Let me set the scene. It’s hot. You want to get the lawn trimmed and edged, but you dread the thought of pulling out that trimmer because you know you’ve got to yank on that cord several times before it will fire up. Often the cord binds on the first or second pull, and your muscles are simply crying out before you even pick the motor up to give it a try. But what if you never had to pull that rope again? Several companies have designed and patented different technologies to make starting trimmers easier. While for many this involves a sophisticated pull system, the Ryobi Touchstart trimmer uses a 12V battery and an electric starter system to automate this process. This adds a little weight to the overall product, but with a 30cc engine and a push-button start, this may be the perfect product for some.
This isn’t the product if you’re some kind of tough guy… but what about the single mom trying to make ends meet – or the younger motivated teen wanting to earn some money on the side and start a lawn care business. How about the senior who can do the work, but doesn’t necessarily look forward to the thought of pulling that cord one more time. For those, this is a great product that has lots of potential and meets a clearly defined need.
Editor’s Note: Check out our best gas string trimmer article for our top recommendations.
Ryobi Touchstart Straight Shaft Trimmer Build Quality
The Ryobi Touchstart Straight Shaft Trimmer comes with a hefty 30cc 2-cycle engine, making it a pretty powerful product and certainly something that is going to tear its way through all but the most stubborn grasses. The pull cord is tied into a half crank system and located at the front side of the motor. Ryobi provides ample protection over the hot parts of the motor and the choke is easy to access and comes clearly labeled for use. Above this is the primer bulb which circulates fuel through the system, making it ready for starting. Since this system utilizes a starter motor and 12V battery system, the trimmer also includes a cable harness that protects the wiring going from the starter switch to the starter motor. The fuel tank opens to the left, just below the choke, so you’ll need to tip the trimmer onto its side in order to fill it up. The Touchstart uses a 50:1 gas/oil mix.
Behind the engine, at the very rear of the trimmer, sits the electric starter motor. It is situated inside of a protective orange housing and is responsible for cranking over the motor when the start button is pressed and the 12V battery supplies energy to the system. It is the presence of this starter motor that adds the additional ~2 lbs we measured against Ryobi’s other 2-cycle offerings. In terms of total weight, we filled the tank halfway with fuel and measured 16.5 lbs on our scale. Compare this to Ryobi’s heavier 4-cycle Straight Shaft trimmer which comes in at 14.3 lbs. or their 2-cycle Straight Shaft trimmer which weighs less than 13 lbs with fuel.
Ryobi Expand-It System Compatibility
The Touchstart, like all of Ryobi’s currently-shipping trimmers, comes equipped with their Expand-it system, allowing it to handle any of their compatible attachments. Currently, the company has 7 attachments available:
- Edger (RY15518)
- Blower (RY15519)
- Pruner (RY15520)
- Cultivator (RY15550)
- Brush Cutter (RY15702)
- Hedge Trimmer (RY15703)
The Extended Reach Trimmer attachment (RY15522) is included with the Touchstart Straight Shaft trimmer. Our legacy Ryobi Edger attachment from circa 1998 also fit perfectly onto the shaft and allowed us to edge our lawn after we had made quick work of the weed-whacking. We really like the ease with which Ryobi makes exchanging accessories in its Expand-it line of tools possible. It takes an average of 60 seconds to flip out an attachment. You simply unscrew the knob, decouple the accessory and slide the new one into place. Simple. Easy. Convenient. If you’re not using this tool non-stop in a commercial environment, this system shouldn’t give you any problems and really extends the usefulness of the trimmer.
We like that Ryobi includes a Pro-Cut II string head in addition to their Reel Easy bump-style head. Bump heads can be convenient, however more often than not we end up reaching for the pro heads once they get finicky or cease to feed line like they did when they were new. For this review, we went immediately for the Pro-Cut II Head. You can try each and decide on which you like – just keep in mind that the Pro-Cut II will allow you to use a larger diameter string up to 0.105” in diameter.
The Electric Pushbutton Touchstart System
The most outstanding and obvious feature of the Ryobi Touchstart trimmer is the electric ignition system. This is facilitated by a 12V battery that is mounted to the underside of the throttle control and an electric starter that is located behind the motor which can crank over the engine when activated. While the system still possesses a half-crank and pull cord, it should only be necessary if your NiCd battery runs out of juice. If you keep the battery charged this won’t be an issue, however since there is only one battery included with the system it’s good to have a backup plan.
The charger that comes with the system is very simplistic, but it certainly gets the job done. It takes between 3 and 6 hours to recharge the 12V NiCd battery depending upon how depleted it is and whether the system has to go through a discharge cycle to reduce the effects of memory on the battery. The only thing we didn’t like about the battery charger is that it doesn’t have an indicator to show when the battery pack is fully charged. The red light stays on whenever the unit has a battery connected to it and the orange light really only glows when the system detects a highly discharged battery.
Once we assembled the unit and fueled it up, we started with the obvious… namely, starting it up. Unlike some competitive products where the electric start involves tethering the unit temporarily to a 120V outlet, Ryobi’s Touchstart system is completely portable and relies on a 12V NiCd battery to provide the power for turning over the motor. Before we pressed the button, we primed the motor and set the choke in the Start position. Then we flipped the rocker switch to the Start position and held it down. The engine started right up after the battery-driven starter cranked it over a couple times. Subsequent starts were even easier, with the tool firing up within about a half-second of pressing the button.
The Touchstart is only available in the Straight Shaft version, meaning that those desiring a curved shaft will be out of luck (Ryobi doesn’t offer this in its Expand-it line of attachments). This means that anyone under 5′ 8” may have difficulty using this trimmer due to its extended reach. I personally prefer the Straight Shaft and my guess is that Ryobi sells more of those than any other, however the curved shaft actually seems to better fit the demographic for which this outdoor tool is designed.
Reviewer’s Note: See our article on 2-cycle vs. 4-cycle engines.
We used this trimmer on a quarter acre lot that was in desperate need of some trimming – it having rained for a couple weeks straight with no attention paid to the grass. The 30cc motor seemed happy to comply and we never heard the engine struggle or the RPMs drop as we used the trimmer on even tall grasses that had grown up where the abundance of rain had blessed it.
The vibration on the Touchstart was extremely low, making this a very comfortable tool to use – even on larger yards where you may find yourself holding onto the trimmer for an hour or more. The straight shaft allowed us to really get into some hard-to-reach places and the Pro-Cut II head made changing string a total breeze.
Noise output during idle measured 85 dB SPL and at maximum throttle (using the standard Straight Shaft Extend-It attachment) measured in at 102 dB SPL. We certainly recommend ear protection as we would with any outdoor tool that measures over 95 db SPL.
We were very impressed with the Ryobi Touchstart Straight Shaft Trimmer. It’s a very simple product to use and seems perfectly suited for anyone with a disability, younger users, or those who simply don’t want the hassle of pulling a cord to start the motor. We gave the Ryobi Touchstart Trimmer a 6/10 for performance because it delivers good power and provides a different experience that is very unique within the industry. It does suffer from some additional weight, however it will be up to the user as to whether this sufficiently offsets the hassle of a pull-cord (we think it probably will). There are other no-pull options for trimmers, but this one is considerably more convenient than most. For value we gave it a 7/10 since this product directly approaches a niche market and does it successfully for little more than you’d pay for a standard model of this size and power.