By Alex Temblador published
Mowing the lawn is tough work. Depending on the size of your yard, it can take hours to complete. And no matter how great the self-propelling system is on a push-behind lawn mower, it still requires a lot of energy that's best used elsewhere. This is why the best riding lawn mowers are the answer to yard work.
You don’t need a large yard to justify a riding lawn mower. They come in big and small packages – some are small enough to fit through regular-sized fence gates while others have a super-wide deck that can manage acres upon acres of land. Whether you want to save energy for other yard maintenance duties like weed eating, or mobility is of concern, a ride on mower is the lawn mowing experience you deserve.
We’ve gathered our favorite riding lawn mowers for every type of home. You’ll find that the bells and whistles vary, but one thing remains the same: simply hop aboard and achieve a professional-quality cut.
For more options to keep your yard looking tidy, see the best lawn mowers for a range of types including gas and battery powered.
Best riding lawn mowers 2021
1. Cub Cadet 42 in. 22 HP V-Twin KOHLER 7000 Engine Dual-Hydro Zero Turn Mower
Best overall riding lawn mower: smooth zero turn mower
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
Some zero-turn mowers are not great on hills but if you want the convenience of one with the stability of a standard ride on, then the Cub Cadet Ultima 42in 22HP V-Twin Kohler Zero Turn is the best riding lawn mower for you. It has large 20 inch rear tires that minimize turfing and offer better control over uneven ground and higher speeds.
The S-blades have a cut overlap to make sure you get the neatest cut, with full use of the 42 inch cutting deck to reduce the time spent mowing with each pass. Users commented that it cut the time they used to spend mowing with mowers of a much wider deck. What's more, the cutting height can be easily adjusted from one to four and a half inches from the foot operated deck lift and dial knob for maximum cutting precision.
Driver comfort has also been considered and the 20-inch high seat back paired with ample leg room make this a smooth ride for anyone – reviewers do appreciate the slightly taller back rest and good suspension. The lap bars can be adjusted to the driver's preference, too. And finally, for those who find themselves cutting early, late in the evening or in inclement weather, they will be glad to hear it has headlights and has been praised for its ability to offer a smooth cut, even on wet grass.
2. John Deere Z515E Zero-Turn Lawn Mower
Best zero-turn riding mower: ideal for large, uneven yards
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
The John Deere Z515E riding lawn mower is a great choice for homeowners with large, uneven, and/or heavy-duty yards. It may not be the fastest John Deere riding mower, but with an 8 mph maximum speed, it’s the fastest on this list. Plus, it was designed to cut tall grass at faster speeds – reducing your overall mowing time.
Lap bars may not be the easiest thing to learn, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll cut your yard faster than you would with other mowers. The 18-inch back seats have two spring suspensions (and armrests!) to keep you as comfortable as possible during the ride. Side and under-seat storage compartments are handy, as are the cup holder and low-fuel warning light.
To keep you and your loved ones safe, the folks at John Deere added a retractable seat belt and a foldable Roll-Gard that will protect the driver in case the machine rolls over on a slope.
3. CRAFTSMAN T210 Turn Tight 18-HP Hydrostatic 42-in Riding Lawn Mower
Best steering wheel riding mower: can handle tight turns in small yards
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
If you don’t want the hassle of learning how to use a zero-turn mower with lap bars, consider the CRAFTSMAN T210 Turn Tight Riding Lawn Mower. It’s outfitted with a steering wheel that has a 5-inch turning radius. It’s not zero-turn but it can still handle a really tight turn so you can easily maneuver through compact spaces and smaller yards.
With a 42-inch cutting deck that has a 1–4 inch cutting height, buyers should use this riding mower on yards that are less than 2 acres. Enjoy a more comfortable ride with a high back seat and foot pedals that let you adjust the speed (like when driving a car). You can even maneuver this machine in reverse which could come in handy.
Although some reviewers admit that they have used this CRAFTSMAN on slopes, they note that it isn't incredibly stable. Be careful when using it on uneven or sloped terrain.
4. Troy-Bilt TB30 Neighborhood Lawn Tractor
Best riding mower for smaller yards: compact design that's easy to store
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
The best riding lawn mowers aren't just a good idea for those with large yards. They can make mowing a small-to-medium yard easier. Troy-Bilt has the best small riding lawn mower on the scene – the TB30 Neighborhood Lawn Tractor. The cutting deck is 30 inches and the overall dimensions are compact enough to store in a garage or shed and fit through a fence gate.
The steering wheel makes this lawn mower easy to handle at top speeds of 4.25 mph. The 18-inch turn radius is probably the biggest drawback, but that's a fairly typical turn radius for most steering wheel riding lawn mowers.
Other perks include Shift-on-the-Go(TM) transmission, five adjustable cutting settings, and a side discharge. Most reviewers rave over small, thoughtful design elements like a cupholder and a seat and steering wheel that reduces vibration.
5. EGO POWER+ 22-HP Brushless Motor Direct Drive 42-in Zero-turn Lawn Mower
Best battery-powered riding mower: an eco-friendly electric option
Reasons to buy
Reasons to avoid
The idea of a battery-powered riding lawn mower once seemed preposterous – but the creative minds at EGO POWER have designed one that works great on yards that are less than two acres.
