Savings With Sulkies

Stand-on mowers can provide long-term savings for landscape contractors, but that investment comes with an upfront cost.

July 22, 2005

Stand-on mowers can provide long-term savings for landscape contractors, but that investment comes with an upfront cost that can range from $500 to $1500, or more. For some contractors, the added expense isn’t feasible. These contractors can opt for a stand-on attachment for walk-behind mowers known as a sulky, which costs $200 to $500.

Sulkies are ideal for contractors who already have large fleets of walk-behind mowers, says Bill Wright, president, Wright Manufacturing, Frederick, Md. “That market continues to be there because it’s an economical solution, and contractors who are interested in saving money when buying a lawn mower will keep on buying those things,” Wright says.

The cost depends on the type of sulky purchased. A trailer sulky has one or two wheels and a hitch on the back that allows the attachment to move left or right relative to the motion of the mower. Trailer sulkies cost $200 to $300. A caster sulky has wheels that swivel similar to those on a grocery cart. These cost $300 to $500 and have wheels that are located on the back of the sulky to provide up and down flexibility. Trailer sulkies are more popular with contractors because the caster wheels must overcome the momentum of the operator to turn, Wright says. But the swivel wheels also have advantages. “The benefit of the swivel casters is that you’re going to follow the track of the mower wheels as opposed to the solid wheels that don’t swivel where you’re more likely to tear the turf,” says Ken Taylor, business manager, Great Dane Power Equipment, Cary, N.C.

Another type of sulky is a skid platform that has no wheels and features a hydraulic shock so the board retracts when the operator wants to turn. “What’s nice about that is when the operator steps off the platform it retracts out of the way so you can walk behind it like a traditional walk-behind,” Taylor says. “Also, it doesn’t take up as much room for storage.”

Contractors can save money by purchasing a sulky attachment for their walk-behind mowers, but they shouldn’t always expect the same type of performance, Wright says. “A stand-on sulky is a rider, but it’s not as convenient,” he explains. “When you’re on a sulky, you’re essentially riding on a trailer – so you’re not walking – but you still need a lot of upper-body power and muscle.”

Wright points out that contractors still need to steer and flex with their arms to make a turn with a sulky. Many contractors agree that the stand-on units are more user-friendly. “The machines that you attach them to aren’t designed to pull people around,” says Daryl Zeka, a partner with Palm Beach-Broward Landscaping, Boynton Beach, Fla. “When those machines were designed, they were designed for someone to walk behind, not pull a 180-pound person.”

Zeka calls his experience with sulkies “a disaster.” The attachment caused premature wear and tear on the mowers, Zeka says. “It was just two more wheels to worry about, and two more chances for a flat tire,” he explains. “The pin that connects the two somehow always managed to come up missing. That was a short-lived project because it didn’t work.”

John Hill, president of Hill Horticulture in San Antonio, Texas agrees. “I won’t use a sulky,” he says. “They’re too dangerous because of the turning radius and the way the mower comes around. One of the greatest assets of a stand-on is that an operator can more easily jump clear of the machine. A walk-behind is designed to be walked behind, not ridden.”

Contractor Andreas Dambakakis says he also experienced problems with sulkies. “If you’re walking and not riding, your knees tend to hit them sometimes because of how you’re walking,” says Dambakakis, president of Yards By Us, Winston-Salem, N.C. “And sometimes it will cause grass damage to the turf. It’s almost like riding a blanket, which after a while doesn’t feel good on your feet.”

Still, sulkies can benefit contractors who already have walk-behind mowers and aren’t ready to invest in stand-on machines, says Wes Freeman, brand manager, John Deere Commercial Mowing, Cary, N.C. “I think the majority of contractors out there who have stand-on sulkies do so because they have commercial walk-behind mowers already in their fleet,” Freeman says.