Zero to hero

Features - Maintenance

The latest innovations in the zero-turn mower market will make your current one look outdated.

January 18, 2013

Industry wide, the focus for contractors is to save time, money and energy without slipping up on quality. There are plenty of new introductions for zero-turn mowers in 2013. But in key equipment segments, it’s crucial to separate gimmick from game-changer. From mower size to alternative fuels, here are some upgrades that contractors say will boost your fleet.

Electric power. In the two years that Mean Green Mowers of Okeana, Oh. have sold electric zero-turn mowers, owner Joe Conrad has begun to see an increase in demand for the mower’s quiet operation and zero emissions from customers and customers’ clients.

“It’s something that’s definitely up-and-coming, it’s something that everybody looks at and says ‘it’s definitely the future,’” Conrad said. “It’s in the beginning stages for most people acceptance-wise, but it’s a good commercial move.”

Before you buy

Keep these tips in mind when you shop for your next zero-turn.

1. Know your market
“We have such a wide array of properties, anywhere from high-end residential to large, open industrial properties where we can use large riders on them,” said Alex Fransen, owner of Steele Blades Lawn Care & Landscaping Services. “But you can’t put that large rider on a small residential property.”

2. Utilize your equipment most efficiently
“The best fit for a zero-turn mower is an area where you do need a lot of detail work around trees and landscaping,” said Joe Conrad, owner at Mean Green Mowers. “It’s not designed to go up steep hills. And it will do the job in wide-open fields, but that’s not really its best application. You might as well be on a big rider for that. A zero-turn mower is definitely the ideal mower for most applications as far as commercial work goes.”

3. Have a good relationship with your dealer
“We have a dealer right down the street that we don’t use because they aren’t geared for our size business,” said Michael Thackrey, Vice President of Fieldstone Landscape Services. “Competition drives business, so if we are going to buy six or seven mowers, we’re going to go to multiple contacts and see who wants our business.”

4. Start small when going green
If you’re interested in switching to alternative fuels or electric mowers, start small, and target certain clients. “Have one crew that just mows green and service customers who appreciate the quiet and zero-emissions the most and get started that way,” Conrad said. “A lot of retail stores, banks and hospitals have customers going in and out of their stores all day and don’t like all that noise. It’s also a way to get new clients. You’ve got something to offer that nobody else has.”

5. Budget and plan
“We’ve grown really fast,” Thackrey said. “We were just two guys in March of 2007, and now we have 70 employees. And in six years have gone from zero to $3 million. We learned ... that we need to step back and do the planning so we’re not wasting money or time.”

The biggest concerns for contractors when considering switching to electric-powered fleets are the cost of the mowers and the life of the lithium batteries that make them run. While most will say they are in the field 10-12 hours a day, studies and experience show that actual mow time averages around four hours, Conrad said.

“What we’ve been finding is a lot of people that buy our motors are buying extra batteries that they never use because they didn’t realize that they weren’t spending as much time actually mowing as they thought,” he said. “We’re already able to mow 4-5 hours on one charge. Our mowers are close to 90 percent efficient and a gas mower is right around 22 percent efficient with the same amount of energy used.”

The cost of an electric mower runs about the same as a propane mower. While electric mowers may be more costly upfront compared to gas mowers, Conrad stresses the savings on maintenance and fuel over time, estimating that clients will save $7 an hour with an electric mower.

“There’s no oil changes, no spark plugs, no belts, no hydrostatic transmissions to go out; everything’s very simplified on our mowers,” he said. “There’s only one moving part compared to hundreds of them in a gas mower’s motor. An electric mower pays for itself almost twice over its lifetime as compared to a gas mower that just keeps costing you more money.”

The technological advancements of electric mowers are developing rapidly, and improve efficiency by giving more control to the operator. With the turn of a dial, the operator can increase and decrease top speed, increasing accuracy and maneuverability around shrubbery or trees and simultaneously conserving energy, leading to longer battery life. In 2013, operators will be able to vary their blade speed as well, Conrad said.

“We can vary the top speed from 4-8 mph just with the turn of a dial,” he said. “It’s all or nothing with a gas mower.”

Although there’s a growing market for electric mowers, especially in environmentally-conscious areas, more traditional features for gas mowers outweigh the products on the cutting edge for many contractors, at least for now.

“If they would have put the iPads we have now on the market eight years ago, they would have been ahead of their time, too,” said Michael Thackrey, Vice President of Fieldstone Landscape Services of Clearwater, Fla. “If the industry continues to work on efficiency, it’s going to help us.”

Mower meters.
Alex Fransen, owner of Steele Blades Lawn Care & Landscaping Services in Louisville, Ky., will soon outfit company mowers with mower meters, which track routine maintenance services based on the hours of the mower.

“Once you have a fleet of mowers, you could imagine how hard it is to keep track of service on each and every one of those mowers,” Fransen said. “That’s cost effective for us, because a mower meter is very inexpensive but it could save us a lot. Efficiencies like that are what the industry needs to start looking for.”

Mulch-on-demand. Mulching systems are another advancement that both Fransen and Thackrey have found to be particularly useful in streamlining workload. Fieldstone uses a mulch-on-demand system that allows the mower to side-discharge grass one minute and mulch the next with a simple pull of a lever, eliminating the time and energy needed to switch mowers.

