My zero turn Scag Tiger Cub is safer on my hill

Sep 24, 2003

The Bottom Line Mowing a hill is risky but I think my zero turn rider is safer than my old tractor mower.

I've been worried about my former riding mower rolling over on the hill of my front yard. This hill is about 25 degrees at its worst point, most of it is about 20 degrees. A quick turn when heading downhill felt like it would roll my older Simplicity tractor, even though it never happened. The 38 inch mower deck actually helped stabilize the tractor since is was a bit wider than the wheels and already on the ground. Also, so much mowing across the hill would torque the frame a bit, and the squeaks and grunts it made was its way of telling me it wasn't really built to handle the extra stresses the hill put on it.

My one acre yard took too long to mow, and the safety issue caused me to do extensive shopping for a new mower. I test drove several zero turn mowers and walk behinds. The walk behind is the safest, since you're not riding on it, but a nice one with hydrostatic transmissions for each wheel results in a nice price, almost what the Scag cost me. Also, I thought I might get too tired walking up and down my hill so many times in a row. I jog to keep in shape, but somehow the many trips up and down the yard didn't seem to appeal to me as exercise, especially on these fall evenings when the sun sets sooner and sooner. I liked the Husqvarna zero turn rider and the Snapper models, but they are not built as solid as the Scag, since it is a commercial mower and those others were retail models. So I settled on the Scag Tiger Cub 48" with a 20 HP Kohler engine. This is a zero turn mower which means each drive wheel operates off a separate hydrostatic transmission controlled by separate hand levers. My adventure with a zero turn rider was about to begin!


The verdict is in on the safety issue as it relates to the hill issue. Yes, it is safer because the center of gravity is lower. The engine is behind the seat and lower to the ground than my tractor mower. This mower handles very well on the hill, and I have to make turns on the slope. I can't drive up to a flat spot to turn, and it does a good job of turning on the slope.

This mower will go 10 mph, even up hill, and though I would never mow my yard at that speed. The speed can raise your risk level. Also, letting go of the hand levers doesn't mean the mower will stop, because the levers stay where you had them. My old tractor slows down when you take your foot off the pedal. You don't want the levers to be spring loaded to move back to neutral, because you would be fighting them all the time and it would fatigue your arms.
I don't consider this a safety issue, but there is a new learning curve on this type of mower.


The theory of the zero turns is that you can turn on a dime, doing 180 degrees, without backing up and forward like a regular mower. The ability to put one drive wheel in reverse and one in forward will really get you spinning! The downside of this is it will rip the turf up and do real damage to your yard if you're not careful. So, if you can't do a zero turn because of yard damage, are you really better off with a zero turn mower? I'd say yes, it is still faster. My technique, which is still developing, is turn by breaking the 180 degree turn into two partial turns. I first turn about 100 degrees, say to the right, which is pivoting the mower on the right drive wheel. The left wheel is moving, and the right wheel is stationary. Then, I reverse the right wheel a bit, moving it backwards about 18 inches. This turns the mower another 60 degrees, again to the right, but this time it is pivoting on the left drive wheel, saving the grass under the right wheel since I have moved off the pivot point of the first part of the turn. This avoids a full 180 degrees of pivoting on one wheel which does some damage to the turf. If I had a much wider cutting deck (I have 48 inches), I could make more of a rounded turn, with the inside wheel making more of the small half circle, rather than a pivot on the same spot.

The other problem I've noticed with my zero turn mower is that, when on the hill, the uphill wheel can spin since most of the weight is on the lower, or downhill wheel. This also takes some getting used to, or you can spin the wheel and carve up your yard.

I had heard that zero-turn mowers are hard to keep straight when mowing across a hill. I disagree, they are harder to keep straight on level ground also. Each rear wheel is independently driven, and that is what can causes a problem, not the hill.

I had hoped that the mobility of the zero turn would eliminate the need to not use my push mower around the mulch beds around my trees. This has NOT been the case, because the mower can damage the grass at the edge of the mulch beds. This is caused by the hills again, and turning around the mulch beds puts the one of the drive wheels right at the edge of the grass. The weight and turning action can tear up this more delicate turf, so I have gone back to using my push mower to mow around all the mulch beds on the hill before I get on the Scag. This problem took away some of the time saving that I thought the zero turn mower would offer.

This may be more mowing technique than you wanted to read, but my point is that there is a learning curve to zero turn riders. It is safer on my hill due to the lower center of gravity and better mobility, but the speed and control issues add risk, and it takes some time to learn how to operate.

There is not Epinion's category for Scag mowers, so I tried to focus more on the safety issues, which is why I bought it anyway. I paid $5,995 for my mower, which is a lot. If it doesn't roll over, and the sturdy frame gives it a long life, then it is well worth it.

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