Nov. 20 2018 06:00 AM

Stand-on mowers are fast, nimble and a great solution for tight spaces. Those are just a few of the reasons why landscape professionals give them …


Chris Maggert admits he was scared the first time he tried one. But his dealer was persistent, kept bringing it up, kept urging him to give one just a little test.

Finally, he gave in — and the owner of Maggert Lawn Care, Concordia, Missouri, soon found himself purchasing two of them, followed by a third and then a fourth … soon, he was hooked. Well, that’s the sort of thing that can happen when you use a stand-on mower for the very first time.

The stand-on mower may not be addictive in the true sense of the word, but the green industry professionals who use them and love them can’t imagine working without them. Since the first Wright Stander (the only stand-on that can be called by the trademarked term “Stander”) rolled out of the factory in 1997, this style of grasscutter has been gaining in popularity.

What was so scary about trying a stand-on? “Just the change,” says Maggert. “Since I’ve been in the industry, I’d always used sit-downs. I’d seen the stand-ons around but never got into them myself. Then two years ago, my dealer got me looking at some. I bought two of them, and though I was still scared, I fell in love with them.”

Maggert was worried about whether his workers would accept “the new kids.” “We were all so used to my zero-turn mid-mounts, I just didn’t know how they were going to react, if they would like standing all day — or if I would,” he says. “And it was hard at first to get used to the controls, which were quite different.” However, he reports that, after the first couple of weeks, his guys “just absolutely loved them.”

And then Maggert, too, was smitten. Why? Let him count the ways. “They’re more versatile, quicker. They’re slimmer, so you can fit more of them on a trailer, and they’re easier to work on because everything’s kind of right there. They’re better on hills and on your body. The visibility is much greater, and they’re lighter.”

The stand-on mower fan club includes Rob Eisner, owner of Personal Touch Landscaping in Fort Myers, Florida, and Dan Ziegler, the general manager. They’re such fans, in fact, that Eisner says, “We have no sit-down mowers. Zero.” Ziegler explains that they did have some zero-turn riders after Eisner acquired other companies, but quickly sold them.

Bryan Coleman, owner of Coleman Landscaping LLC, Chalfont, Pennsylvania, says that with his mowing crews, mower preference is a generational thing. “Some of the older guys still like the riders. The newer guys, the younger ones, really like the stand-ons. The only thing they don’t like is when they run into a low-hanging branch ‘cause you’re a little higher up.”

Lloyd Von Schleiha, product manager at Exmark, Beatrice, Nebraska, says a lot of different factors account for a preference for stand-ons. “It can go back to how a contractor has set up his trailers. He might go with a stand-on because it’s a more compact footprint than a rider. “If they’re mowing HOAs, going from one yard to the next and the next, [stand-ons are] more maneuverable in smaller yards, and they can just kind of go through them. If they’re mowing in gated areas or smaller backyards, a stand-on may be more practical than a larger sitdown rider.”

The topography of the sites can be a consideration, too, says Von Schleiha. Or it could be price; stand-ons tend to be less expensive than ZTRs.

There are regional preferences as well. “If you go to Kansas City (Missouri), pretty much all you’ll see are stand-ons,” Von Schleiha says. “In that market, they’ve done really well for whatever reason, maybe because of the strength of a local dealer. But go to other parts of the country, and they won’t even know what a stand-on is.”

Ron Scheffler, senior product manager at Bobcat, Johnson Creek, Wisconsin, says that while landscapers can be more efficient on a stand-on mower, “People still like to sit. I also believe many customers don’t understand the benefits of utilizing a stand-on mower.”

There are many reasons why landscape professionals have a bromance with stand-ons. Let’s look at some of the main ones more closely.

“They beat you up less”

Brendon Kelley is shop manager at Garrick Santo Landscaping, Wilmington, Massachusetts. He says that, after 20 years in the business, “my body’s taken a beating.”

He’s used virtually every type of mower, and to him, there’s no contest. “A lot of people prefer zero-turn riders. But when I’m on a stand-on, I can really feel the suspension absorbing those shocks. Considering all the time you spend on a machine, it’s a completely different world, not being in pain. It’s a very smooth ride.”

Maggert thinks posture plays a part. “They force you to stand up straight all day versus being hunched over. Standing is a more natural position. When you sit on a mower all day, your nerves get pinched — they kind of beat you up, bouncing up and down with the little hills and ditches and things. When it rains it gets even harder — even more fun.”