“Mulch-on-demand allows our mower operators to continue working in various terrains without stopping or even needing to go back to the trailer,” Thackrey said. “This is key for us, as most of our properties are large and the mower operator can sometimes be almost a mile or so away from the truck and trailer. I believe that the mower companies have a few kinks to work out in reference to durability of the moving parts of the system, but it really is a great concept.”

EFI Technology.
Contractors should evaluate areas to improve efficiency in labor all the way down to the level of mower engines. Purchasing mowers with EFI technology is a technical upgrade that can lead to much bigger benefits, Thackrey said.

“We all have to constantly be thinking of ways to be more efficient,” he said. “Whether it be in our equipment, vehicles, labor, or products, we must all be looking for ways to increase our productivity with less output. This technology not only helps us to save on fuel, but in the long run, when factored in with other efficiencies, can make us more competitive with our productivity and pricing.”

Cub Cadet RZT S

The pitch: Along with true zero-turn speed and maneuverability, the RZT S offers smooth handling and four-wheel steering.

  • Anti-scalping wheels and rear striping rollers (on select models) have been added.
  • The dedicated dual hydrostatic rear-wheel transmission is synchronized with the steering to reduce turf damage.
  • Aerospace engineers developed an advanced cutting system with optimal airflow, blade overlap and floating deck for an improved cut.

For more information:

Dixie Chopper

The pitch: Dixie Chopper is now offering Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) options in its Magnum, Silver Eagle, and Classic series of mowers.

  • As part of the 2013 line-up, EFI is available on 50- and 60-in. machines with 23 or 29 HP.
  • The Magnum series offers three versatile deck sizes with Kawasaki engine options along with a Kohler EFI.
  • The Silver Eagle has four different deck sizes and three engine options including Generac, Kawasaki and Kohler.

For more information:

Exmark Lazer Z X-Series

The pitch: Exmark has introduced RED technology to its Lazer Z X-Series with Kohler EFI power.

  • RED technology reduces fuel consumption of up to 41-percent compared to carbureted models.
  • A clutch saver feature and real-time monitoring of vital engine components prevent damage if critical thresholds are exceeded.
  • The Lazer Z X-Series is available with a 60- or 72-in full-floating UltraCut Series-6 cutting deck.

For more information:

Gravely Pro-Turn
The pitch: Gravely introduced the new Pro-Turn series of mowers for commercial consumers, joining the Pro-Turn 100, Pro-Turn 200 and Pro-Turn 400 series.

  • The Gravely Pro-Turn series features a transaxle design by Hydro Gear.
  • The new ZT-3200 integrated pump/wheel motors feature a 1.125-inch axle shaft.
  • Steel-cut gears for enhanced durability and serviceabilty.

For more information:

Husqvarna M-ZT

The pitch: The Husqvarna M-ZT series entry-level commercial zero-turn mowers feature rugged fabricated decks with cast iron blade spindles and premium seats.

  • Equipped with commercial duty 12cc integrated transmissions.
  • The new 810cc Endurance Commercial engines feature cyclonic air filtration to reduce service intervals and increase engine life.
  • The new M-ZT will be available in 52-in. and 61-in. variants.

For more information:

John Deere Z900

The pitch: The new Z900 series of zero-turn mowers from John Deere gives contractors three choices: The cost-conscious B-Series; the M Series for large fleet owners and the feature-rich R Series.

  • The B Series offers a large fuel tank and professional-grade seats.
  • The M Series has fuel-injected engines with EFI and Flex-Fuel options, and also has Mulch On Demand decks.
  • The R Series offers comfort and convenience tools, a hydraulic cross-porting system, and a Break-N-Go foot pedal start.

For more information:

Mean Green CXR-52 & CXR-60

The pitch: The Mean Green CXR-52 & CXR-60 Mower provides a major reduction in operating costs and reduce routine maintenance with no gas and no emissions.

  • Several exchangeable Lithium Energy Module (LEM) sizes available.
  • Up to 1,500 charge cycles up to 7,000 hours mow time.
  • Charge time: two to four hours overnight.
  • 52-in. or 60-in. deck size

For more information:

Toro Z Master

The pitch: Toro Z Master Professional 5000/6000 Series electronic fuel injected (EFI) mowers utilize the latest in fuel management technology.

  • The Z Master features a powerful Kohler engine with a closed-loop EFI system.
  • Comes standard with a 7-gauge steel Turbo Force deck in 52-in., 60-in. and 72-in. cutting widths.
  • The deck features a patented adjustable discharge baffle.

For more information:

Wright Manufacturing
The pitch: Wright Mid-Mount ZTO large ZT 3400 series transaxles make the ZTO strong and fast.

  • Integrated parking brake that engages when levers are opened.
  • Under carriage cage to protect Hydro Transmission and filters.
  • Available in FX691 (22 HP) and FX730 (23.5 HP) Kawasaki Engines (HP J1995 Rating) and Briggs & Stratton Cyclonic 24-HP, 26-HP, and 30-HP Engines (HP J1940 Rating).
  • Forward speed up to 10.5 mph.

For more information: