0 Ride-on mowers - Nimble numbers on the turf

There's a plethora of ride-on mowers on the market which can make purchasing a complex process. In this article we talk to Phil Catley, Key Account and Product Manager at Kubota to get some pointers on choosing the right ride-on when space is tight and look at some examples of how the company's machines are solving grounds management challenges.

Front mowers offer high outputs but can also use their rear-wheel steering to manoeuvre around obstacles

Ride-on mowers come in a vast range of shapes and sizes and a contractor or grounds maintenance manager may have several machines from different manufacturers, the same manufacturer or even different sizes of the same machine for one venue.

Choosing the right machine comes down to a number of factors, suggests Kubota's Key Account and Product Manager, Phil Catley.

"Whether specifying machines for a new contract or facility or upgrading an existing fleet, consider what your priorities are for grasscutting. How many cuts per season will you make and thus how long will the grass be when you come to tackle it? How important is finish or is output more of a priority?"

Modern rotary decks can provide a high-quality finish at a variety of cut heights and work in long or wet grass, he points out.

Formal areas, caravan parks and housing contracts are examples of the type of job that requires grass collection, for an enhanced appearance and to prevent clippings being carried indoors.

"Collector mowers need to be effective, high in capacity and convenient," comments Phil. "On our compact G21E, for example, the three-bladed deck works with the Glide Cut system which allows additional air to be processed, helping with effective collection."

A ride-on collector mower works well for general use sites where it is needed to mow close to buildings / A small ride-on can be a great asset to back up a tractor mower and where a high standard of presentation is required

"When we updated our popular G-series mower, particular attention was made to making the discharge chute taller and wider for reliable collection in all conditions. The twin blade cutting system gives a smooth, continuous flow of grass which further enhances efficient collection."

Delivery of power to the mower deck is also important, he points out, with an electromagnetic PTO clutch replacing a hydraulic PTO on the G series, giving a more positive drive for consistent cutting in all conditions.

"We also offer high tip and low dump options depending on whether the requirement is to tip into a trailer or onto a heap. For a contractor, being able to take the clippings away can be a strong selling point."

Platform Housing Group runs a wide range of Kubota mowers for different locations, but for challenging work on general use sites, cut and collect and a high level of manoeuvrability are key, so the Kubota G261 fits the bill precisely.

Service manager Simon Harris comments: "The latest machines offer extra productivity and quality. The G261 has replaced a G23 in the fleet, and as well as the wider deck we are getting a better cut, while the flow of material from the deck to the cut is more streamlined. We've also noticed that with the adoption of the latest engine technology, the mowers have a better transmission of power."

Ease of altering cut height is a point to look out for when choosing a mower if it is needed to tackle both longer grass and high presentation areas

Many jobs will include cutting in some sort of restricted area, which points to the use of a ride-on rather than a tractor mower. But as well as considering the size of the area and its access, there may be obstacles to negotiate from low branches to playground furniture and flower beds.

A small ride-on can also be a great back up to a tractor mounted or wide area mower, as Thirsk Racecourse has found with Kubota's GR2120. Head groundsman Steve Kelsey explains:

"The GR2120 is used to cut along the rail where we can't get a big machine but still need an efficient mowing solution," he explains. "We also use it for areas such as enclosures and lawns where we need a good finish."

The GR2120 features Kubota's Glide Steer system for manoeuvrability, which cuts power automatically to the inside rear wheel when the turning angle reaches 70 degrees. By allowing the inner wheel to spin freely while the outer wheel powers the mower through its turn, damage to the grass is avoided while the mower continues cutting tightly around trees, posts and other obstacles.

"A compact machine can be highly productive where there are lots of obstacles and narrow access, and if you don't need collection, a rear discharge/mulching mower such as the new Kubota G261 RD could be ideal," comments Phil Catley.

A smaller machine need not mean sacrificing output - the G series has a travel speed of up to 19kph, so it is much swifter to move between grass areas.

Then there's the choice between zero turn and steering wheel machines - an out-front is the ultimate for output and offers a great view of the deck while still being very manoeuvrable with its rear wheel steer, but a zero turn can spin within its own length in really tight spots.

A mulching mower that can access tight areas can offer a combination of high workrates and manoeuvrability

Equestrian venue Keysoe International is one of the first to use Kubota's latest generation of front mower, the F251, as Grounds Manager Bob Richardson explains: "There are large open grass areas which are cut with a tractor mounted mower, but we also have 150 cross-country jumps, 200 trees and three man-made lakes - which serve as water jumps - to mow around."

"We wanted ride-on mowers to cut these areas efficiently while encouraging a good sward which makes for safe, inviting footing for the horses," he adds.

"We run both machines together and get fantastic workrates," explains Bob. "We've used them in all conditions - they went through some overgrown paddocks with ease, where our other mowers had struggled, and they are stable enough to use on the bunds around competition arenas. The cross-country facilities are open from March to October so we need to be able to cut long, wet grass."

The F251 combines the latest stage V engine with a highly efficient two-range HST transmission and on demand 4WD to perform in demanding conditions, and the design is proven in heavy commercial use.

Height of cut is another consideration. Contractors and larger sites such as parks and hotels may need to cut at heights from 10cm on open spaces in the spring to 4-5cm on formal lawns. It can be an advantage to have a mower that cuts well at different heights and is easy to change, as Farnham Estates' Golf and Estate Manager Barry Smith points out:

"We have a traditional commercial rotary ride-on, but we need to cut at a number of different heights ranging from hotel lawns to lake surrounds, and swapping between them is a lengthy task on that machine. On Kubota's ZD 1211 zero turn, you simply lift the deck, choose the required height on a dial next to the driver's seat and away you go."

On other designs, such as the F series front mowers, height of cut can be adjusted by simply selecting the required position on the caster wheel axle. These mowers are also a good option for all year-use as the deck can be easily swapped to a flail for rough cutting or a brush for leaf or snow clearance, suggests Phil.

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