Not only does it look your backyard look good, but having a sharp-looking yard also increases the value of your home. To achieve that, a walk mower might not be enough.
A walk mower isn’t even close to a riding lawn mower in terms of speed and efficiency. That is especially true if you’re navigating rough terrain.
Riding mowers are quite an investment, though. So there’s a lot you need to know about them before you purchase one.
What Is a Riding Lawn Mower?
A riding lawn mower is a mower with a seat that you ride to operate, unlike push or towing mowers. Looking like small tractors, riding lawn mowers are the preferred option for landscaping professionals as they work perfectly on large lawns and rough terrain.
Why Would You Need One?
The most obvious perk of having a riding lawn mower is that it works faster than a walking mower. It goes through the grass more effectively, and thus, it works better for bigger areas.
Rough terrain poses a set of challenges when it comes to mowing them. You need a mower that’s capable of navigating rough terrain smoothly, one that can climb hilly terrain easily while maintaining power and energy to do it. Only a riding lawn mower can do that, thanks to its propulsive force.
Types of Riding Lawn Mower
There are multiple types of riding lawn mowers, each with specific design features that tend to different needs.
A zero-turn is a mower whose mowing deck is placed in front of the machine rather than below it. To pivot through sharp angles, zero turns have two swiveling wheels in the front and two big rear wheels that you control using a pair of lap bars employing a dual hydrostatic transmission.
The ZTR (Zero Turn Radius) feature of zero-turn mowers gives them a significant advantage over other riding lawn mowers, where they’re highly maneuverable, and they move faster than typical tractors, covering a larger area in remarkably less time. They also have an impeccable sharp cutting performance that’s ideal for use around flower beds. A deck size of 32 to 60 inches means you can cut the most grass in the shortest time.
The average power of a zero-turn mower ranges between 12 to 25 HP, with engine sizes between 452 and 700 cc. Some of them work with single cylindrical engines, while others operate on robust V-Twin engines. Single engines are more economical but they’ll only work well in small lawns, while V-Twins are perfect for hilly terrain.
As the name suggests, a front-engine riding lawn mower is one where the engine is located at the front. The pitfall of that is the difficulty rolling over when you climb a hill. Going down a hill would be tricky, too, with the engine’s weight on the front part of the machine, so you need to be careful and not accelerate speed much when doing so.
Rear engine mowers are ideal for mid-sized lawns, where it’s too small for a lawn tractor and too big for a walk-behind mower.
As the name suggests, the engine is right at the back of this mower, under the driver’s seat. The mowing deck is underneath the driver, and you control it using a shift-on-the-go hand lever. The transmission type is mostly continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Usually, a rear-engine mower operates on a single-cylinder engine with an average of 344 cc with an estimated 10 to 11 HP. The average deck size of a rear engine mower is 30 to 33 inches, making it suitable for lawns that are less than 2.5 acres.
When you think about a riding lawn mower, you’ll probably picture a lawn tractor. This is the standard tractor with a steering wheel and front engine. A lawn tractor is your best bet when it comes to large lawns that extend to 4 or 4.5 acres.
Entry-level lawn tractors have single-cylinder engines, while some advanced models rely on a v-twin. The average horsepower is 18 to 25.
Mulching Riding Lawn Mower
A mulching mower can accept additional kits that turn clippings into mulch to add nutrients to the soil. If the grass isn’t too long and you mow it regularly, a mulching mower would be an excellent asset.
Features to Consider When Choosing a Riding Lawn Mower for Rough Terrain
The engine is the heart of a lawn mower, and it’s only natural to give it a priority when looking at a mower’s specs. There are battery-powered and gas-powered engines. Is there a right way to go?
While many believe that a gas-powered engine is more powerful than an electric one, we’d say that an electric engine with good horsepower would do an equally good job.
Since we’re looking for something to navigate rough terrain, you need to look for an electric engine of 75 Ah or more to be capable of doing so.
This option is cleaner, cheaper, and easier to maintain. However, your riding time would be restricted to the charging time of the battery life.
