Pros: Ease of use, maneuverability, traction. Wide cutting area.
Cons: Operator presence sensor failure.
First the bad news, of which, there is little. I had the operator presence sensors replaced after about 10 hours of operation. The new sensors failed within a couple of hours and I decided to leave them inoperable. The delicate sensor buttons, located under levers on top of the handles, direct propulsion to the wheels when the levers are lightly touched. When the levers are released the transmission ceases to move the wheels so the operator will not have to chase a runaway machine . . . into a thicket of briers . . . not that it has ever happened to me personally. The advantage of not having the operator sensors is that one can literally let the mower run itself in an open area, providing the terrain is not too steep. On flat areas I simply let the mower roll and I walk behind it, touching the handlebars only to make a turn. I am not suggesting one should disable the sensors and I feel sure Troy-Bilt would not recommend it.
Another negative aspect of sickle bar operation (or any mowing operation for that matter) is running into hidden objects that are not kind to the blade. I have accidentally run into the same iron boundary marker more than once and chipped cutting teeth. One would think I would have learned the first time. Teeth are not expensive to replace ($3 or so plus labor), but entire cutting bars easily cost over $100. Be sure to get the right size blade if you do have to replace one. When I told the folks at the dealership that the blade they were trying to sell me was too long for my mower, they insisted it was the correct size. Sure enough I had to saw off the two extra teeth when I got home, not really a big deal. I could have gotten the correct blade and even saved $25 or $30 by ordering it online. I did learn that lesson the first time.
While I am on the subject of blades, my mower has a 38 inch cut. I think this was an oddity among these machines, but I am not certain.
A rubber band for sickle bar stability extends from the top of the triangular shaped shroud on the front of the mower to the top of the cutting bar. This band is probably the most frequently replaced part on the mower. One can easily save $10 to $15 by not purchasing the part at a dealership, but by going to a department store and buying a rubber tie-down strap to replace it. The tie-down straps and the band on the sickle bar mower are the exact same items.
The unit has a zero-turning-radius. Turning the machine takes virtually no effort; the user squeezes the right or left brake lever (located under the handles) relative to the direction he or she wishes to turn. For example, when the left lever is depressed, the left wheel is disengaged, leaving the right wheel to turn the machine.
The cutting height specifications state a range of 1 and 1/2 to 5 inches. Height adjustment is simple; it is accomplished by loosening a couple of bolts on two curved steel guides mounted under the cutting bar, "eyeballing" the adjustment and retightening the bolts. I have found it necessary to adjust the cutting height only once since I bought the machine.
With routine maintenance over the span of four years of use the Briggs and Stratton Quantum engine remains easy to start and extremely quiet. However, the rattling of the sickle bar certainly makes up for the quiet operation of the engine.
One may think that with only four horsepower the mower would be under-powered, this is not the case. The four horses combined with the excellent propulsion drive and aggressive tread of the rear tires provides great traction for uphill mowing and even enables the machine to run through saplings (up to about one inch in diameter) with little effort and climb over obstacles.
I have found I can mow between one-half and three-quarter acres per hour with no more effort than if I was taking a leisurely stroll. Believe it or not, this machine is actually fun to use. This is not a lawn mower but best used for fields and brush. Since there is no deck on the unit under which clippings can be mulched, one may wish to rake the cuttings. Take it from me, that is a time consuming job. I referred to the sickle bar as a specialized mower because I initially used it to cut down a long neglected pasture, clear fence lines and cut thickets in an old raspberry patch. Now that I have the area in good condition I keep can it cut with a rider.