Best Riding Lawn Mower For Hills and Rough Terrain
Riding lawn mowers are much more suitable for mowing larger areas than push lawn mowers, saving time and effort. Also, they can be used even for mowing hills and rough terrain much better than smaller, push lawn mowers.
Riding lawn mowers come in various sizes, design details, use different transmission types, have various types of engines, etc., and are offered in large numbers on the market, leading to some confusion among the potential users...
Published: December 20, 2023.
On This Page:
Intro to Riding Lawn Mowers
When looking for the riding lawn mower for your yard, there are few things to consider first including the type of the lawn mower, yard size, yard terrain, vegetation and obstacles, comfort and safety, and similar.
Lawn Tractor vs Zero Turn
Both lawn tractors and zero-turn lawn mowers have their pros and cons.
Lawn tractors are driven just like cars - You have a steering wheel, gas pedal, brake pedal, and a few more buttons and levers that are required for setting the lawn tractor.
Lawn tractors are usually able to operate on the rougher terrain and hills with slopes up to 15 degrees, with some models being able to safely operate at slopes up to 20 degrees.
On the other hand, lawn tractors have a relatively large turning radius, requiring the user to mow in several passes in order to mow missed spots. Also, lawn tractors are somewhat slower than zero-turn lawn mowers, but actual mowing is done at the same lower speeds since lower speeds ensure cleaner cuts for both lawn tractors and zero-turn mowers.
Note: there is a small, but important difference between lawn tractors and garden tractors - garden tractors allow the user to use other tools and attachments with the garden tractor (snow blower, for example), while lawn tractors are practically used only for mowing the lawn.
Zero-Turn lawn mowers feature two handles/levers (left and right) that control drive wheels (left and right, respectively). Such driving system is simple to use, but it is not as simple as the steering wheel drive system found on lawn tractors.
But, having two drive wheels that can spin in different directions, means that these units can turn on the spot - hence the name "zero-turn" since their turning radius is zero.
Note: zero-turn lawn mowers also can turn on a single-wheel - mower pivots around one of the drive wheels - this allows quick turns, but it is also possible that that one single wheel digs itself into the lawn ... not recommended, obviously.
On the other hand, most zero-turn lawn mowers can operate safely on the slopes up to 10 degrees, with some models supporting the use on slopes up to 15 degrees.
Also, any bumps, holes, roots, or similar obstacles that zero-turn lawn mower bumps into may easily be transmitted to the user and handles, changing the driving direction practically instantly.
But, when mowing at lower speeds after some practice, zero-turn lawn mowers allow the user to cut grass accurately, even around the trees and bushes, which is impossible to lawn tractors.
Yard Size and Deck Width
When going for a riding lawn mower, be sure to check the size of your yard first.
While smaller yards can be mowed properly with self-powered, walk-behind lawn mowers, larger yards require riding lawn mowers.
For example, if You have 5 acres (~20243 m2) lawn to mow, using either 24-inch (~61 cm) self-powered walk-behind lawn mower (~2 mph mowing speed) or 54-inch (~137.2 cm) riding lawn mower (~3 mph mowing speed), then:
- 24-inch @2 mph self-powered walk-behind lawn mower requires at least 9-10 hours to mow the lawn,
- 54-inch @3 mph riding lawn mower requires slightly less than 3 hours.
Note: this is just an example - if You do have 5 acres (~20243 m2) lawn, go for a 60+ inch lawn mower from a reputable brand and enjoy your lawn ...
Entry-level riding lawn mowers come with ~30-inch (~76 cm) wide cutting decks, while larger units feature 61-inch (~137.2 cm) or wider cutting decks.
Most riding lawn mowers feature 50-56 inch (127-142 cm) wide cutting decks, offering a good balance between the cutting width and the size and weight (and price!) of the lawn mower itself.
Riding lawn mower engines provide power for driving and for cutting the grass. If the surface is flat, even weaker engines may power the lawn mowers without issues like overheating, or anything similar.
However, when the lawn mower drives up the slope, engine power must be increased in order to overcome the slope, while mowing at the same time.
Thus, riding lawn mowers intended for slopes up to 10-15 degrees come with 20HP or stronger engines, providing enough power for smooth drive and clear cuts even when going uphill.
Wider or Narrower Tires
While wider tires decrease the pressure on the grass, cut grass can leave a moist surface, causing wider tires to slip when going uphill.
On the other hand, narrower tires "bite" surfaces much stronger, offer good grip on the moist grass, but they may also leave marks on the grass.
And if the surface is very soft, riding lawn mower with too thin tires may even get stuck in the soft soil.
Personally, lawn mowers manufacturers spend a lot of time testing the right tire size and width, so if changing tires, check the manufacturer's recommendations for your riding lawn mower.
Note: mowing wet grass is not recommended for many reasons, including more slippery surface, harder to control wet grass clippings (carried by the air flow), increased maintenance, etc.
Safety Features and Issues
When mowing hilly terrain, mow up and down the slope, not along the slope - before the very first cut, read the Owner's Guide thoroughly and check the manufacturer's recommendations and safety warnings.
Some riding lawn mowers come with safety belts and roll-bars - if present, use them as instructed.
Other safety measures must be in place all the time, for example, safety goggles and similar.
Also, be sure to visually check the lawn and to remove any object and/or debris that can cause damage to the blades, tires, and similar.
