Walking behind, even pushing (gasp!) a lawn mower is perfectly good exercise. But if you're responsible for a lot of lawn, it may be time to consider a riding mower. Then you may actually look forward to mowing the lawn; witness the pleasure my 84-year-old mother takes in zipping around her 2-acre yard on her riding lawn mower. She says that not only is it a peaceful time for her, but it's also an opportunity to see the fruits of her labors immediately.
If you mow anywhere from 1/2 to 2 acres of lawn, you most likely have or would like some type of mower you can ride on. Consider the time you'll save: figuring that most riding mowers will cut a swath that's 50 percent wider and will cut about twice as fast as a walk-behind mower, you'll finish mowing your 1/2 acre of turf in less than half the time.
Though there are several types of lawn mowers you can ride, this article is about only one of them, the rear-engine type. These mowers have evolved significantly over the last two decades. Today's models are more comfortable to use and more reliable mechanically. They also provide a better cut and have more efficient, quieter engines.
Rear-engine models also offer some key advantages compared to zero-turn (ZTR) mowers, small lawn tractors, and larger garden tractors. Rear-engine mowers are typically smaller and lighter than these, so they take up less garage or shed space; they are also easier to transport if necessary. Their lower center of gravity makes them safer than tractors on slopes.
Most importantly when compared to the lawn and garden tractors, they offer superior visibility (you ride at the front of the mower) and maneuverability (it's very easy to get around irregularly shaped lawns). Compared to ZTRs, which are operated by levers, they are easier to use.
Generally, rear-engine riders are powered by 8- to 14-horsepower gasoline engines mounted to the rear of the seat. Mowing decks are generally in the 25- to 38-inch range. Most have optional rear-bag collection systems or mulching decks, which return clippings to the lawn. Some models also have dethatching and raking capacity, and a hitch on the back--a handy feature for hauling carts with tools or soil. Most riding lawn mowers also now come with an electric start instead of a pull cord.
The following list includes all the main manufacturers of these mowers. Before you buy, check the companies' Web sites, then visit big discount stores, equipment supply companies, or specialty lawn mower stores to see what the various models offer. Try out mowers: how comfortable are they, is the seat adjustable, are the controls and pedals well located, how easy are they to maneuver? Check engine size, cutting width, turning radius, and type of transmission. Do you want a purely utilitarian vehicle or the top of the line? In general, price reflects the number of features.
AGCO Allis. Model 411G ($2,175) has a 10-1/2-horsepower engine coupled to a five-speed gear transmission, and a single 30-inch cutting blade. Model 414H ($2,865) has hydrostatic transmission and a 14-horsepower engine, and twin 34-inch blades. Both models are 33 inches wide and 61 inches long with a 12-inch turning radius, a switch-activated electric power-takeoff for the blades (separate from the starter), and a self-leveling mulching deck. Cutting height is 1 to 3-3/4 inches. Attachments are available.
Massey-Ferguson offers similar models in its 2400 Series: 10-1/2-horsepower model 2411G and 14-horsepower model 2414H. Simplicity Manufacturing offers similar models in its Coronet Series.
American Honda. Model H1011 SA ($1,850) has an electric start with five-speed transmission and cam-disk brakes. Model H1011 HSA ($2,200) has recoil start with hydrostatic transmission and cam-disk multiplate brakes. Each has a 30-inch cutting width, 16-1/2-inch turning radius, 11-horsepower air-cooled engine, and six-speed drive system. Cutting height is adjustable from 1 to 3-1/2 inches. Both models are 42-1/2 inches wide and 61-1/2 inches long.
Ariens. Model RM9028 ($1,650) has a 9-horsepower engine, a 28-inch mowing width, and is 35 inches wide; RM1330 ($1,800) has a 13-horsepower engine, a 30-inch mowing width, and is 41 inches wide; and RM1332 ($1,900) has a 13-horsepower engine, a 32-inch mowing width, and is 39 inches wide. All models have a six-speed drive system that can be changed without stopping, automobile-style steering, and a 26-inch turning radius; they are 62-1/2 inches long. Their floating deck is designed to eliminate scalping. Cutting height is adjustable from 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches. You can store and service all models in a convenient upright position. Attachments are available.
Craftsman. Model 27011 ($900) has a 12-1/2-horsepower engine, 30-inch mowing deck, and five-speed transmission. It is 37 inches wide and 56 inches long. Model 27021 ($1,100) has a 13-1/2-horsepower engine but is otherwise identical to the 27011. Model 27019 ($1,100) is the same as the Cub Cadet Yardbug (see below), but this version has a slightly more powerful 9-horsepower engine. It is 30 inches wide and 57 inches long. All have a 24-inch turning radius. \
Cub Cadet. The sleek, compact Yardbug ($1,200) has a 27-1/2-inch cutting width capable of side discharge, mulching, or catching clippings. The engine is 8-1/2 horsepower. Automatic transmission has pedal speed control, and all other controls are within easy reach. The rounded body lifts up to reveal the easily removed 2-1/2-bushel durable polymer bagging system with a monitor that shows the operator when the grass catcher is full. The Yardbug is 30 inches wide and 57 inches long; turning radius is 24 inches.