A gas-operated engine is the typical go-to option for lawn mowers. It’s powerful and has an overall bigger engine capacity. A gas-powered engine will climb hills and navigate rugged terrain seamlessly, where it features an impressive average of 13 to 30 HP.
The downside is that they’re pricier to maintain and operate. Yet, if the landscape is steep, they’re the better option.
Another choice you have to make when choosing a riding lawn mower for rough terrain is whether to choose a zero-turn or a steering wheel.
While a zero-turn might be the obvious winner for mowing rough terrain because of its exceptional ability to navigate through obstacles, it’s also way more expensive than a steering wheel. So the choice isn’t that easy.
A zero-turn mower is the best when it comes to challenging lawns with tight spots and multiple turns. Zero-turns are easily maneuverable in turns as they go through them with no shifting. Besides, you can easily control the ground speed.
Zero-turns operate using lap bars (two steering bars) instead of a steering wheel to independently control each side of the machine. Thus, giving you more control over the movement of your mower. You push one bar forward and the other backward and achieve a zero radius turn, leaving no grass patches behind.
To put that into perspective, for a non-zero turn mower, you’ll need to reverse your direction and go back to the area you missed to finish mowing. So, zero turns are way easier and smoother to operate.
Overall, zero turns do have a learning curve, and you’ll need some time to get used to them. Yet, once you master them, they’ll elevate your mowing experience. They’re the mowers of choice for landscaping professionals. However, they’re pricey.
While the turning angle of a zero turn lawn mower is zero, that of a steering wheel riding mower ranges between 4” and 5” on average. That’s a big difference!
As you can see, there’s a wide range for the turning angle of a steering wheel, so you can look for a mower with a small turning angle so that you can get satisfactory performance while not breaking the bank getting a zero-turn. You have to know, though, that you’ll spend an overall longer time mowing your lawn, and you’ll need to go through some rough patches multiple times.
If you are getting a riding lawn mower with a steering wheel, look for one with a padded wheel, as the constant vibration of the wheel might hurt your hands.
Cutting Deck Width and Height
Since your cutting deck is the part of a riding lawn mower that does all the work, you should pay attention to its size.
The obvious rule is that the larger your lawn, the wider your mower’s deck should be. This is given that a wider deck cuts a larger amount of grass with every pass, so you’ll finish the job in fewer passes and a shorter time. Standard cutting deck sizes are 52 and 46 inches.
However, if your landscape is wide and free of obstacles, there’s more to consider. Bumpy terrain is harder to navigate, and a wide deck won’t be able to go through narrow curves or obstacles. In this case, a narrower deck will actually do a better job.
If the width of the cutting deck determines the area the mower cuts, then the height determines the depth of the grass it cuts. The higher the cutting deck, the deeper it can cut into the grass.
The issue here is that your lawn probably has varying-height grass. That’s why the optimal solution is to get a riding lawn mower with an adjustable cutting deck height so that you can change the height according to how deep you need to mow the grass of a certain area.
The engine of a riding lawn mower doesn’t have varying speeds. In fact, the decks are designed to operate at a constant speed, that is, full engine speed in most designs. How do you change the mower’s speed then? Through transmission.
Manual transmission, or gear transmission, resembles a car’s manual transmission technique. It’s connected to the engine through a belt drive or a mechanical clutch, and it provides three to five speeds plus a reverse option. You change gears manually to match the speed of the motor.
The main advantages of manual transmission are durability and power. It also gives you good control, resulting in overall better performance. However, they’re not the easiest to navigate tricky spaces with obstacles. Also, keep in mind that mowers with manual transmission are significantly cheaper than other types.
Automatic transmission makes your life easier the same way an automatic car does. Instead of a clutch, automatic transmission relies on a belt and pulley that transfer power to the motor and wheels.
You don’t have to worry about changing gears when you have an automatic transmission because they change automatically, leaving you space and time to focus on the actual mowing and to get through tight spots efficiently. That being said, an automatic transmission is way better in case of a bumpy road full of obstacles.
