RIDE-ON VERSUS ZERO TURN MOWER
Choosing the right option for your property
After purchasing a bigger home, building on a large block or when you’re just updating the old Cox, a common purchasing decision comes to the forefront: Should I buy a conventional ride-on mower or go for a zero-turn?
This question comes up time and time again as our expert salespeople guide homeowners, landscapers and contractors through their options, so our resident lawnmower man, Andrew Watt, has put together some key points to help you find the right mower to suit your needs.
Speed, or more specifically mowing time, is usually the reason someone will opt for a zero-turn mower. Generally, a traditional ride-on (or lawn tractor as we call them) will mow at speeds up to 9km/h whereas a zero-turn (or EZTrak) mows at speeds up to 14km/h.
This extra speed does cut down mowing time from a pure ‘point A to point B’ perspective, but the real reduction in mowing time comes from not needing to stop and reverse at every corner. For a regular 90-degree turn in a lawn tractor, you’ll need to reverse at least once to do a typical 3-point turn.
An EZTrak, by comparison, has a motor driving each rear wheel working independently of each other, meaning turns can be as tight or as wide as you like. No reversing means faster turns, and over an acre of lawn, this will save you up to 20 minutes of mowing time.
This speed does come with a drawback: If your lawn has a few holes, tufts of grass, or is more of a mix of weeds and rocks than turf, you will find the suspension of an EZTrak more like a bucking bull than a C-class Mercedes.
Being built for speed and manoeuvrability reduces the number of tasks you can perform with a zero-turn versus a lawn tractor.
As a rule, a lawn tractor will be more versatile, as they are capable of pulling larger loads in trailers and attaching to more implements like front and rear blades, tillage tools, sprayers, aerators, dethatchers, spreaders, rollers and sweepers as well as the ability to fit baggers and catchers.
Although EZTraks are able to do some of these things, they are not designed to pull loads so they do have their factory-defined limitations.
The design of an EZTrak puts the operator lower and further rearward in the machine when compared to a lawn tractor. This places the edges of the deck in great view, not to mention having no engine, bonnet or steering column in front gives you great forward visibility all the way to the front of the machine.
Along with increased manoeuvrability, this visibility allows you to get up close and personal with garden beds, around and under trees, closer to the clothesline and reduces the amount of whipper snipping required. A lawn tractor still provides great visibility to the edges of the deck but you will find good use of the optional front bumper bar should you like to ‘touch park’ close to fences and shrubs!
When it comes to slopes, there’s steep and there’s STEEP. Both a lawn tractor and EZTrak will handle any slope up to about 10%, or a 1m rise over a 10m distance. For slopes greater than 10%, two main deciding factors come into play: mowing direction and your climate.
If your slope is okay to drive across sideways but you often have to mow when the grass is wet, then opt for a lawn tractor as the front wheels have more traction than the front casters on an EZTrak. If the weather is not a problem, then the EZTrak is the best choice as they have a lower centre of gravity.
If your slope is not okay to traverse sideways and you can only mow up and down, then the EZTrak may be a better option. SAFETY TIP: never drive forwards up the hill, only reverse up the hill and mow forwards back down the hill. This will prevent the EZTrak flipping up backwards as all the weight is in the rear of the machine.
If the weather normally forces you to mow wet grass, the EZTrak in this instance will be your better option as the extra weight over the rear tyres will add more traction when reversing up the hill when compared to a lawn tractor.
Operator skill… and confidence
It’s no secret that the steering on a zero-turn is great fun but can also take some practise. It’s very important to understand who is going to be operating the mower and their ability to learn new skills. If you balk at the thought of handling the EZTrak levers to control both speed and direction, then it is probably best to stick with a conventional lawn tractor. If the thought of a new challenge excites you, then there are some easy ways to get acquainted with the controls.
Start in a wide-open area, get used to the speed control then slowly turn left and right multiple times. Sit a plastic bucket in an open area and practise turning around it until you can get as close as possible without touching it. Change the bucket out for a bag of dogfood or fertiliser and try to avoid ripping it open. For the first few mows, make it a rule not to go faster than half speed, and only a quarter speed on the first lap. This should help get you comfortable with an EZTrak.
Another important thing to remember is that an unskilled operator can do more damage to your lawn with a zero-turn than they can with a lawn tractor. This is because the EZTrak will turn sideways quickly and the side of the deck and deck wheels can dig into the turf if you’re not careful. A lawn tractor’s deck always follows the front wheels and is less likely to have the same problem. An experienced operator on a zero-turn will remember to continue forward motion as they turn to avoid potential turf damage or scalping.
As you can see, the decision between a ride-on and a zero-turn can be a tricky one. That’s why we recommend looking at your own requirements to make the right choice.
For me personally, I’ve chosen a Z355E EZTrak for my 1 acre of lawn because I wanted to “mow well fast” and don’t mind pushing the wheelbarrow, spreader and sprayer around by hand. Should I have been closer to retirement age and not in my 30s, I would have opted for the D130 or X384 lawn tractor to have more versatility.