Pros: Value, power, cutting width
Cons: Weight, complexity, must engage neutral or reverse to back up
My yard is a bit under a half acre. While it's no cattle ranch, it is time consuming to mow with my small 22" self-propelled push mower, yet too small for riding mower. I wanted one of those nice 36" walk behind units I see lawn care companies using until I saw the price. $2200-$2500 for the cheapest ones. Of course, there are commercial push mowers with 26" decks (only 4" wider than my trusty Craftsman) for around $1000. Yikes! Both options seemed too expensive for what you got. In my area, I only mow about 9 months a year and about once a week, so figure 36 mowings a season. Sure, a commercial mower would last me a lifetime, but getting $2500 past the wife would prove difficult and the commercial mowers were so heavy that they would be hard to maneuver around the tighter areas of my yard forcing me to use a string trimmer more (time consuming).
I remembered that my brother had a small walk behind mower that he really liked. I asked him about it, and he said it was a Troy Bilt Wide Cut. He said he paid about $1300 bucks for it 3 years ago and it's still going strong. He's done nothing but change the oil and sharpen the blades each season. I went to Troy Bilt's website to find where I might be able to go look at a new one. Much to my dismay, none of the dealers around here had them. I looked for other alternatives, and nearly bit the bullet and bought a big 36" commercial unit, but decided that it was too heavy and too big to fit in my small out building where I store my lawn equipment. I finally found a Troy Bilt unit at Lowes Home Improvement store. The newer Wide Cut units also come with a 9hp motor instead of the 8hp my brother's unit has. I'm a pretty good amateur wrencher and I know when something is screwed together well. I checked it over and decided that it was more than stout enough for 36 mowings a season. It would last me MANY years. I don't know that I'd use it in a daily use commercial application unless Troy Bilt puts a pressurized lube system on it or a nice Kohler or Kawasaki commercial engine and a cast deck instead of the 9hp Briggs and Stratton and stamped steel deck. The chassis looks to be plenty stout, and it's equipped with a Peerless transmission which I found on many of the more expensive commercial models. At $1399 for a 33" walk behind, it seemed like exactly what I wanted. Lighter and more maneuverable than a hulking commercial unit yet bigger and more powerful than my wimpy 22" pusher. A great compromise!
After getting the unit home, I filled it with gas (oil comes from the factory) and gave a few slow pulls on the starter rope to prime the carb (there is no priming bulb as on some engines). Then I gave a mighty pull and the motor sputtered and died. I released the choke, gave it one more yank and it howled to life. WOW! This thing is louder than my old 6hp pusher. I figured I really test the unit buy cutting my lawn extra short. It'd been raining frequently and my yard was pretty tall and growing like crazy in the wet mild weather. My 6hp pusher would get choked down enough to kill the engine even if I was discharging the grass. I finally had to use a bungee cord to hold open the discharge chute to be able to mow at a decent pace (not very safe). I didn't find this to be a problem with the Troy Bilt Wide Cut. I engaged the blade and began to mow. I headed straight for the thickest, tallest part of my yard. The amount of grass shooting out the discharge shoot (I had removed the stock mulching plug since my yard was so tall) was amazing. The mower never bogged down. Just kept mowing. Cutting a 33" swath versus a 22" swath was a BIG difference. The highest gear was plenty fast and despite the fact that I exercise daily, I was sweating like a heart attack candidate after a few minutes of keeping up with the big mower in high gear. I didn't mind since I can always use more exercise and the faster you go the sooner you're done. The mower has a nice clutch lever that you can feather to control the speed when turning or maneuvering around tight landscaping without having to change gears. The cut was level and clean and I found the mower easy to maneuver and far less taxing than using my small push mower thanks to the big pneumatic tires in back and sturdy casters up front. You never have to lift the front of the mower up to turn it like on conventional pushers.
So far the mower is wonderful. Just right for me. The cons are few and not very serious. The first is the weight. This sucker is heavier than a normal pusher but you'll only notice it when loading it in a truck or tilting it backward to clean the deck. It's also pretty complex. It has a differential, a transmission, two blades, three different control levers, and a maze of drive belts. I've always believed that more moving parts equals more to break or maintain. My biggest nit pick is that the mower is equipped with a feature that won't let it be pulled backward when it's in a forward gear with the clutch disengaged. I know why this was done. It's a safety feature to keep the mower from rolling back on you when stopping on a hill. Not a bad thing, but mow up against a wall on into some shrubs, and you'll have to engage neutral or reverse to allow the mower to move backward. My yard is flat, so this safety feature gets in my way more than it protects me, but if I had a hilly yard, I'd appreciate it.
Time will tell how the mower holds up. My brothers is still mowing like new after three seasons and I suspect that it will last at least 10 years (probably more) before anything needs to be replaced other than belts, oil, and blades. If it lasts that long without a major replacement or repair, that's only $140 a season to mow your yard. Not bad at all considering hiring it done in my area would run you $250 a MONTH!