Automatic transmission will save you time and effort, especially if it’s combined with cruise control. You literally will just sit there and let the mower do the work.
Hydrostatic transmission achieves the smoothest operation and the most flexibility with speed options, which is why it’s the most expensive.
The idea is based on passing hydraulic fluid past the impeller, spinning an output shaft that transfers power to the wheels and thus, controls speed. As a result, the hydrostatic transmission offers the smoothest riding with the least amount of maintenance, and it generally lasts longer than the other two types.
The cutting speed of the sharp edges of a mower is measured with revolutions per minute (RPM). Remember that this speed refers to the blades’ speed, not the speed of the vehicle itself. The average cutting speed of a riding lawn mower’s blades is between 2700 and 3200 RPM.
A decent suspension system is a must for those who’ll be working on rough terrain. Suspension seats absorb shocks upon impact, which results in a smoother and more comfortable ride for you during the mowing session.
This one might seem like an extra, but it’s really essential, especially in large lawns where you’ll be riding the mower for long hours. You need a comfortable seat that’ll support your body throughout the mowing session.
Having a seat back is necessary. A padded seat back is even better as you rest your body on something comfortable throughout the ride. This will help you maintain a proper posture too.
Ideally, aim for mowers with high, adjustable seats. Some of them come with lumbar support and armrests, which you’ll need if you’ll spend a long time mowing. Lastly, look for mowers that come with vibration dampening technology, as they’ll be handy, especially on rough terrain, absorbing all those impacts.
The amount of accidents and injuries caused by lawn mowers is insane, but it’s mostly due to the rider’s carelessness. Nonetheless, you need to keep a good eye on safety features. It’s never bad to have them anyways.
The most advanced safety feature that you can find in a riding lawn mower is the reverse awareness system, which makes a beeping sound when the mower is put in reverse to warn people or other vehicles around.
You’ve got the famous three safety features of lawn mowers; the back flap, the handle lever, and the blade brake control. The back flap guarantees that no objects from the inside of the mower fly back at you, which is particularly essential when you’re working on rough terrain.
A handle lever is a lever situated at the mower’s handle whose function is to ensure that the engine stops when you release control of the mower. Finally, a blade brake clutch system allows you to briefly turn off the mower’s blades without turning off the engine. This is helpful for times when the operator lets go of the mower.
A riding lawn mower is obviously pricier than regular walk mowers. The price varies according to features, so for example, a zero-turn mower is more expensive than a regular steering wheel. Features like a gas-powered motor and hydrostatic transmission add to the price tag.
On average, a riding lawn mower will cost $2,450 as opposed to an average of $363 for a regular push mower.
The options are endless, and there are plenty of great riding mowers on the market. Yet, you should stick to a reputable brand to guarantee a great performance. The most famous brands are Ryobi, Craftsman, Troy-Bilt, and Husqvarna.
The 6 Best Riding Lawn Mowers For Rough Terrain Reviewed
#1. Husqvarna MZ61 Zero Turn Mower
- Husqvarna 61 in. zero-turn lawn mower from the MZ series delivers commercial-grade power and amazing ergonomics
- 27 HP Briggs Endurance engine provides reliable startups and high ground speeds
- Fabricated 11-gauge steel cutting deck offers an excellent 54 in. cut with an ergonomically designed deck lifting system for quick and easy adjustments from the operator’s seat
The Husqvarna MZ61 Zero Turn Mower is our top choice for a riding lawn mower if you have to work on rough terrain. It provides a comfortable, smooth, and safe ride for the user. It has an oversized chassis, 6-inch wide caster wheels with pneumatic tires, and a commercial-grade hydraulic system, meaning it is a stable machine and will not tip or wobble when maneuvering on uneven ground. Additionally, it boasts the Husqvarna Roll Over Protection System (ROPS), providing an extra safety precaution as well as a smoother ride experience. The super wide cutting deck is 61 inches wide and the zero turn hydraulic wheel-drive system allows the riding mower to turn around its own axis.