Maggert adds, “The last two years, we’ve really ridden them hard and, honestly, I don’t have as many back problems as I used to. I don’t know if many of my guys have noticed that as much, but,” he jokes, “they’re a lot younger than I am.”

Dominic Russo, owner of Russo Lawn Care, Cincinnati, agrees. “When there’s a dip in the ground, the whole machine kind of moves with it like a walk-behind does.”

It seems a bit counterintuitive that standing up all day would be less fatiguing and easier on the body than sitting down, but that’s the consensus, at least among these professionals. And some studies even seem to support the benefits of standing versus sitting for long periods of time.

Kelley agrees that stand-ons batter one’s body less. “With landscapers, it’s usually our knees, our backs or our shoulders that give out after a while. Being on a stand-on machine, it’s a completely different world. You’re not in pain.”

Bryan Coleman, owner of Coleman Landscaping LLC, in Chalfont, Pennsylvania, knows what Kelley means. He says that stand-ons have “got his back,” so to speak.

“The stand-ons just don’t hurt your back as much. It does take a little bit for your legs to get used to the different feel — but the suspensions, at least on the ones that we have, are very good.”

Mower manufacturers are aware of these perceptions and are constantly working on ways to make the ergonomics of all mower styles better and less impactful to one’s body. “Operator fatigue, operator comfort — these are real issues,” says Von Schleiha. “We take that seriously. One feature on our standons allows an operator to dial in his weight to adjust the amount of suspension that will be needed.”

But he stops short of saying that a stand-on is less fatiguing than a rider. “Is one type more comfortable than another? That really depends on the operator and on how the machine is being used. If you’re constantly jumping on and off the machine to pick up trash or move something out of the way, a stand-on is a lot easier on you.”

“But if the ground is rough, you might feel as if the stand-on would beat you up a little bit more. So while I can see where someone might say that a stand-on is more comfortable, I can also see where someone else might say the exact opposite.”

Carl Agee, commercial mowing product manager for John Deere, Moline, Illinois, has a theory about this. “When an operator is standing, his body has more hinge points to absorb shocks or bumps during operation. Your ankles, knees, hips, all these things give, and that helps absorb a lot of that vibration that can come up through the mower. When you’re sitting, those same shocks go straight into your lower back.”

“They’re more nimble”

All the contractors I spoke with praised the standon mower’s maneuverability. “I’ve found them to be really nimble in places, especially here in Cincinnati, where there are a lot of hills,” says Russo. “They do well on them, even when compared to walk-behinds. Traditionally, we’d always heard, ‘walk-behinds are the only way to go on hills.’ Well the stand-ons I’ve used stick to hills just as well.”

Maggert says his guys find stand-ons to be “quicker, more versatile. You can get into corners and smaller areas better. They’re faster at picking up trash, because you don’t have to get up and down 30 times on one property.”

Because the operator is standing, he’s able to utilize his body mass to make it move this way or that, says Agee. Suddenly I pictured Paul Blart, Mall Cop weaving through crowds of shoppers.

“Kind of like a Segway?” I asked. “Yes,” he replied. “Very much like that.”

“They’re very productive”

Russo says he’s been getting a lot more work done since he began using stand-ons. “Compared to the walk-behinds I was using five years ago, when I went to a stand-on I could do five or six more 3/4-acre yards a day. It was incredible.”

“They have a faster ground speed than a commercial walk-behind machine. I can pick up so much more business throughout the week because I can do stuff faster, even as a solo guy.”

Agee says Russo is right about the speed factor. “Traditionally, stand-ons have faster ground speeds than commercial walk-behinds.”

The bottom line is … well, the bottom line. Time is money, and if these machines save time, that makes them valuable. “Contractors are always looking for ways to work faster,” Agee says, “so they can add more jobs per day and increase profitability on the accounts they already maintain.”

“They’re easier to work on”

Through use or abuse, every mower needs to get serviced from time to time. How do standons stack up in this regard?

”Stand-ons are, because of their compact nature, a little bit harder to service when things break,” says Von Schleiha. “Because we’re packing an engine, a drive system, the deck, belts, everything, into a smaller footprint, it’s a tighter package. That can be a challenge.”

Most of the contractors I spoke with, however, say just the opposite, finding stand-ons easier to service than zero-turns.

Russo, for one, is undaunted by the stand-ons’ internal compactness. “I would say they’re probably about the same degree of difficulty as riders. It’s maybe even easier to change the blades on a stand-on just because the deck doesn’t reach up quite as high.”

