Mower sulkies and standing riders

Less fatigue, faster rate of work completion, labor-saving strategies and improved mowing fleets are important concerns for most grounds-maintenance-company owners, managers and contractors. They want to complete their daily work in the most timely and effective manner possible, and sulkies and standing riders enable many of them to meet these goals.

Where they came from Sulkies first appeared in ancient Egypt during the reign of the pharaohs and the chariot. In fact, the sulky evolved directly from the chariot, as a lightweight, two-wheeled, single-seat, single-driver, horse-drawn cart used for general transportation. In England, during the Middle Ages, they were adapted to fit racehorses, and today you probably see them from time-to-time compete in races in the Northeastern U.S. and in the movies. In our industry, their evolutionary trek has led to their use as single-operator platforms or chairs-usually attached to walk-behind mowers.

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What they are now Today, the definition of a sulky remains unchanged, and they still carry jockeys in horse-racing events. However, mower sulkies also are attachments for walk-behind mowers. Some commercial riding mowers look like a walk-behind with a sulky, but aren't. To qualify as such, sulkies must be detachable.

Mowing sulkies come in two general types: * The standing sulky, which includes a single-operator deck, a hitch, two wheels and (usually) a spring suspension for shock absorption. The operator steers the walk-behind mower using its (the mower's) handles. * The sitting sulky has a single-operator seat (instead of a standing deck) and foot rests, and still allows steering via the mower's handlebars.

Standing sulkies allow the operator to stand and ride behind a walk-behind mower in the same way a boat pulls a water skier. In fact, you'll notice a certain "surfing" look and feel when using a standing sulky. Sitting sulkies give the appearance of a riding unit and some have their own handlebars (with which you steer the mower) and attach to sulky-ready mowing decks. Inflatable tires and spring suspensions on both types relieve shock, protect turf and ease your ride.

Steerable sulky attachments must fully articulate for precise turning. The only way to be sure that a sulky allows your mower to retain its zero-turn capability is to test drive the unit. In the field, it takes time to become proficient using a sulky. If you decide to purchase a sulky, or if your season is underway with new crewmembers, make sure you offer them a training period if they are to use the sulky. Usually, an hour or so on your business property or field is sufficient.

Standing riders A relatively new evolutionary development in commercial-mowing equipment is the standing rider or "surfer" mower. As of this date, only three companies manufacture these kinds of machines. They look like traditional walk-behind mowers, except they have an added standing deck behind the steering bars or a seat, motorcycle-like grips and foot rests. You operate the machine in much the same manner as you would a walk-behind.

The standing deck on these machines provides you with more visibility because you are about 8 to 10 inches off the ground. They also have clear advantages in maneuverability over sulky attachments, but you must take great care to maintain balance and not fall off the deck. Because standing riders operate nearly identically to traditional walk-behind mowers, you lose little time in training your crewmembers on the machine. The stand-on deck is at the center of the zero-turn radius.

In an attempt to increase stability on hills and inclines, most of these units come with an extra-wide wheel stance and wide tires.

What you gain Sulkies lessen operator fatigue and decrease the mowing time of your properties. They allow you to upgrade the speed of your mower fleet and retain the option of using your walk-behinds as such, depending on your needs and condition of the properties you mow.

You win employee gratitude by allowing the use of sulkies. Instead of walking behind a unit and trying to maintain a 3.5-mph pace, your operators ride along at the speed of the machine. Naturally, if a person receives physical relief and experiences less fatigue while working, he or she will appreciate it. This makes for a more productive crewmember and better job performance.

The speed of your fleet and the time saved mowing your properties means a possible increase in the amount of business you can bid and perform each season. Estimates indicate that when an operator uses a sulky, job-completion time decreases 5 to 10 percent compared to a walking operator.

However, sulkies require more skill. If you want straight mowing lines in the turf, the somewhat bouncy and wavering ride of a sulky makes that more difficult than when using a walk-behind. You also must ensure that the wheels of the sulky align directly behind those of the mower to create well-manicured striping.

What to look for Purchasing a sulky, like any decision you make for your company, requires thought and planning. Here are some points to consider when it comes to sulkies: * Your sulky must adjust to terrain independently from the mower that pulls them. * You must make sure the sulky is made of quality materials and can handle the weight of operators. * When properly hitched to your mowers the sulky must allow you to reach the mower's controls and allow the deck to ride evenly across the turf. Improper sulky attachment (or rigging) causes the deck to bounce and thereby scalp or scuff turf. * Inspect major pivot points to ensure that they have flange bushings and confirm that all high-wear points have accessible grease zerks. * Spring suspension and large, pneumatic tires are best for a comfortable ride and are easier on turf. * Quick-release hitches allow fast and easy conversion back to a walk-behind as different situations dictate. Be sure your current mower's deck and transmission can handle the added weight of a sulky and an operator. * The sulky deck must offer at least 3 inches of ground clearance. * Jackknifing is a risk when using sulkies. As with a vehicle pulling a trailer, in the case of sudden or unexpected turns or stops, sulkies (when not properly hitched or manufactured) tend to jackknife. Be sure the sulky meets American National Standards Institute (ANSI) non-jackknife requirements.

Strength and durability As mentioned, sulkies and standing riders ease operator fatigue and save time. However, they don't alleviate stress on the mower-in fact, they enhance strain and stress on your machines. Pulling or carrying any object and person with a mower creates extra stress on certain components of the unit. Walk-behind mowers (manufactured with sulky hitches) and standing riders have larger engines, stronger decks and tougher transmissions to handle the combined (reasonable) weight of a sulky and an operator. If you plan to add a sulky to a mower already in your fleet, you must ensure that the mower's engine, deck and transmission can handle this extra strain.

Typically, a minimum of 7-gauge steel is the recommended material for engine-deck construction for all mowers designed to pull a sulky and for all standing riders.

If built for sulky attachments, your walk-behind mower runs little risk of extra mechanical breakdowns, servicing or repairs. If, on the other hand, you rig a hitch and use a mower with insufficient engine power and deck and transmission strength, you dramatically increase the chance of breakdown and serious damage.

Safety and operational tips Before using a sulky or standing rider, understand safe and appropriate use of these attachments. * Make sure the mower has an automatic shut-off device that disengages the blades and engine should you step or fall off the standing deck. * Make sure you properly lubricate sulky attachments and inflate their tires to the correct pressure. Poorly lubricated units wear more quickly and increase the odds of breakdown. Under-pressurized tires allow rim damage, are harmful to turf and add stress to the mower because they are more difficult to pull. Over-pressurized tires wear more quickly, are harder on turf and risk the development of leaks. * Sulkies and standing riders are for use only on flat landscapes. Never use them on berms, hills or rocky terrain. Tipping is a real danger and your chances of doing so increase on hilly landscapes. Plus, scalping is common when using these units on berms and hills. It's better to unhitch your sulky and use your mower as a true walk-behind unit in these situations. * Make sure all equipment meets ANSI standards for stability, control and guards. * Make sure all operators remain within weight-towing limitations for specific sulky and mower units. Your sulky and standing-riding mower should indicate those limitations. * Avoid using sulkies when cutting high (over 4.5 inches) or wet turf. This, coupled with the weight of the sulky and the operator, puts too much strain on the engine. * As in any mowing situation, wear safety glasses, hearing protection and appropriate boots and pants.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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