As well as the safety and ease of operation, it is also an incredibly comfortable mow. The MZ61 comes with an ergonomically designed deck lifting system, pedal-assisted operations, and dual-lever steering with foam padded handles and viscous dampers to reduce vibrations in the levers, in addition to the EVC technology and deep cushions and bolsters in the operator seat. This lawn mower also has adjustable tracking for an easy straight line mow, regardless of terrain, a massive 9 bushel collecting system, and a heavy-duty but low noise 24 HP Kawasaki engine.
#2. Ryobi RY48111 Electric Riding Lawn Mower
- Includes: (1) Ryobi 38 inches 100 Ah Battery Electric Rear Engine Riding Lawn Mower RY48111
- 3 Brushless motors for superior power and performance
- Up to 2.5 hours of runtime or 2.5 acres of mowing
The Ryobi RY48111 Electric Riding Lawn Mower is your best choice if you’re looking for a riding lawn mower that is fully electric and doesn’t emit fumes or run using costly gasoline. Its 48 Volt, 100 AH (Amp-Hour) lead acid batteries give the user 2.5 hours of mowing time, which is good for about 2.5 acres. Even if your lawn is larger than 2.5 acres don’t worry, it can charge through a standard outlet in hours and be ready to go again very quickly. And, although this mower is very quiet and mows at 70 dB so as to not disturb your neighbors, it boasts three brushless motors that provide enough power to work through tough, uneven spaces.
Rigorous mowing sessions are no match for the RY48111 with its reinforced, 12 gauge steel deck and its rugged frame and chassis. Its cutting deck is 38 inches wide, has 2 sharpened steel blades, and comes with 12 different manual deck adjustment positions, so you can adjust your mowing to your lawn’s specific needs and bumpy sections. With LED headlights so you don’t have to mow in the heat of the day, a USB phone charger, and a cruise control feature, this riding lawn mower is the future of lawn maintenance.
#3. Craftsman T225 46-Inch Gas-Powered Riding Lawn Mower
The Craftsman T225 46-Inch Gas-Powered Riding Lawn Mower is a powerful, heavy-duty lawn mower that will get the job done, no matter what you throw at it. It has a mow-in-reverse function, meaning you can easily maneuver in and around tight spots or uneven ground in your backyard while continuously mowing so you don’t waste any time. Its powerful 19 HP Briggs & Stratton engine can cover a large lawn with ease, and it is equipped with Ready Start technology for a fast, efficient start every time. It also has a cutting deck width of 46 inches, so you can mow larger areas in less time and with less energy.
The cutting deck comes with an included deck washing system, which cleans out the underside of the deck for you, so you again don’t spend any more time with your lawn mower than you need to. Additionally, a foot-pedal control hydrostatic transmission means it’s far simpler to shift gears and the ride is a lot smoother, even on irregular soil, and the supportive high-back seat means you will be riding in luxury. Finally, the 15-inch front wheels and 20-inch rear wheels means this mower has better clearance and long-lasting maneuverability – especially with its tight 5-inch turning radius.
#4. Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro LT50 FAB Riding Lawn Mower
The Cub Cadet XT1 Enduro LT50 FAB Riding Lawn Mower is one of the best overall riding lawn mowers currently on the market. It is powered by a 24 HP Kohler 7000 series twin cylinder engine, and the hydrostatic transmission of the XT1 gives you optimized command and control – no longer do you have to worry about shifting, you simply push the pedal and go. One of this mower’s best selling points is the 50-inch wide, triple blade AeroForce cutting deck. THe AeroForce is designed to both maximize suction and optimize airflow, and this way there is very little clumping during discharge, as well as an improved bagging performance.
Additionally, the XT1 comes with a tough, robust cutting system that features stamped and fabricated cutting deck options, meaning it will stay steady on its wheels over bumpy terrain. It also boasts a tight 16-inch turning radius, and its optimized steering system allows for responsive handling within tight spaces and around corners. Cub Cadet offers this model with an unlimited-hour, 3-year warranty, and a 5-year warranty for the chassis and front axle, so you can use this riding lawn mower as intensely and as often as your grass needs. It also can be equipped with a wide variety of versatile, all-season attachments, so you can always get the job done.