The EGO POWER+ 22-HP Brushless Motor Direct Drive 42-in Zero-turn Lawn Mower comes with four batteries but it can hold six. To achieve max power, you’ll want to buy two more batteries. According to users, six fully-charged batteries can cut two acres. Better yet, when the battery is low, the cutting capability of the 42-inch deck doesn't lessen. The batteries remain in the mower when they need to be charged.
This zero-turn lawn mower is decked out in techy features like a USB port to charge your phone and lights that make mowing in low-light settings possible. Bluetooth capability and an app let you start the mower and customize the cut, blade speed, travel speed, etc. from your phone. There are three driving modes: Control, Standard, and Sport. Where 'Control' helps users maneuver around items like trees, 'Standard' is great for clear and open yards.
Although the lawn mower averages 3–7 mph, it can reach speeds up to 8 mph. Reviewers noted that the mower does well on slopes and is considerably quiet.
How to choose the best riding lawn mowers
Purchasing the right riding lawn mower can be an intimidating task. No one wants to buy a riding lawn mower and set it up, only to discover they don’t like how it works and then struggle to keep their lawn ideas in the best possible shape.
We’ve gathered all the pertinent information you need to consider when choosing the best riding lawn mowers for your home. Keep this in mind when narrowing down your choices.
Size of the yard
The bigger the yard, the wider the cutting width you’ll need. Riding lawn mowers typically have cutting widths that are between 38–85 inches. Check out our cheat sheet below:
- Small yards – ½ acre or less: 40 inches or less
- Medium yards – ½ to 2 acres: 40–48 inches
- Large yards – 3 acres or more: 50 inches and up
The layout of your backyard is just as important as the size. Those with uneven terrain, slopes, or lots of trees/objects will need to find riding lawn mowers specifically designed to handle those types of yards.
Typically, zero-turn riding lawn mowers are more equipped to work on yards with lots of trees, however, they aren’t known for doing well on slopes or uneven terrain. Of course, that’s not always the case; the Cub Cadet featured above is designed specifically to handle slopes. And depending on the grade of the slope, some riding lawn mowers will work fine with the right kind of mowing technique (up and down versus side to side).
If your yard has uneven terrain, look for a riding lawn mower with seats and steering wheels designed to handle the jostling and reduce vibration.
Turn radius is a very important feature to take into account when considering how to mow a lawn with a riding mower. Zero-turn lawn mowers can turn at zero degrees, kind of like a tank turning in place. These types of mowers have long been used by professionals because they are faster and have better maneuverability.
If you prefer a riding lawn mower with a steering wheel, just know that it may not do well on lawns with tight spaces or lots of trees. You’ll need to buy a turn radius on the lower end (less than seven inches) to help ensure that you can cut tight corners around trees or maneuver out of awkward spaces.
There are two types of handle designs on riding lawn mowers. Most people are drawn to riding lawn mowers with steering wheel designs because it feels similar to driving a car.
Zero-turn riding lawn mowers usually (but not always) have lap bar handles that you push back and forth to make turns. Although they look intimidating, lap bars are easier to use than you think. You will need to practice using them because if you turn too quickly, the back wheels can damage your yard.
Riding lawn mowers can reach speeds between 1–10 mph, however, most average 4–8.5 mph. To reduce the amount of mowing time, look for a lawn mower that can reach speeds up to 7–8 mph.
For the longest time, gas was the only way to power a riding lawn mower. We included a battery-powered riding lawn mower on this list because the reviews of the product are pretty outstanding. It can mow up to two acres on a single charge, so if you have a large yard, you’ll want to steer clear of battery-powered riding lawn mowers.
Keep in mind that battery-powered lawn mowers won’t be the fastest (but they’re also not necessarily the slowest). That said, they’re much quieter, are better for the environment, and don’t require gas and oil maintenance. If you like the idea of a battery powered mower but in a smaller package than these ride ons, check out our best cordless lawn mowers.
Riding lawn mowers can cost as low as $1,100 and as high as $15,000. Most residential riding lawn mowers fall within the $2,000–$6,000 range. While they’re pretty pricey, they are a great investment and with routine maintenance, can last many years.
Storage and maintenance
Don't forget that you will need a garage or large shed to store your riding mower. It will need to be protected from the elements and dirt while not in use. Yearly servicing is necessary – just as you would a car. It will need oil changes and checks to make sure all the mechanisms are moving safely and freely.
Alex Temblador is a Dallas-based award-winning author and freelance writer that has covered home, design, architecture, and art in publications like Real Homes, Gardeningetc, Home & Gardens, Dwell, Architectural Digest, Artsy, Neighborhoods.com, Culture Trip, among many others. She recently bought her first home, a green Sears & Roebuck house that's over 100 years old, sits on half an acre of land, and features a stunning wraparound porch, original hardwood floors, pocket doors, and a butler pantry. Alex loves to test products for Gardeningetc, Real Homes, and Homes & Gardens buying guides and reviews which has helped to expand the richness of her first-time homeowner life – she has tested everything from hedge trimmers to hot tubs. The Mixed Latinx writer can usually be found working or relaxing in her outdoor spaces.
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