Additional Kits and Attachments
Most riding lawn mowers come with grass clippings discharge system, by default. However, other kits/attachments are also often available, including:
- Grass clippings bagger: grass clippings are stored in the bag, leaving the lawn free of grass clippings,
- Mulching kit usually contains a non-discharging baffle and blades kit which recuts the grass clippings into a very fine mulch,
- Hitch kit provides towing capability, turning the lawn mower into the multitasking machine,
- Mower cover protects the mower during storage, etc.
Anti-scalp wheels are small wheels around the cutting deck that prevent the cutting deck from cutting too low, reducing the risk of scalping when mowing uneven and rough terrain.
Today, most riding mowers do come with anti-scalp wheels, but they are worth mentioning.
Electric Riding Lawn Mowers
Electric riding lawn mowers usually feature two drive motors (one motor for the left and another one for the right drive wheel) and one motor for powering the cutting blades.
Electric riding lawn mowers are much quieter, easier to maintain, feature simpler construction, but when the battery is discharged, it usually takes hours to recharge it fully.
Flat and even terrain allows the electric riding lawn mower to cover a larger area using a single battery charge, but hilly terrain with many up and down driving can discharge the battery much faster.
The most common battery types include lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries.
Lead-acid batteries are heavier and support a lesser number of charging/discharging cycles when compared with lithium-ion batteries.
Also, the nominal capacity of the batteries is given for 20h discharge period, while electric lawn mowers can discharge their batteries in 1-3 hours easily, depending on the grass type, terrain, speed, and similar.
If the lead-acid battery is discharged in 1 hour, its actual capacity drops down to just 50-70% of its nominal capacity - sometimes slowing down a little bit can increase the covered area enough to get the complete job done.
Most popular lead-acid battery types include spill-proof, maintenance-free Absorbent Glass Mat (AGM) and Gel-Cell batteries, while wet/flooded lead-acid batteries are not so popular for deep-cycle, automotive applications.
On the other hand, lithium-ion batteries are much lighter, can be discharged in or even under one hour without the significant loss of capacity, and support much more charging/discharging cycles than lead-acid batteries, making them practically cheaper in the long run.
The most popular lithium battery chemistry is Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) chemistry, although other chemistries are used as well.
Lithium batteries feature a built-in Battery Management System (BMS) that protects the battery from unwanted events like a short circuit, over-discharge, overcharge, over-temperature, low temperature, over-current protection, etc.
Never, but really never charge a lithium battery with the battery charger intended for some other battery type - such charging can cause lithium battery to overheat, catch fire, or even explode.
If You are considering the electric riding lawn mower, check the size of your yard and comments of the previous buyers, especially regarding the battery life and the size of the recommended lawn.
Ryobi RY48111 38-Inch Electric Riding Lawn Mower
Ryobi RY48111 is an electric riding lawn mower suitable for lawns up to 2.5 acres in size.
Unit is powered by a battery pack consisting of four (4) 12V deep-cycle lead-acid batteries, being able to store 4800 Wh of energy.
Although being a rather compact unit, Ryobi RY48111 weighs 678 pounds (~307 kg) due to the lead-acid batteries and robust construction.
Ryobi RY48111 comes with 3 high-efficiency brushless motors and a 38-inch (96.5 cm) wide side-discharge cutting deck.
On the single battery charge, the unit is able to mow up to 2.5 hours and to mow up to 2.5 acres - when mowing tougher grass on uneven terrain, the runtime is shorter, and the mowing area is smaller, obviously.
Cutting height is adjustable between 1.5 and 4.5 inches (3.8 - 11.5 cm).
During operation, Ryobi RY48111 is a very quiet unit with noise levels of ~70 dB.
Ryobi RY48111 is recharged using a standard wall power socket.
Note: when replacing the batteries, be sure to use the batteries of the same chemistry (lead-acid) of the same brand with the same capacity and voltage, from the same batch, in order to avoid imbalances between the batteries.
Ryobi RY48111 comes with a 3-year limited warranty.
For more reviews and recommendations, feel free to check the Ryobi RY48111 38-Inch Electric Riding Lawn Mower Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
Craftsman E225 42-Inch Lithium-Ion Riding Lawn Mower
Craftsman E225 is powered by a 56V 30Ah lithium battery, storing enough energy for up to 1h of operation, using its 42-inch (~107 cm) wide cutting deck.
The use of lithium battery keeps the weight lower (~580 pounds, ~262 kg), ensures no-fumes, and a rather quiet operation. Also, lithium batteries don't feature a memory effect and can be recharged relatively quickly - a fully discharged battery may be fully recharged in four hours.
The physical dimensions of the unit are 67.8 x 51.95 x 42.25 inches (~172 x 132 x 108 cm) with a turning radius of just 5 inches (12.7 cm).
Cutting height is adjustable between 1.5 and 3.5 inches (~3.8 - 9 cm).
The steering wheel is soft and comfortable, while high-back seating provides a precise and comfortable ride. Craftsman E225 also features a LED headlights for increased visibility and a front bumper for increased safety.
Note: the mulching kit is not included - it is sold separately.
For more reviews and recommendations, feel free to check the Craftsman E225 42-Inch Lithium-Ion Riding Lawn Mower Amazon link (link opens in the new window).
Few Final Words
Riding lawn mowers, zero-turn or lawn tractors, are complex units that must be maintained properly in order to function as intended - keep your Owner's Guide close by and even check it periodically.
Whatever You do, stay safe - lawn mowers feature many moving parts, some of which spin at large velocities and can cause significant damages, injuries, or worse...