Landscape professionals weigh the pros and cons of stand-on mowers.
Roughly five years ago, Victor Parrales, vice president of production with Professional Grounds in Lorton, Va., had his crews try out a stand-on mower to see if it would make a valuable addition to their equipment arsenal. But what he found was that they posed a safety hazard for the operator, especially given the number of accounts his company maintains that have steep slopes.
“We found that when we were working with it on hillsides, it had a tendency to tilt, which can be very dangerous to the operator,” Parrales says.
“Second, if the grass was so high that it hid a stump and you hit that stump, the operator could potentially fly over the machine, kind of like a motorcyclist might if he hit something.”
The other issue Parrales received feedback from his crews on was turf damage. When you have to make a sharp turn while on a stand-on, the tendency, he says, is to go faster when you’re turning. This can cause turf damage.
“Getting off the machine and working behind it to reduce the weight isn’t an option,” Parrales says.
This is why Parrales prefers walk-behinds with velkies. They take more time to make a turn, but consequently, they’re easier on the grass. But velkies aren’t perfect solutions, either.
“When you’re working in wet areas, you can get mud between the wheel (of the velky) and wheel cover,” Parrales says. “The machine continues mowing, but the wheels stop turning, and that can create big damage to turf. But still, they’re safer than stand-ons.”
Parrales points out that even on hillsides, you can get off the velky and walk behind the mower with no issues.
With a business mix of 60 percent HOA accounts and 40 percent commercial, Parrales determines the mowing equipment he will need for each property based on how difficult the terrain is. Obviously, a riding mower is best suited for a flat property with few obstacles, whereas a walk-behind is ideal for a property with many obstacles and tight spaces.
While Parrales has determined stand-ons are not for his company, Joe Markell, president and CEO of Sunrise Landscape and Design in Sterling, Va., swears by them. In fact, his whole fleet is comprised almost totally of them (18 to 20), with a few walk-behinds as well.
“Standers are pretty versatile and very efficient, so that’s why we like them,” Markell says.
“They don’t take up much room on the truck, and the guys seem to like them once they get the hang of them. They’re also a lot more comfortable than walk-behinds. They feature a cushioned, spring-loaded platform. Plus, they have good maneuverability and speed of cut.”
Sunrise’s business mix is 50 percent commercial and 50 percent residential. Two-man crews maintain properties from 1⁄8 of an acre up to several acres.
Their box trucks typically have two or three stand-ons or walk-behinds on them. Although there are some situations more suitable for a walk-behind, Markell says his stand-ons can pretty much handle anything.
“With walk-behinds, we only use small ones to fit in certain areas and use them on very steep hills, ditches or swales,” he says. “The standers are even pretty good on hills and swales, so our walk-behinds don’t get a lot of use, but there are certain times when it makes sense.”
Markell’s walk-behinds are 36 inches, making them sometimes the only option for going through a small gate. His stand-ons are 48-, 52- and 61-inch versions Crews will typically use the 61-inch for a more wide-open property, versus a 48- or 52-inch if there are more hills and turns to make. Markell said he has no safety concerns with stand-ons.
“Sometimes they’re too heavy or a swale is too steep and you could tear up the turf if you’re not careful. But I haven’t found tilting to be a problem. Our guys know their limitations, and our stand-ons are well-balanced and don’t lose traction as quickly as others.”
The benefit of a stand-on, Markell says, is that the operator can simply jump off it if it loses control or slides down a hill.
“There have been instances where riders have rolled over and trapped the guy underneath it,” he says. “With a stander, you’re not strapped to the machine.”
The turf damage can be the result of a wheel dragging due to a tight the turn, but Markell says a little training goes a long way.
“Usually, you can train guys out of that,” he says. “These stand-ons can be turned without tearing up the turf. You could have the same issue on a rider if you turn that tightly and quickly.
“The stander does require a different mode of coordination, though. You have to be aware that if you go under trees and obstacles, you have to duck or be aware if you can fit under a branch.”
Markell has been considering riding mowers for some of his bigger properties, but a discussion with a manufacturer at a trade show convinced him to purchase a larger model of stand-on with more horsepower and speed to make up for the size difference.
“They turn probably about the same because they’re zero-turn just like a rider, but they take up less space on the truck,” Markell says. “The unit is probably not much different cost-wise, either, but we like to stick to the same manufacturer for parts and other reasons.
“Maybe if you’re cutting big acres, a rider might be more appropriate. But we’re doing a mixed bag as far as the terrain we care for, so standers are efficient and safe and do a good job of cutting.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.