Ergonomic upgrades on zero-turn riders By Dexter Ewing
Aside from cut quality and user safety and convenience, what is another major factor that you always consider when evaluating a potential purchase of any zero-turn rider? It is user comfort. Because you sit for a good portion of your day aboard one of these machines, operator comfort and convenience is paramount. If you are not comfortable, then you are not productive. Mower manufacturers have differing approaches to operator ergonomics that assist the operator in being more comfortable, and thus, more productive during the long workdays of the growing season.
“Walker’s ergonomics decisions actually go back to the design concept,” says Tim Cromley, marketing director for Walker Manufacturing. “Many of our ergonomic choices are part of design principle in favor of reacting to operator’s needs.” Cromley specifically cites a couple key examples. First, are the levers that govern the forward speed and direction of the Walker mower. “By virtue of our ‘cruise control,’ the operator uses only gentle fingertip pressure to put the machine through its paces.” Unlike mid-mount zero-turns, which require the operator to hold the steering levers in the forward position to maintain a constant speed, Walker’s forward speed is governed by a separate lever and the operator does not need to hold the steering levers in the forward position, reducing operator fatigue.
|All control levers, switches and gauges on the Walker MD Diesel are within close reach and view of the seat. Note the control panel on the left hand side of the seat that contains gauges that monitor the performance of the Kubota diesel engine.||The Walker MD Diesel has plenty of operator leg room and excellent visibility of the cutting deck. All controls, including the steering levers, are within easy reach, and a suspension seat comes as standard equipment on this particular model.|
Another example Cromley points out is the relatively low center of gravity. “The operator sits directly above the drive tires and gives stability to their position on the tractor,” he explains. In this position, the operator is sitting right on the center of the mower’s turning radius. “This helps with the overall command of the machine and with operator comfort,” says Cromley. In addition to these two key features, Walker also offers several amenities that contribute to operator comfort. “We do offer suspension seats (with lumbar, fore/aft and weight adjustments), adjustable footrests and our steering levers are adjustable,” says Cromley. Walker offers a Grammer suspension seat as an option, though it is available as standard equipment for the 25 hp and 31 hp MT liquid-cooled and MD diesel riders.
Walker now offers adjustable footrests that attach directly to the deck carrier frame and can slide fore and aft and lock into place. Cromley points out that many Walker customers also enjoy the additional benefit of their curb jumper ramp. The ramp assists in driving the mower over curbs and it stores conveniently on the deck carrier frame, providing a nice, spacious footrest. “The curb jumper ramp is also a great footrest and is popular because of its multi-use function,” Cromley concludes.
John Cloutier, marketing manager for Exmark Manufacturing, says that when it comes to operator ergonomics, the little things mean a lot. “The reality is that ergonomic and comfortable designs are made up of many small elements that often do not get noticed when considering which mower to purchase,” he says. Exmark incorporates many of these small elements into each zero-turn rider they produce, from the big and brawny Lazer Z XS series all the way down to their compact powerhouse Phazer, and every model in between. Some examples of these small elements include height adjustable steering levers, the diameter of the steering levers, engine mounts that dissipate vibration and overall positioning of the entire operator controls. “Drive tire size has a significant impact on ride comfort,” says Cloutier. Generally, bigger tires will offer a more cushioned ride as the sidewalls may flex a bit in response to traversing rough terrain, as well as reduced rutting in wet conditions.
|Exmark’s Lazer Z HP compact frame mower offers a spacious operator station.||The right hand control cluster panel on the Exmark Lazer Z HP groups all of the mower’s vital controls together in one location for easy access.|
Exmark offers a premium seat with height adjustable arm rests, as well as variable fore and aft positioning of the entire seat to accommodate operators with differing leg lengths. “We design our products with national averages in operator height, weight and stature in mind; however, not everyone is average,” Cloutier says. “Therefore, the mower must be able to adapt and provide comfort and ergonomic flexibility for all types of operators.” When visiting your local commercial mower retailer, Cloutier says that it is easy to hop aboard a rider and get a first impression of how comfortable it feels to you. “The real test is how you and your crew feel at the end of a long work day of mowing,” he states. “This is when you will understand if the manufacturer did their homework or not.”
