In 1837 blacksmith John Deere fashioned his first polished-steel plow. These days, the John Deere company is making self-driving tractors. The John Deere Tango autonomous mower is out there driving itself around distant yards with white picket fences. The Husqvarna Automower competes with it in the war of the mowing robots.
Lawn mowers have come a long way, and now they’re going a long way without the help of a human operator. But for those of us who aren’t interested in letting a robot do the work for us, there’s still the big world of riding lawn mowers and the people who love to use them.
Riding lawn mowers are state-of-the-art, and so are the tires. If you have some serious mowing to do, it helps to have a tire that can handle the type of terrain you need to tackle. Here’s a rundown on the world of riding lawn mowers and riding lawn mower tires.
Difference Between a Riding Mower and a Tractor
A lawn tractor is a heavy-duty beast of a machine for large jobs. Manufacturers took the farm tractor prototype and miniaturized it, attaching a deck with blades to the bottom. Consider a tractor if you have more than half an acre to tackle, and an incline to ascend. According to Consumer Reports, tractors get better traction than riding mowers, so they’re better for hills, and you get a reliably even cut.
The zero-turn-radius riding mower (ZTR) isn’t great for hills. However, these mowers have better maneuverability than tractors, so they’re best if you have plenty of obstacles to deal with in your lawn. They’re also faster than tractors. While tractors cut a 42- to 54-inch swath, ZTRs cut 42- to 60-inches. The best ZTRs cut as evenly as tractors and are a lot like the mowers landscapers use.
If you don’t have a ton of money or space to store a tractor, and your lawn is smaller than an acre, the rear-engine rider may be right for you. Be advised, they only cut a 30-inch swath, they’re slower than both ZTRs and tractors, and they don’t get as even of a cut.
Both ZTRs and rear-engine riders have gas-powered, one or two cylinder engines in the rear, while the tractor’s engine is in the front. There are also electric options, such as the Ryobi R48110. All types of riding mowers can side-discharge, mulch, or bag grass clippings. The best kind for you depends on the nature of your yard’s terrain.
Lawn Mower Maintenance
Like any vehicle, your riding lawn mower requires maintenance over time. An electric requires blade-sharpening, and a gas-powered requires tune-ups and oil changes. Mike Lafollette from Angie’s List recommends taking the DIY approach. To tune up his own mower, Mike spent $30, while the professionals quoted him $50 to $75.
Mike took the following steps to tune his mower:
- Disconnect spark plug
- Drain oil
- Install a new air filter
- Install a new spark plug
- Use a metal file or bench grinder to sharpen the blade
- Add new oil and gas
- Connect spark plug
Additionally, you’ll want to check and make sure your tires aren’t worn-out. A worn-out tire won’t get the traction you need. There’s not a lot worse than finding yourself sliding down a steep incline on a mower. If your riding lawn mower tires are damaged, consult a sizing and buying guide.
Riding Lawn Mower Tires: What to Look for
There are multiple types of riding lawn mower tires to choose from, and you want to make sure you buy a tire that’s right for your mower. If you’re running a tractor and your lawn’s on a hill, you want a tractor tire that offers toughness and traction. The Carlisle Fast Trax is a low profile tire for maximum speed, and it has an aggressive tread pattern for maximum traction on hills.
If you’re running a ZTR, there are specific tires for those too. The Carlisle AT101 has a design that makes it ideal for the maneuverability a zero-turn-radius requires. It also offers good traction so you can get the most out of your ZTR in diverse terrain.
For an affordable, all-around tire that will go great on your rear-engine rider, the Carlisle Straight Rib is good call. Straight Rib tires are tough, with a long life and good traction; they’re cheap riding lawn mower tires that won’t leave ruts in your lawn when it’s a little wet outside but you need to get the job done.
The Luxury of Riding
Overall, a riding lawn mower enables you to cut your grass faster than a manual-reel (the old-fashioned kind), a push mower, or a self-propelled mower. And there’s something downright luxurious and fun about sitting back and steering your way around your lawn.
If you’re like Stephen Volkins, you take the speed factor seriously. Clocking in at 87 mph, Volkins broke the 80 mph landspeed mowing record with the Runningblade—a custom-made mower that’s not even on the market. Don’t worry, there are a number of other luxurious mowers you can buy. As autonomous mowers whir their way into the market, riding lawn mower manufacturers keep making more advanced technology to stay ahead of the robotic competition.