Grass is a wonderful thing. On a lifestyle farm we usually either have too much or too little and the grass that does grow is often not where we need it - on the lawn, not the paddock!
One piece of equipment that can help make the task of managing grass a pleasure is the ride-on mower or lawn tractor. So, what is the difference between a ride on and a lawn tractor? Anything you ride on and mow is technically a ride on mower but when people refer to lawn tractors they generally mean a ride on mower with the engine mounted at the front of the vehicle with the mowing deck at the back. Other ride on mowers have rear mounted engine with a mowing deck below or in front of the driver.
A ride on with a rear mounted engine is very manoeuvrable and has a much smaller (as small as zero!) turning circle than a lawn tractor. Lawn tractors usually have steering wheels but other ride ons can have levers or foot controls. The reason these ride ons are so manoeuvrable is that the rear wheels are independently powered so you can turn really tight circles and mow around obstacles more easily.
So, what do you need?
What you need depends on what you want to do. All ride ons are not made equal and some are built specifically to cope with slopes, long grass or rough terrain. It's important to do your research and talk to your salesperson before making a decision.
9 most important things to discuss with your salesperson
- How often you will use the ride on: If you are trimming a lawn every few days you'll need a different machine to the one you'll need if you plan to use your ride on to top a 3 acre paddock when it needs tidying up. You need a ride on that is robust and powerful enough for your needs.
- What horsepower engine is appropriate: Generally ride ons will be between 13 and 20 horsepower. More horsepower is needed for wider cutting decks or machines designed to go over rough terrain. If your ride on has a catcher it will also need more horsepower to blow the grass into the catcher. Don't think more horsepower means a better mower, you often cant use or don't need as much horse power as some mowers have, efficient deck design will beat excessive horse power every time. Combining a big engine to a poor deck design will only result in more deck belt damage.
- What size mowing deck you need: Obviously, a wide mowing deck will mean less time spent mowing but there's a lot more to it than that. A wide deck is only appropriate on really flat land, on rougher ground it could result in a very uneven finish or even scalping patches of high ground. Also, a wider deck means you need wider gates and clearances between trees and fences.
- What you want to do with your grass once you've cut it: If you want to collect your grass then your ride on will need a catcher of some sort. When you're looking at ride ons, you should have a look at how the catcher will be emptied. Can you lift a catcher full of grass to dispose of it or does the ride on have a tipping or even hydraulic system to help you? If you don't want to bother disposing of the grass you can choose to return it to the garden or paddock, either as grass cuttings or mulch. Grass cuttings will be visible and can be raked up, mulched grass should be invisible and will help to improve the quality of your lawn.
- Who will use the ride on: Is the ride on comfortable for everyone who is likely to use it? Are the controls easy to use and, very importantly, is the seat comfortable? Controls vary widely between ride ons and everyone who will use the ride on should test drive it before buying. Some ride ons come with a drinks holder!
- Mowing wet grass: Wet grass is a challenge for mowers, if it's likely that you'll want to mow wet grass let your salesperson know. Wet grass is a bigger challenge if you want to catch the grass.
- What else you want your ride on to do: Ride ons and lawn tractors can do more than just cut grass, some come with tow bars to pull trailers. This is useful if you want to mow more than one catcher-full of grass at a time. If you intend to tow, check with the transmission manufacturers as to towing limits, ride on mowers are not tractors, and most will l have a towing limit of around 100kg, unless you are looking at Lawn Tractors. A good salesperson will be able to talk you through the options.
- Fuel and running costs: Almost all ride ons are petrol driven. Ask about fuel consumption and other running costs. How often will it need to be serviced and how much will that cost?
- Safety features: Does the ride on motor stop if you get off the mower?
Choosing a salesperson
This is the most important thing to get right! A good salesperson will be able to provide advice, a choice of ride ons and service to follow it up. Remember that the cost of ownership doesn't end at the purchase price, sometimes paying more to buy a mower designed to meet your needs will save a lot in repairs down the track. If possible get the salesman to visit your property and see for themselves what you need. Always get a demonstration, and check out the warranty requirements.
Your ride on will be a valuable asset and should be looked after. Keep it in a dry place when not being used or buy a cover for it. Make sure it is serviced when needed. Ride ons can be attractive to thieves so make sure you have adequate insurance.