This same mower is marketed as the White Yardbug and the Yard Man Yardbug.
Husqvarna. The Rider 14Pro ($4,000) has the option of a three-blade articulated 38-inch side-discharge mowing deck or a 41-inch mulching deck. Either comes with a 14-horsepower, two-cylinder engine, hydrostatic drive, and an innovative steering system that allows for a remarkable 4-inch turning radius. The floating front-mounted deck follows ground contours to avoid scalping; cutting heights are adjustable from 1-1/2 to 3-1/2 inches. Model Rider 16H ($3,400) is the same except that it has a more powerful 15-1/2-horsepower engine and a slightly less efficient type of hydrostatic transmission. Both riders are 48 inches wide and 80 inches long.
John Deere. Two models have 13-horsepower air-cooled engines, a 30-inch cut, disk brakes, hand-lever power takeoff (this safety feature allows the operator to turn the blade on and off separately from turning on the motor), and a sector-and-pinion steering system that allows a 14-inch turning radius. Models are 42 inches wide and 61 inches long. Cutting height is adjustable from 1 to 4 inches. Model GX85 ($1,900) has an enclosed inline-shift five-speed transmission. Model SX85 ($2,150) has a variable drive transmission and foot-operated speed control. The newest John Deere riding mower is the SST.
Maxim. Heavy-duty lawnmowers all feature electric start with alternative manual recoil starter in case the battery needs charging, and either a five-speed automotive-type or a hydrostatic transmission, the latter adding $100 to $200 to the cost. Model M830BEIC ($1,890) has a 30-inch cut and an 8-horsepower engine; model 830BEIC ($1,996) is the same but with hydrostatic transmission. Model 1230BEIC ($2,069) has a 30-inch cut with a 12-horsepower engine; model 1230BEIC ($2,269) is the hydrostatic version. Model M1430BVGE ($2,459) has a 30-inch cut with a 14-horsepower engine; model MH1430BVGE ($2,619) is the hydrostatic version. Model M1442BVGE ($2,895) has a 42-inch cut with a 14-horsepower engine. Model 1330HE ($2,699) has a 30-inch cut with a 13-horsepower engine. All of these heavy-duty riders are 32 inches wide (44 inches with discharge chute attached) and 64 inches long.
Murray, Inc. Both models have a 30-inch cutting deck and a five-speed transmission. Model 30500x92 ($767) has a 10-horsepower engine, and model 30577x8 ($899) has a 12-horsepower engine. They are 33 inches wide and 56 inches long; turning radius is 19 inches.
Snapper. All the riding lawn mowers in this large selection have electronic ignition, electric start (with backup recoil starter), and five-speed transmissions (except the 381450HBVE, which has dual-path hydrostatic transmission). Most are about 64 inches long, and all feature the convenient stand-on-end capability for cleaning and storage. Turning radius is 28 inches, unless otherwise noted.
M280919B ($1,000) has a 9-horsepower engine with a 28-inch single-blade deck; it's 32 inches wide. Model M300919B ($1,050) has a 9-horsepower engine with a 30-inch single-blade deck; it's 41 inches wide.
Model M250819BE ($1,300) has an 8-horsepower engine with a 24-inch deck; it's 30 inches wide. Model M281019BE ($1,450) has a 10-horsepower engine and a 28-inch deck; it's 32 inches wide. Model M301019BE ($1,500) has a 10-horsepower engine with a 30-inch single-blade deck; it's 41 inches wide.
Model 281318BE ($1,800) has a 13-horsepower engine, 28-inch single-blade deck, and 19-inch turning radius; it's 32 inches wide. Model 301318BE ($1,850) has a 13-horsepower engine, 30-inch single-blade deck, and 21-inch turning radius; it's 41 inches wide.
Model 3314518BVE ($2,000) has a 14-1/2-horsepower engine with a 33-inch single-blade deck and a 21-inch turning radius; it's 38 inches wide, 65 inches long. Model 381451HBVE ($2,100) has a 14-1/2-horsepower engine with a 38-inch twin-blade deck and 23-inch turning radius; it's 49 inches wide, 65 inches long.
Model 331518KVE ($2,200) has a 15-horsepower engine with a 33-inch single-blade deck and 21-inch turning radius; it's 38 inches wide, 65 inches long.
Model 421618BVE ($2,600) has a 16-horsepower twin-cylinder engine with pressurized lubrication, a 42-inch twin-blade mowing deck, and a 23-inch turning radius; it's 52 inches wide, 65 inches long. Attachments available for all models include a dethatcher, snowdozer blade, tire chains, utility trailer, utility cart, and three bagging systems.
Toro. Two models are available. Model 8-25 ($1,500) has an 8-horsepower engine with five-speed transmission, a 25-inch mulching deck, and a 22-inch turning radius; it's 32 inches wide, 52 inches long. Model 12-32 ($2,000) has a 12-1/2-horsepower engine with five-speed transmission, 32-inch mulching deck, and 20-inch turning radius; it's 40 inches wide, 60 inches long.
Power equipment maven, writer, and photographer Maggie Oster grew up on a southern Indiana farm and lives today in Louisville, Kentucky.
Photography by Maggie Oster