An in-depth look at stand-on mowers
Stand-on mowers have proved to be more than just a fad. A hybrid of a walk-behind and a zero-turn riding mower, they are more maneuverable than a traditional zero-turn rider and, in some ways, safer and more comfortable for the operator over challenging terrain. Stand-on mowers come in varying deck sizes and engine sizes and offer ease of mounting and dismounting the mower; their short length means they are not only more maneuverable in tight quarters, but also easier to transport on a trailer or store in a garage or shed.
The stand-on mower genre got its start in October 1997 with Wright Mfg. Wright was already manufacturing the Velke walk-behind sulky, which converted a walk-behind into a ride-behind mower. Bill Wright, CEO and company founder, explains that while sulkies have substantially reduced operator fatigue, the mower still requires skill to maneuver and all the turning induces upper body fatigue. After reading an article in a business magazine about how manufacturers should attempt to make their own products obsolete so no one else can supersede them, Wright got together with Jim Velke, his engineer who helped design the Velke sulky, to come up with something that would top their own sulky. They came up with the idea of a stand-on mower, a mixture of a Velke attached to a walk-behind and a zero-turn rider.
“Sitting down is intuitively the best way to mow,” Wright says. “This needs to be trained out of people if they really want to seriously cut grass faster and mow steeper hills.” He says that standing does not cause much exertion on the operator’s body, because “it is a state of readiness, not rest.” The operator can shift their body from side to side or front to back to change the weight distribution as the mower crosses terrain; squat momentarily to cross under low-lying limbs without slowing down or changing the mowing pattern to avoid such obstacles; or exit off of the mower in the event of an emergency or to pick up debris.
In October 1997, Wright’s first stand-on mower rolled off the assembly line. “We built and shipped 89 Standers with 52-inch decks and 18 hp engines by the end of 1997,” he explains. Currently, the Wright lineup of stand-on mowers includes small frame Standers in 32, 36 and 42-inch fixed decks; large frame Standers with 48, 52 and 61-inch fixed decks; the Stander RH (Rapid Hite) models available with 36, 42, 48 and 52-inch quick height change fixed decks; and the Stander ZK in 52 and 61-inch decks, the fastest of the Standers at 15 mph. A 72-inch deck ZK is slated to be offered. Engine choices range from 27 to 37 hp, all Kawasaki manufactured. The Stander ZK features the Rapid Hite quick deck height adjustment, a suspended operator platform, fabricated seven-gauge deck with rubber discharge chute and heavy-duty deck carrier frame and front caster assemblies.
John Deere’s Quik Trak series currently consists of three models with decks ranging from 48 to 60 inches and engines from 19 to 23 hp. Gilbert Pena, segment strategy manager for John Deere’s commercial equipment division, noted John Deere’s 7 Iron II mowing deck, a seven-gauge deck whose shell is stamped from a single sheet of steel. Stamping, as opposed to fabricating (welding), permits John Deere to attain a uniform depth of the deck shell and eliminate corners that can allow grass build up. The 7 Iron II deck is a floating deck, enabling it to trace the contours of the turf. The adjustable forward reference bar enables the operator to stabilize the controls when traversing rough ground and maintain an even rate of travel speed. The reference bar can be unlocked and moved closer to the operator to limit forward speed for rough ground or to accommodate new users who are just getting the hang of mowing with a stand-on rider. The Quik Trak’s components are easy to access for routine service. “The padded operator support can be removed completely for accessibility purposes,” indicated Pena. Behind this pad is the dual hydrostatic transmission. Pena stresses that Quik Traks are easy to use, once you win the operator over that standing is better than sitting. “You have a better line of visibility of the trim side of the deck,” cites Pena. “You are also not as fatigued as if you are sitting.” He explains that your legs have the ability to flex with the motion of the mower, and you can react to terrain changes by shifting your weight. The current John Deere Quik Trak lineup consists of the 647A (19 hp Kawasaki engine with 48-inch deck), 657A (23 hp Kawasaki engine with 54-inch deck) and the 667A (23 hp Kawasaki engine with 60-inch deck).
“Stand-on units appeal to larger landscapers who are interested in efficiency,” says Mike Theucks, vice president of sales and marketing of Ariens. He explains that stand-on mowers are most effective on smaller properties or highly landscaped jobs. “In many of these applications, a larger ride-on unit is overkill,” he adds. Theucks explains that the operator’s weight is transferred below the centerline of the rear wheel hubs and that on a stand-on mower you are physically closer to your work, which means you have an improved view of your surroundings. “You can trim around landscaping without any problem,” says Theucks. Ariens is the parent company of Gravely, Great Dane and Everride. All three have stand-on mowers in their product lines: Pro Stance, Surfer/Super Surfer and Scorpion FX/Scorpion, respectively. They are available in a variety of deck and engine sizes. Theucks says the configuration with the 48-inch deck paired with either a 19 or 21 hp engine are the most popular sellers across the board. All three brands have a 34-inch deck version, which is gaining popularity among landscapers who care for gated properties. “The 34-inch easily fits through a standard 36-inch gate allowing for efficiency of a stand-on to mow the job instead of using a walk-behind due to gate restrictions,” Theucks says. The Gravely Pro Stance, Great Dane Surfer and Super Surfer and Everride Scorpion FX and Scorpion models come in 34, 48 and 52-inch deck sizes and 19 or 23 hp Kawasaki engines. The Super Surfer, Scorpion and certain models of the Pro Stance are floating deck stand-ons, with the remainder being fixed-deck units. All Ariens manufactured stand-ons feature an adjustable reference bar to limit the forward ground speed when necessary, such as mowing hillsides or rough terrain.
Toro is not a new name when it comes to commercial mowing equipment, but it is a new player in the stand-on market. At press time, Toro was holding a contest, “Name It & Claim It,” in which landscape professionals submit ideas to name the mower. The winning name would earn the entrant the first stand-on off of the assembly line. Ross Hawley, marketing product manager for Toro’s Landscape Contractor Equipment division, explains that this type of mower can be used on a wide variety of properties. “Properties that required both a zero-turn and a mid-size, walk-behind unit in the past often can be mowed by a single stand-on unit,” he says.
“It further enhances productivity by allowing the operator to either ride-on or walk-behind the machine,” says Hawley. Toro’s stand-on has an operator platform that folds up flat against the control tower to convert the stand-on to a walk-behind mower. In addition, the platform is suspended to isolate the operator from the bumps in the terrain. Stand-on mowers offer excellent trailer-ability due to their short length, according to Hawley. “The foldable platform that allows for walk-behind operation also helps to conserve space on the trailer, as well as off-season storage,” he points out. At press time, there were no definite specifications available for Toro’s stand-on mower, other than that there will be an option of two decks sizes, 48 and 52 inches. Toro’s machine will allow the operator to convert the mower into a walk-behind mower for hillsides, for two machines in one.
Be sure to demo a stand-on mower and see for yourself what it can do for you in terms of cutting your mowing time down. It may take some getting used to standing up and riding, but when you see that you can react to the terrain and interact with the mower, hills and obstacles, intricately landscaped yards and low-lying limbs can all be managed with deft skill.
Dexter Ewing is a freelance contributor based in Winston-Salem, N.C.