How to buy - Ride-on rotary mowers

The size and manoeuvrability of ride-on rotaries makes them ideal for mowing intricate areas.

Ride-on rotary mowers fill the gap between the walk-behind machines, which are handy for small areas and trimming, and the massive gang mowers, which are capable of mowing their way across wide, open spaces. Ride-ons come into their own where there are obstacles and intricate areas as well as on those sites where the grass is left to grow to a greater length before cutting.

What is the type of vegetation and its density, how often does it need cutting and what’s the required finish?

These are some of the questions that need answering before you choose a model suitable for the job. The size of the sites to be mown, access to them, the degree of on-site manoeuvrability required and travel between sites are other important issues. There is also the matter of whether you want just a mower, or if you want something more versatile — something that will mow when there is grass to be cut, but can turn to other jobs when needed.

Options and extras

Like pedestrian rotary mowers, ride-on rotary machines come in a wide variety of options. Most will have two to five rotors driven by a power take-off shaft or a v-belt from the mower engine. Or machines may come in the form of a lawn tractor, compact tractor, out-front rider rotary or zero-turn riding mower. Each type has its advantages.

Machine size and cutting width can range from the small lawn tractor to the wide mowing expanse of multi-decked equipment. Size and productivity of machines should be matched to the volume of grass to be cut, but don’t forget to take manoeuvrability into account.

Dedicated ride-on rotary mowers, and especially the zero-turn machines, are noted for their nippiness where there are lots of obstacles. Speed of travel can be just as important as mowing speed when there are several areas to be cut at one location.

Most ride-on rotaries claim to be productive, highly manoeuvrable machines capable of knocking down fairly long grass to leave a good finish, but consider whether you want a dedicated mower or something more. A lot of compact tractors are offered with a mid-mounted rotary mower attachment so, in effect, they become high-output ride-on mowers. They can also take a vast choice of rear-mounted equipment for other tasks from top dressing to cultivation and even hedge cutting.

Front mowers have advantages in manoeuvrability and the visibility of the grass to be cut. They are ideal for trimming on housing estates, verges, parks and amenity areas, and golf courses. Nearly all out-front rotaries and zero-turners have hydrostatic transmission and many have power steering, so driving them is relatively effortless.

If you have sites with different types of grass to be cut, it might be worth investigating mowers with interchangeable decks. Some models offer the facility to swap between cylinder-reel, rotary and flail cutting decks and heads. Make sure you understand what is involved and how long it is likely to take to change these attachments.

The importance of collection should be considered at an early stage. Rotary mowers with side discharge, and some with rear-discharge, can often be fitted with a grass collecting system. The cutting rotors create a vacuum under the deck and lift the clippings for delivery into a bag or box. If productivity is your priority, check that the collector can be tipped or emptied into a skip or trailer without the operator having to leave the seat. If clipping collection poses disposal problems, consider mulching decks where the clippings are cut and re-cut within the deck chamber before being dispersed as tiny pieces into the bottom of the sward.

And do you want to use petrol or diesel? The latter will provide a cost bonus if you have access to agricultural or ‘red’ diesel, but it is important to consider other costs such as maintenance and servicing. Make sure that all the adjustments – including height of cut and altering the seating position – are easy tasks to do.

Safety can’t be emphasised enough, especially where sharp blades are involved. Study the safety features of each model. By law there has to be an operator’s presence control but you should also look at the comfort features offered. When operators are uncomfortable, they can quickly become fatigued. And fatigue leads to accidents.

The best buying decisions are taken after you have tried the machines for yourself. Wherever possible try to get a demonstration in similar conditions to those in which you expect to use the equipment. And don’t forget to ask about the warranty and dealer backup in terms of servicing and spare parts.

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