wheel mower would. This made for some tough cutting since my lawn isn't completely flat.
I also quickly noticed that if the wheels aren't turning on a push mower, neither are the blades. Any time the wheels lost traction -- even just a little slip -- it would show in the cut. In many places I needed to go over the same grass a couple times to get an even cut. When I needed to muscle the mower through stuff, I was pushing down more than forward, just to keep wheel traction.
Curiously, in one area the grass would only cooperate if I mowed in a specific direction. For example, going East to West it would be okay, but I couldn't go West to East without the mower constantly binding. I can't explain that one. So I'd mow a row, drag the mower backwards (blades disengaged), then cut another row.
About halfway through I swore I'd finish the job, but the mower was getting shipped back ASAP. Afterwards, though, I reconsidered. I'm going to reserve judgement until a couple more mows. The main reason is that the first cut is probably much harder than subsequent cuts. Given that the grass should have been shorter when I mowed, plus the mower is following the terrain more closely, I'm willing to give the mower the benefit of the doubt.
The second reason is that when the mower is running along, it's much more pleasant than any other mower I've used. There's little noise to annoy the neighbors (or myself) with. It's neat watching as the grass clippings get tossed up. But the main thing is that I have a sense of causality when using the manual mower -- it's me cutting the grass, and I feel like I accomplished something afterward.
I'm titling this entry "first thoughts" because it's not fair to judge this mower with one use. I'll post further entries as I get more experience, and I hope that after a month I'll have some useful thoughts to share with others considering manual reel mowers.
UPDATE: I have since switched to a Scott's Classic reel mower, which I'm a lot happier with.