#5. Troy-Bilt 30-Inch 382cc Riding Lawn Mower
The next riding lawn mower on our list is the Troy-Bilt 30-Inch 382cc Riding Lawn Mower. This mower is one of the smaller riding mowers available, and will save you valuable storage space. It takes up about the same space as a wide-cut walk-behind mower, so you can store it in your garage or shed with ease, and it’ll fit through almost any gate or tight spaces in your yard. Although, because of its smaller size and the narrower cutting deck that comes with it, we would recommend this riding lawn mower for yards that are approximately 1.5 acres or less.
The Troy-Bilt 30-Inch mower, though compact, is still as powerful as the other mowers on this list, and will be able to maneuver over the uneven and rough terrain in your backyard. It dampens the vibrations with its low to high back seats as well as its trademarked vibration-reducing Soft Touch steering wheel. It also boasts a Shift-on-the-Go transmission, to ensure you can easily adjust between 6 different mowing speeds while in motion. The attached rear hitch makes it convenient to attach carts, sprayers, and spreaders, and its equipped with an attachable mulching kit – this helps you avoid thatch in your yard, and keeps your lawn healthier by returning the nutrients back into the soil by mulching your grass clippings.
#6. Ariens 915223 IKON-X 52″ Zero Turn Mower
- This refurbished product is tested and certified to look and work like new. The refurbishing process includes functionality testing, basic cleaning, inspection, and repackaging. The product ships with...
The Ariens 915223 IKON-X 52″ Zero Turn Mower is a huge and powerful riding lawn mower that can tackle tough, uneven ground and high, untamed grasses. It would be great for a commercial lawn mower or gardener, or for someone with a yard multiple acres in size. It features a powerful 23 HP, 726 CC Kawasaki FR V-Twin engine, and it is very stable on its large front and back wheels.
The cutting deck is 52 inches wide, 4.5 inches deep, and made from 11-gauge steel. This, along with the fully tubular steel frame and high back padded seats and armrests means you will ride in comfort on any and all terrain that your backyard might have. The IKON-X also features dial-operated cutting height selection and a commercial-grade 4-point dual-arm deck hanging system, for a bespoke lawn mowing experience every time.
Here are the answers to some of the frequently asked questions about riding mowers for rough terrain on the web.
How Do I Avoid Scalping?
To avoid scalping your lawn, only mow the top ⅓ of your grass with the highest setting possible for it on your mower. The goal is to protect longer grass blades so that they support the root system.
What Attachments Can I Fit on My Riding Lawn Mower?
You have a lot of variety here. Mulch kits are among the most common attachments. You can also attach a grass collector, roll bars, cargo beds, snowblowers, and even bad-weather cabins.
How Often Should I Sharpen My Riding Lawn Mower Blades?
Ideally, you should follow your manufacturer’s instructions.
Other than that, take into consideration the frequency of use and the environment you are mowing in. Once a month would suffice if you mow weekly. If your frequency is less than that, you can sharpen them once or twice a year.
A dip in your mower’s performance should be your cue that the blades need sharpening.
How do I start my Riding Lawn Mower?
Sit on the seat, start the engine, press the brakes, then engage the parking brakes. Afterward, put the gear to neutral and pull the throttle into choke position. At this point, you can insert your ignition key and turn it clockwise. Finally, move the throttle to the fast position. You should be good to go!
A riding lawn mower is a hefty investment. Yet, it’s one that will elevate your gardening experience, especially if you have a large lawn with rough terrain. The goal of this article is for you to end up with a riding lawn mower that’s suitable for you.
If you’re still looking for a recommendation as to which riding lawn mower would be best for you, we would again suggest the Husqvarna MZ61 Zero Turn Mower because of its massive cutting deck and zero-turn radius, and its incredibly stable on uneven ground.