He continues, “with a sit-down, the deck is like right underneath you, so reaching the bolts to change the blades out is a little more difficult. In a stand-on, the bolts are right in front of the engine, so they’re a lot easier to get to.”

Kelley says that as stand-ons have improved over time, so has their serviceability. “As they introduce new generations, they find all these little things to change and fix and make simpler.”

Kelley says, “On the old stand-ons, for example, it was a nightmare to try and change the clutch underneath because they would have a bar running through it. But now, you can literally reach your hand in there and there’s nothing blocking your work area.”

Maggert has also found stand-ons easier to work on than his mid-mount ZTRs.

“I used to have to take three fenders off, a hood and two sides — you had to take the two fenders off just to work on a battery. And you had to take the hood and the side panel off to work on the fuel filters,” he says.

“They’re smaller and lighter”

Its smaller footprint is one of the standons’ main advantages; Maggert can fit four of his smaller ones in a single trailer.

“That’s helpful when we need to mow bigger properties,” he says, adding, “We can fit them in sideways instead of longways, too.”

He also finds them easier to navigate through narrow passageways, saying that his 32-inch light stand-on fits well through back gates.

Eisner mentioned the stand-ons’ lower weight, about 300 to 600 pounds lighter than an average ZTR. That’s a big appeal for him. “Because we mow so frequently in southwest Florida and we do it yearround, that’s important,” he says. Also, the ground is often soft; at least four or five months of the year, there are daily downpours.

“You can rut up a yard by running the same pattern all the time,” adds Ziegler. “That’s less of a problem with stand-ons as opposed to sit-downs because of their reduced weight.”

Should you add them to your mower fleet?

After digesting all the reasons why contractors like them, you may want to take a “test-stand” yourself. You may not go as far as Eisner, who went to an allstand-on fleet, but you may find that one or more of these units may be just the ticket for mowing certain properties.

Stand-ons do tend to be less expensive than sit-down riders; however, none of the contractors interviewed for this story cited price as one of their primary reasons for purchasing them.

If you decide to buy one, you may join the other landscape professionals who find the stand-ons’ agility, lighter weight, smaller size, reduced operator fatigue factor and other characteristics deserve a standing ovation.

Are stand-ons safer on hills?

Too often, we hear tragic stories about landscapers who’ve flipped zero-turn riders while mowing steep hills, became pinned underneath and were seriously hurt or even killed. Would a stand-on be safer in such a circumstance? Chris Maggert, owner of Maggert Lawn Care, Concordia, Missouri, a full-time firefighter who runs his landscape business on the side, thinks so.

“Rollover is a significant hazard for landscapers. If you’re sitting down on a rider with the rollbar up (he’s referring to the rollover protective structure, or ROPS, that most zero-turn riders have), you can catch a tree branch or a swing set or something and have an accident.”

Worse is a rollover when a rider’s rollbar is down. “You have a chance of getting pinned underneath or breaking your back or neck.” He adds sliding down a hill and turning over in the water is a top cause of worker death.

With stand-ons you’re not strapped to the machine so you can jump off if you start to slip. Rob Eisner, owner of Personal Touch Landscaping in Fort Myers, Florida, says safety is one of the main reasons he went with an allstand-on fleet. “A lot of our properties back up to waterways, and if you are on a sit-down mower with your steering controls in front of you, almost locking you in, it’s harder to escape.”

Mower manufacturers warn against mowing hills steeper than 15 degrees of incline with a ZTR, but in the field, there are no guarantees of adherence.

Ed Wright, vice president of engineering, sales and marketing at Wright Manufacturing Inc., Frederick, Maryland, says, “It’s a particular technicality, but we wouldn’t say there’s greater safety in a stand-on type of mower; rather, it’s that the hazard is less. That’s an important distinction. It’s really that the hazard is reduced than that the safety is improved.”

What stands out about stand-ons

Those interviewed in the story say the following are features they like about stand-on mowers.

• Easier to maneuver in tight areas

• Lighter weight prevents rutting

• Smaller size means more can fit in a trailer

• Fewer shocks to operator’s body

• Fast-moving, so productivity is increased

• Easy to maintain and repair

• Better and safer on hills, no roll-overs

• Less expensive than zero-turn riders

The author is senior editor of Irrigation & Green Industry magazine and can be reached at maryvillano@igin.com.