Carry a Stick

This is the third summer of mowing with my “new” Cub Cadet ™ zero radius turn (ZRT) riding mower. My first summer, I made a lot of mistakes with it, causing me to pull it out of the muck at the edge of the pond on one occasion. The second summer, there were still a few mistakes, but not as many. This summer there have been no major mistakes, and I think I’m finally getting the hang of how this thing works, and how it differs from a traditional riding mower (tractor.)

My advice to folks in the market for a replacement riding mower? These machines to a great job of cutting the grass, are very fast, and can trim close enough to most things that the push mower trimming has been greatly reduced for me. I believe that a tractor type riding mower took the design of a tractor and stuck a mower on it. The ZRTs were designed from the ground up to cut grass. I base this on an experience I had this summer.

My neighbors went out of town for about 10 days, and the rain we’ve had this summer meant they would have a hay field when they returned. They have a very nice tractor-type riding mower, and rather than driving my mower to their place, I used their mower to cut their grass for them. My goodness what a difference! I felt that using their mower not only slowed me down considerably, but that I didn’t do as good a job.

If I were a salesman and were giving advice to a new owner of one of these ZRTs, I’d explain about the spinning wheels. What makes a ZRT tick is two transmissions, one for each of the rear drive wheels. Each transmission can go forward or reverse at a range of speeds the operator chooses. Each transmission is controlled by a handle. So when the mower is running, if you push both handles forward at the same time, the mower will go straight forward. If you pull the left handle back to the neutral position while leaving the right handle forward, the mower will turn left. If you pull the left handle all the way back while leaving the right handle forward, the mower will spin in a tight circle.

Since there is no differential to compensate for the different relative speeds of the drive wheels when the mower is turning, the designers of the mower chose tires that spin easily on the lawn. That way, if you “tell” the mower to make a turn but don’t correctly calculate how much faster one drive wheel should go than the other, the wheels just spin to compensate. If they didn’t, you’d put strain on the transmissions and prematurely wear them out.

The biggest mistake I’ve made with this mower from early on was to not be aware of this wheel spinning phenomenon. Especially on the side of a hill, the mower can act strange when you are asking it to do something that causes one of the other wheel to spin. No matter how far you move the lever forward, the mower can turn the opposite of what you want it to. My mistake early on was to ask the mower to go faster by pushing the lever farther forward. This very quickly compounded the error, resulting in a dive into the muck at the edge of the pond.

If you new ZRT mower drivers out there will listen to me, I’d suggest to you to develop a sense of when the drive wheels start to spin, and then back off when it happens. Let the machine sort things out. You’ll notice it will start creeping in the correct direction, and you can continue on your merry way.

Another important lesson I’ve learned about mowing is to bring a piece of wood along about 2′ long. I don’t know how they know it, but our agile blood sucking deer flies know precisely where on my back they can land, stick their pipe through my t-shirt, and suck my blood. They seem to intuitively know the place on my back I can not reach. The seat back on my mower is not tall enough for me to give my back a “bear scratch,” so they have a wonderful time chewing on me while I writhe in agony. The 2′ stick that I put on the floor of the mower does the trick. I use it like a back scratcher and handily defeat the little blighters. Score one for modern technology.

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