Yes, you read that right. At long last, steering wheels have made their way to the electric ZTR scene, and it’s a bigger deal than you might think. Pioneered by outdoor power equipment giant, Cub Cadet, the steering-wheel equipped zero turn riding mower is not a new concept. But it is new to electric zero turn mowers. I’m just surprised that EGO beat Cub Cadet to the punch, considering that it’s kind of their thing and that they have a small lineup of electric riding mowers already.
If you pay attention to the electric mower scene, then you probably know that Ryobi already has an electric zero-turn mower that doesn't rely on lap bars for steering. But instead of going the steering wheel route like EGO, Ryobi chose to employ a joystick control, which is fine except for a few reasons: #1) it would be very hard not to feel like Professor X (from X-Men) with a mowing deck attached to the underside of his wheelchair; #2) Ryobi calls the steering system “iDrive,” which is frankly just unacceptable; #3) with the joystick approach, the driver has no control over the front wheels, which act like casters. Don’t get me wrong. On paper, the new electric zero-turn mower lineup from Ryobi looks the business, even if I don’t agree with the pricing. It’s just that EGO’s approach to their newest generation of electric zero-turns might be the better angle.
Take Cub Cadet’s gas-powered zero-turn mowers as a good case study. If you believe their marketing material, then their “Synchro-Steer™” system offers more precision and more stability on slopes, allowing the mower to take on hills with grades 5-degrees steeper than their non-Synchro-Steer™ counterparts, which use lap bars and have no control over the front wheels. I think it’s relatively safe to assume that EGO’s new zero-turn steering system, which they call “E-Steer™,” would enjoy the same advantages. But the good times don’t stop there. The real kicker for me (and I can’t be the only one) is that you can now mow with just one hand - either one of them!
This may not seem like a big deal at first. But let’s slow down and look at the facts. If you’re reading this right now, then you’re probably human. Humans have needs - urgent, visceral needs. One of those needs that can be a persistent nuisance, especially while mowing, is the need to scratch an itch - often in, on, or about the schnoz. On a traditional mower, it’s no big deal; you simply take a hand off the wheel and scratch that thing.
But if you’ve made the leap to a fancy-shmancy zero-turn mower with traditional lap bars, then hold on! Wait just a minute there, buddy! Think you can just keep right on mowing while scratching your nose? Well, sorry to disappoint you there, pal, but no can do! Try to take just one hand away from the lap bars while you’re in motion. Then see how many three-sixties you do while you swat that horse-fly away from your face. Speaking of your face, if you mow around any trees with low branches, then I hope you like bark-burn on it, because if you’re mowing with lap bars, your face just has to take it. You can’t just reach out and lift the branch out of your way.
Now, admittedly, some zero-turn manufacturers try to mitigate this short coming by placing the ends of the lap bars so close together that you could push them both forward with one hand. But that’s not a real solution, because you have to do so in unison, which prevents you from being able to, ya know, turn. And that’s kind of an important thing when you’re mowing around trees.
In any case, I think we’ve established that lap bars are not an ideal steering system for zero-turn mowers. As zero-turn mowers evolve, I think we’ll see the entire industry moving away from lap bars - just a prediction. I believe that we’re going to see a divergence in zero-turn steering systems like we’re witnessing with Ryobi and EGO. What’s interesting is that the stakes are much, much higher for electric outdoor power equipment manufacturers than they are for gas-powered equipment manufacturers.
Here’s why. When you buy a big electric riding mower, one of the great things about it is that (in most cases) the batteries are easily removable. You can then take those batteries and power a staggering number of other tools from that same manufacturer. The electric mower not only comes with a handful of hot-swappable, big 10-Ah or 12-Ah batteries that can power your weed-eater, pole saw, blower, or chainsaw; it also acts as a big charging station for all of those batteries. And the thing of it is, these batteries are pricey. Once you buy that EGO mower, you’re unlikely to go buy tools from Ryobi and vice versa. The tools are relatively affordable. If you already have the batteries to power them, then you’re probably going to keep buying from the same brand. That’s why it’s so vitally important for these guys to make sure they get their big electric mowers right - because once you’ve made that plunge, you’ve bought into their entire product lineup.
So if the steering wheel approach is better than the joystick approach (and I think it is), then why not just go with the EGO? Whelp, I probably will. But it’s not quite that simple. Ryobi makes a helluva a good mower, and their new ones are pretty dope - except for that joystick. Ryobi also sells a pretty sick little electric auger, which is great for digging post holes and planting trees - both of which I’ll be doing plenty of next year. Also, Ryobi uses an 80V system in their new mowers, and EGO is sticking with their 56V setup; and as such, you get more Wh out of batteries of the same amperage. The downside is that they’re bigger, heavier batteries that are harder to use in hand tools, which is probably why Ryobi also includes some 40V batteries with their mowers. So in that regard, it’s kind of a win for EGO. As I said, it’s not exactly cut and dried. We also don’t have full specifications on the new EGO Z6 with E-Steer™, so we’ll have to wait and see how they really stack up in terms of performance.
Until then, I guess I’ll continue pondering the merits of each brand. It really comes down to just EGO or Ryobi for me. To be honest, I’m leaning toward EGO. In addition to all the reasons I mentioned above, Home Depot sells Ryobi products, and I don’t have any Home Depots near where I live. On the other hand, Lowe’s and Ace Hardwares, both of which sell EGO, are easy to come by in my area. So unless the price for this new mower with E-Steer™ is positively outrageous, you may be looking at an EGO man by this time next year.
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