Ross Hawley, product manager for Toro’s landscape contractor equipment division, says, “When contractors are as comfortable as possible, they can be as productive as possible. That’s why Toro focuses on ergonomics right from the start, in the product design stage.” Hawley cites a few key examples of operator ergonomic traits of Toro’s Z-Master line of zero-turn riders. First is the clustering of the controls (throttle, choke and ignition). By grouping the controls together, this eliminates guesswork on the operator’s part and any control can be accessed quickly and easily. Second, are the 1 5/8-inch diameter steering levers. “Our large-diameter steering levers are designed to decrease pressure on hands,” Hawley points out. “The larger levers keep hands in a more neutral—rather than locked—position.” Choice of seats is also paramount to Toro in operator ergonomics. “Our deluxe seat offers a built-in spring suspension system that can be easily adjusted to suit an operator’s preference.”
|Toro’s large frame Z Master zero-turn rider is an industry standard for those who desire a durable rider that is easy and comfortable to operate.||The operator station of the Toro Z Master features clustered controls on the left hand side and a molded in cupholder on the right side. A suspension seat is optional. Note the control lever of the optional OCDC next to the deck height control lever is also easy to reach from the seated position.|
A unique accessory to Toro’s Z-Master line that attributes to the overall comfort of the operator is the Cool Tops downdraft fan, powered by a 21-volt motor, that attaches to the ROPS of a Z-Master rider. “The fan is designed to keep motor heat, insects and debris off equipment operators,” says Hawley.
BOB-CAT is a company that has been producing zero-turn riders for a long time, and they recognize the fact that operator comfort and convenience is paramount to being productive. “Operator comfort is extremely important when you consider that many operators will run machines for periods that will last as long as eight hours without getting off of the machine,” says Tony Weber, product manager for Schiller Grounds Care, Inc. (formally Commercial Grounds Care, Inc.), the parent company of BOB-CAT. Weber cites the specific examples of their fully dampened steering levers and premium suspension seat. The steering levers “help the operator safely and efficiently control and maneuver the machine.” The positioning of the mower’s controls is also important to BOB-CAT engineers. “Controls must be intuitive and easy to reach with full access. Controls, including throttle, choke and ignition, should be presented to the operator in a location where they are easily accessed,” he says.
Other items of interest are the Quick Lift Pedal of the mower deck that permits the operator to raise the deck to clear obstacles, the easy-to-reach deck lift lever and height adjuster allows height of cut changes easily without strain. “I think that seat height and angle, along with floor plate height and angle, are extremely important,” says Weber. “The operator platform should not only be comfortable and provide a smooth ride, but must have a feeling of safety, control and security.”
The operator platform is something that John Deere took into consideration when engineering their new Z-Trak Pro 800 Series zero-turn riders. Gilbert Pena, John Deere’s segment strategy manager for the commercial turf equipment division, spoke about the new mowers and their ergonomic enhancements. A deck step was added to the trim side of the mower to assist in mounting and dismounting. “Operators do not have to stretch their legs as far to climb onto the [operator] platform,” says Pena. “This is a big plus for those who get on and off the mower a lot.” The toe board was redesigned to be taller and angled more for comfort. When mowing on a hill, operators can use their feet to brace themselves to keep from sliding on the seat. Speaking of the seat, a suspension seat kit is an option, incorporating the existing Z-Trak Pro seat. The steering levers were redesigned to accommodate all sizes of people. “We made the levers adjustable for larger operators, giving them more stomach clearance,” says Pena. A steering lever kit is an option that further raises the levers to accommodate large-framed operators.
|The brand new Z-Trak Pro 800 Series from John Deere was designed as the most ergonomically comfortable zero-turn rider that the company has engineered. It has several key ergonomic enhancements that make the operator more productive. PHOTO: JOHN DEERE|
In addition to these major improvements, he says there is a comfort and convenience package for two Z-Trak Pro models, the Z840A and Z850A. This special package consists of three ergonomic enhancements on top of what is offered. First, “we make the steering levers ergonomically contoured,” Pena says. The steering levers are angled in such a way they accommodate the natural angle of your wrist. Secondly, “a rubber composite grip material adds to the user’s grip,” he says. This material is softer to the touch and makes gripping the control levers easy and comfortable, without a tight grip. Finally, buttons were added on the inside of the grip. Pena says these buttons permit the user to quickly access a couple safety and convenience functions without removing one’s hands from the levers. On the Z850A, the left hand lever’s button controls the hydraulic deck lift. The right-hand lever’s button is the PTO emergency kill switch.