The backbone of any riding mower is the deck, which can be made one of two ways; solid “cast”, or welded/pieced together. While there are high quality mowers that use both methods, what will work best for you comes down to the terrain you will be using it on. Welded/pieced together decks that have been constructed from multiple parts tend to do better on hilly/uneven terrain (though they work just as well on flat terrain), in terms of durability. When shopping for a riding mower, look for a deck that best suits your lawn’s terrain.
In addition to the construction of the deck, the size is the next most important element, and it should also be matched to your lawn. Riding mowers come in sizes that range from 30 inches to 60 inches in terms of cutting radius. The smaller your lawn, the smaller the area you really need. Smaller yards, that no bigger than an acre can easily be managed with mowers that fall in the 30-42 inch cutting radius range. Whereas, much larger yards (2+ acres) should be managed with mowers with at least a 46 inch cutting radius. Consider how much you need to cut, as well as what type of terrain you have (hilly/flat or a mix). Look for a mower with the biggest cutting area and best deck construction that will be able to handle your terrain.
Engine and Transmission
There are three types of transmissions available for riding mowers; manual, automatic, and hydrostatic. Manual transmissions offer a set range of speeds and require the use of a clutch to shift between them. While the speed for an automatic transmission mower is determined by how much gas is given via the accelerator pedal. Hydrostatic transmissions use fluid pressure in place of belts and operated similar to automatic transmissions. When considering a new riding mower, here are some simple notes to keep in mind; standard are good for long and straight stretches, automatic are good for making lots of turns around obstacles and changes in terrain, and hydrostatic are the top of the line, and operate similar to automatic, but offer the smoothest ride and least amount of maintenance.
Adjustable Cutting Height
Very basic riding mowers offer little to no adjustment for cutting height (and often require you to stop and manually adjust something). This can lead to difficulty in uneven terrain and finer lawn manicuring. It is essential to look for a riding mower with a range of cutting heights (0.5-3 inches), and the ability to easily adjust between them. Look for models that have the height adjustment controls either right beside the seat, or right beside the floor pedals to help minimize strain and maximize convenience.
Supportive and Comfortable Seating
Using a riding mower in even a small yard can take around 30 minutes from start to finish, and often can take upwards of an hour or more depending on the size of yard. All that time spent riding can either feel like a Sunday drive, or a back road misadventure, depending on how comfortable and supportive the seat is (the type of engine can also affect the comfort by determining how smooth the ride is). For anyone with a back problem, or anyone who’d like to avoid extra aches at the end of the day, it is important to look for a cushioned and supportive seat, such at those that go to at least mid back for complete lumbar support.
Aside from being well-built, smoothly operating, and comfortable, user friendliness is one aspect that can get overlooked when shopping for a riding mower. In addition to having controls, like blade height, being setup for ease of use, things like a comfortable steering wheel, and simple propulsion and stopping mechanisms are also important. Some brands incorporate a number of user friendly features, such as Husqvarna R 120 series, which go the extra mile to make it both easy and comfortable for users of all backgrounds. If you want the most comfortable and easy to use riding mowers, be sure to look for key features, such as seating, control setup, and engine type that best suits your lawn size and preference (manual/automatic/hydrostatic).
As a brand, Husqvarna has come to stand for superior quality. They manufacture a large selection of lawn mowers, including riding mowers. Aside from their unique, bright orange coloration, they are known for making feature packed models that have some of the longest warranties and lifespans in the industry. Some of their top selling models, the YTH2V46, YTH2V48, and 960430173 for example, all carry trend setting features, such as hydrostatic engines, easy to operate pedals, supportive seating, sturdy decks, and easy blade adjustment systems. If you want a high quality riding mower that will last you for many years and provide an extremely smooth ride, then consider a Husqvarna.
Similar to Husqvarna, Poula Pro has a trademark coloration and reputation that sets them apart from others. Bright yellow with black accents (kinda like a bumble bee), Poulan Pro riding mowers come in a wide range of models. They are available in manual and automatic transmissions, so their grade in terms of performance does not tend to reach as high as other companies. What they lack for in luxuries, they make for in others ways, such as affordability and durability. As a beginner riding mower, the Poulan Pro PB155G42 is an excellent choice. Their extreme user friendly design makes then very popular for riding mower novices.
From a company that has worked hard to build a reputation for outdoor equipment, Troy-Bilt has a series of riding mowers that employs many of the trademarks the company has come to be known for. The Troy-Bilt 420cc 30” Premium Riding Mower, for example, is competitively priced, features all the top elements (supportive seating, easy to controls, quick cutting height adjustment, along with sturdy and flexible deck construction) that you would expect from a top of the line riding mower. While they offer a limit two year warranty, their terms are comparable to many other companies, which lends to their popularity and customer built reputation for outlasting expectations.
One brand that is always worth mentioning when it comes to riding mowers, Simplicity mowers tout themselves as being the meeting point when commercial grade and professional at home quality. Their modest seven model line of riding mowers includes a host of features to help find something for everyone. The big defining traits for Simplicity brand riding mowers are; Briggs and Stratton engines, well cushioned and supportive seating, affordable pricing, and cleaner (than some) running engines. Another element that Simplicity shares with some of the bigger name brands is a form of exclusivity. Only a limited number of dealers are allowed to sell Simplicity mowers, which is one measure the company takes to help ensure product quality.
Other brands of riding mowers, such as Yard Machines, John Deer, Swisher, and Weed Eater, make popular and durable models of mowers. While some, like the Weed Eater WE-One, offers a popular, but very basic riding mower, the company overall just does not offer enough to make the cut for many top ten lists. No matter which company you buy from, keep in mind that all riding mowers need to have the previously mentioned basic features. Commercial/professional quality riding mowers are ofter distinguished from standard, high quality riding mowers, by nothing more than the accessories and turning radius. The other major distinction that makes some brands equally popular to those listed above is personal preference. Brand loyalty can go along way, and for some it is the company that makes the mower, and for others it is the engine’s manufacturer.
The deck as a general feature can have one of two construction styles (cast/cut and welded). For higher quality, professional and commercial grade riding mowers, a pieced/welded deck is essential. It not only offers the greatest durability for any type of terrain, they also tend to have a lot longer lifespan when compared to a basic deck (which is cut or form molded from a single sheet of metal). If you have a large yard, varied terrain, or want to maximize your investment, look for models that have decks made from multiple pieces that have been welded together (which provides more flexibility and durability).
Dual OHV Engines
Lower quality riding movers utilize single cylinder engines (which have limitations in how fast they move, or how much weight they can carry). For truly highly quality (in at home and professional use mowers), never settle for less than two cylinders in the engine. For the best performance, look for dual OHV (over head valve) engine specifications. This particular setup has the valves above the pistons instead of the side, which maximized performance and increase the ease of repair and maintenance. OHV engines are also lighter/more compact than regular, which can make it easier to transport and store. If you want the best engine possible, look for models that utilize this advanced technology (for example Husqvarna and Yard Machines).
In general, few riding mowers come with a variety of accessories. Professional quality riding mowers tend to come with at least a few additional perks (or have such that can be purchased easily later on). Accessories to look out for include items such as clipping collector bags, mulching blades, clip-on awning (to help keep the sun at bay), and some for of seat-back add-on (for enhanced comfort/support). Brands like Husqvarna and Yard Machines are known for including or offering a wide range of accessories for their riding mowers. If you want a lot of perks and versatility, be sure to look for what types of accessories are included with the purchase or available, and their pricing (some less popular brands offer a lot of accessories but at a rather steep price when compared to others).