Ride-ons fill the gap. They are perfect where productivity is a priority but where there are obstacles and intricate areas, as well as for places where the grass is left to grow a little longer between cuts.
The size of sites to be mown, access to them, the degree of on-site manoeuvrability required and travel or transport methods between sites are issues to consider from the outset. It is also crucial to look at the type of vegetation on site, its density, how often it needs cutting and the required standard of finish.
There are a huge number of brands and models available and within each model type there can be different engine options. Machines may come in the form of a lawn tractor, compact tractor, out-front rider or zero-turning ride-on mower, but most will have two to five rotors driven either by a power take-off shaft or a V-belt from the mower engine.
Consider whether the machine is needed only for mowing or whether a more versatile machine with attachments could be used for other tasks. Many compact tractors are offered with mid-mounted rotary mowers, effectively making them ride-on mowers. But they can also power or trail equipment for top dressing, cultivation and hedge cutting.
Width of cut, mowing speed, travel speed and manoeuvrability will determine a mower’s productivity. Size and productivity should be matched to the volume of grass to be cut. Out-front rotaries, especially zero-turning machines, are renowned for their nippiness and should be a considered where sites are littered with obstacles.
They have the advantage of good visibility, making them well suited to trimming verges on housing estates, as well as mowing in parks, amenity areas and golf courses. Interest in zero-turners continues to gather pace with the introduction of new machines by Kubota, John Deere and Toro.
Contractors with a number of different sites to maintain may find interchangeable decks are a handy feature. Some models allow cutting heads to be changed — ie rotary to flail or even cylinder — while others offer mulching decks as an option to the side or rear discharge decks. Etesia has introduced a new mulching deck for its Hydro 124D.
For commercial users with contracts for “cut and collect”, this option provides the best of all worlds by using a single power source for both applications. Etesia has also introduced a ride-on mulching mower — the 25hp Hydro 144.
The need for collection of clippings should also be reviewed at an early stage. If you opt for a collection system, be sure to check that the collector can be tipped or emptied into skips or trailers — ideally without the operator having to leave the seat.
Check that controls are clear and simple to understand and that all adjustments, such as height of cut, are easy to make. Since operatives often spend long hours grass cutting, it is vital that the seating is comfortable and fully adjustable and that the machine is easy to drive. Many rider rotaries have hydrostatic drive and power steering to reduce operator fatigue.
All-wheel drive, as seen on the new Pro machines from Husqvarna, is an advantage when driving over uneven surfaces or where access is difficult.
Fuel type is another issue. Petrol, diesel and LPG models of rotary mower are available. As well as thinking about the cost of fuel, you need to look at how spare fuel can be stored.
Safety should never be underestimated. Mowers have moving parts and sharp blades — all of which need the correct guarding — but there is also the question of stability on rougher ground and particularly on embankments.
US mower manufacturer SCAG is now fitting ROPS as standard and at no extra cost to all its ride-on machines. The firm has also taken the technology of its larger mowers and applied it to small platform machines to give 91cm and 106cm versions of the Z-Cat.
Simon Tullett Machinery of Warwickshire supplies SCAG mowers in the UK and on the Continent.
Since considerable space would be needed to list all the ride-on rotary models available in the UK, this Buyers’ Guide concentrates on models with a cutting width in excess of 120cm.
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