Monday, June 1, 2015

Pros and Cons of Zero-Turn Mowers with Steering Wheels

Curb appeal for any residence begins with the yard.  Is the lawn well groomed?  Are there pleasing ornamentals and other flowering plants, fire pits, and/or water features placed aesthetically and creatively on the property?

Even if there are many outside landscaping add-ons the majority of most lawns are grasses.  And it is in the maintenance of that particular major form of flora that requires a good mower.

Lawn Cutting History


The lawn mower was invented in 1830 in England.  It worked mechanically using multiple blades rotating around a horizontally placed cylinder.  It was a major labor-saving device over the standard scythe most people used for trimming; for decades this newfangled implement was the best way to mow a lawn (though originally intended solely for sporting grounds’ and parks’ maintenance).

The first to use a power source was a steam one invented (again, in England), in 1893.  It could be fueled by either kerosene or paraffin but took several hours to warm up.  The first gasoline powered one arose in the US in 1914 based on a patent by Ransom E. Olds (the automobile manufacturer of the iconic Oldsmobile, among other car models).

The first self-propelled unit came along in 1922.

Riding Lawn Mowers


These drive like miniature farm vehicles.  They have small, front mounted motors, seating for an operator, gearing controls, and guidance mechanisms (mostly steering wheels, though some have left- and right-hand levers for turning).  For larger lawns with wide open spaces “riders” are very efficient and labor-saving, keeping the operator from having to walk the length of a yard behind the cutting device.

Zero-Turn-Radius Power Lawn Mowers


Complex landscaping architecture required a means of cutting taller grass around them without having to go back and trim by hand with shears or with a smaller, powered implement (such as the modern Weed Eater®).

To accommodate more complex yards the “zero-turn-radius” mower, a device that effectively can be rotated upon its central z-axis (assuming the ground is gridded along the “x” and “y” axes) was invented in 1963.  The earliest ones used a series of pulleys and gears to allow maneuvering closely to objects, tightly cutting around landscape features, turning on a dime (as it were), without the operator having to go back later and do trim work by hand.

A viable commercial model, however, was not available until 1969 (courtesy of Grasshopper).

Advantages and Disadvantages of a Zero-Turn Model


In the United States, the majority of home owners do not own substantial pieces of real estate.

On average, any new-home lot size (per the 2010 US Census) is slightly under one-half acre (close to 0.2 hectares).  For such people an ordinary 2-stroke power cutter (not even self-propelled) is likely the best buy for the use he/she would get out of it (likely once a week for about three or four months per year at most).  Thus, one disadvantage of getting a “tight turn” model would be buying too much for the property it is required to maintain.

However, there are those who live on “nickel millionaire” lots in the US (usually five acres—around 2 hectares—or slightly more).  The size of these spaces requires powered equipment to keep the lawn looking well groomed without an excessive investment in literal hours of people working to maintain it.

For the simplest, but slightly larger and most nondescript lawns, a run-of-the-mill rider or lawn tractor (with a bush-hog style drag-along cutting device) will suffice.  Opulent grounds—perhaps featuring statuary, small fish ponds, and/or multiple large plantings—require something more maneuverable than a mere riding cutter.  This is where the tighter turning unit comes into its own. Shearing labor time (whether it is the homeowner doing the work or he/she is paying someone to do it for him/her) is a definite advantage.  These save time in mowing by closely trimming around yard works.

Many are “sulky” models (named for the horse-drawn conveyance) requiring the operator to stand up on the cutting deck using left and right vertically-mounted levers to control direction; the standing position can be fatiguing for some.  So, that could be a “con”.

There are, however, riding versions of the zero-turn model that employ a traditional steering wheel for maneuvering.  These are very similar in design to any standard, seated-operator tractor; the only difference is in the tighter turning the unit affords.

Be prepared, however, to pay more: on average, these are half again as much as any similar ones that do not feature that option.  Extra cash outlay can be considered a major disadvantage.

And because they have more “moving parts” maintenance and repairs can be costly as well.

Where are Good Places to Buy These Units?


Almost any home improvement outlet (Home Depot or Lowe’s) or any major general retailer (such as Sears) carries such mowers.  Brand choice is up to the consumer—Cub Cadet was a pacesetter and is favorably rated.  John Deere, the iconic farm equipment maker (while a late-comer to tight-turn-radius mowers) also makes several well-liked and good performing models.

Also, one can find such mowers for sale—used—on craigslist or eBay.

The consumer needs to think, at the most basic, what his/her needs are for his/her lawn care.  A simple lawn only requires a simple mowing solution: a more complex yard may require a zero-turn mower.

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