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Front wheel drive vs. rear wheel drive

18 years ago

Hi a new member here and this is my first post.

I am in a market for a new lawn mower. I am a little torn between a Toro 20017 (personal pace, rear wheel drive) and a Toro 20016 (front wheel drive).

I had never used a rear wheel drive before. When I used my old lawn mower, to change directions, I would push the handle bar down. That would raise the front wheels and allows me to change direction with the rear wheels on the ground.

But how do you do that with a rear wheel drive?

Also, how do you change direction (like a 180 degree) or back out using a rear wheel drive?

And what is a personal pace feature? Is that the same thing as a rear wheel drive?

I personally don't see any adventage of a rear wheel drive. But since it tends to cost more, there must be some. What are the adventages of a rear wheel drive lawn mower?

thanks in advance for any help

Comments (34)

  • 18 years ago

    Hi - also new here and waiting for a response of my own. Well, from my (limited) experience here goes: With the personal pace feature you can set the forward speed and "lock it in" sort of like a memory feature so it will always go the speed you like to walk. I have rear wheel drive to back it up you release the bail enough (on the handle) it will disengage the wheel drive and let you pull it back. You need to get the feel for how much to release it without stalling it but after a couple cuttings it's simple. Personally I like rear wheel drive mowers, front wheel drives are light up front and all I ever do is just spin the front wheel. Just my two cents!

  • 18 years ago

    I really do not like front wheel drive mowers, they are really not worth a darn if you have to bag your grass. I had one once and traded it for a rear wheel drive as soon as I could.

    I personally don't like personal pace either but that seems to be the wave of the future. If they can be locked into place like dom1961 suggest then that would be OK but the one I tried did not have a locking feature and it seemed really awkward to control.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

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  • 18 years ago


    What is the make and model of your mower? I'm guessing it's a Toro.

  • 18 years ago

    Make and model of my walk-behind or my original question about the safety feature??? Don't know either off the top of my head. My self propelled is a Toto 6 H.P. "Recycler" rear bagger rear wheel drive. New ride-on is a Toro "workhorse" 18 H.P. I think. Safety shutoff is driving me nuts on that thing. Oh, getting rid of it isn't an option, it's a loooong story!!!

  • 18 years ago


    Didn't realize it was you who posted about the "deadman" switch, otherwise I would have been more specific. Anyway, sounds like you have the same bail control as on my Toro walk behind. Trying to disengage the SP without killing the engine really aggravated me. And the SP on/off lever was too inconvenient to use also. Ended up adding a separate safety bail. Problem solved.

  • 18 years ago

    faithlock; On a RWD you just either let go the drive bail (regular drive) or let the sliding part of the handle return to the top (on Personal Pace mowers), and pivot on the rear wheels just like any other mower to turn around. FWD is notoriously poor on a mower, because whether going uphill, bagging or accelerating, the weight goes to the rear wheels. On a FWD the wheels will then spin; on a RWD, they just dig in and drive the mower. RWD is usually a simpler, easier to maintain system.
    No Personal Pace mower I know about has any kind of 'lock' on it, which would defeat the purpose of the drive system. PP is a variable speed rear wheel drive system controlled by a sliding handle instead of a bail. As you push the mower to go forward, the sliding handle tightens the drive belt to propel the mower. As you slow down, the belt loosens and the mower reflects your walking speed. When you stop and the mower coasts forward a few inches, the drive disengages so you can back up. PP is also called 'Sensa Speed' on the new Lawn-Boy mowers by Toro.

  • 18 years ago


    Sorry to "hijack" your thread. In answer to your question about the preferable type of self-propel, rear drive is best. All rear drive Toros use the Personal Pace (PP) system which automatically causes the rear wheels to turn as you push the handle (The part of the handle that you grab slides a short distance into the main part of the handle which engages the self-propel).
    PP is not a true self-propel system, however, because it will not pull you along like your front drive mower. Someone on this forum once described PP as "power assist". It works fine on a level yard but if you have to go uphill in a tight spot, it requires more effort on your part.

  • 18 years ago

    I have used both. For mulching, they both do OK even with the hills in my yard. For bagging, you may find yourself pushing the FWD more than you would like. When I need to turn my RWD (Snapper mower), I just put it on the slowest speed and it seems to do OK when I slightly lift the front to turn.
    Another thing to consider is that when a brand such as Toro offers both drive systems, they usually have the FWD on the cheaper models which means there are other things to consider other than must FWD vs RWD, although with these to specific Toros, it might just be Personal Pace on one and not the other.

  • 18 years ago


    "I had never used a rear wheel drive before. When I used my old lawn mower, to change directions, I would push the handle bar down. That would raise the front wheels and allows me to change direction with the rear wheels on the ground."

    "But how do you do that with a rear wheel drive? "

    RB> You steer with a RWD mower much the same way, by lifting the front wheels.

    "Also, how do you change direction (like a 180 degree) or back out using a rear wheel drive?"

    RB> Depending on the make you take it out of gear, release a bail or pull back on a handle. In any case the setup used by Toro or Lawnboy or other major manufacturer is very easy to use. My preference is for the Toro Personal Pace, but the Lawnboy setup works well too.

    "And what is a personal pace feature? Is that the same thing as a rear wheel drive? "

    RB> It is used to control the speed of the mower by clamping down or loosening the drive belt. Just the action of walking forward does it. Lawnboy uses the same mechanical design but the speed control involves holding down or releasing a bail on the handle. Both designs give any speed from inching forward to 4mph, are very popular, easy to use and require very little maintenance.

    "I personally don't see any adventage of a rear wheel drive. But since it tends to cost more, there must be some. What are the adventages of a rear wheel drive lawn mower?"

    RB> I disposed of a 1972 Toro with single speed front wheel drive about 3 years ago. What can I say but it worked. Contrary to some opinions it bagged grass and went up and down hills. A rear wheel drive will give a lot more driving power and going up hills will require less operator effort helping the mower along.

    I replaced the 1972 Toro with a recent model Toro Super Recycler. What an improvement in every possible aspect of mower performance!

  • 18 years ago

    Buy the 20017, you will not be disappointed. Mine has worked flawlessly for 4 years mowing ~.5 acres (mulching exclusively).

  • 18 years ago

    Wow, what a great forum? Thank you all so much for your answers and helps. They are very much appreciated.

    The consensus seems to be the Toros 20017, the Toro Personal Pace Recycler Mower.

    I have few other questions:
    How about Toro 20070, Electric Start Personal Pace Mower? Is the Electric Start feature just a gimmick?

    I assume it involves additional battery and other circuitries that would just weight down the mower. It never bothers me to pull the starter rope to start my current mower, but it does bother me if the mower won't start. Do you think having the Electric Start feature will have any benefit for me?

    Other set of questions involved the better Toro mowers. I can buy the regular Recycler mowers (20016, 20017, 20070) in the local Home Depots, or I can buy the "Super" Recycler mowers from the specialty mower shop for several hundred dollars more.

    What is so special about the "Super" Recycler mower? Do they really worth the extra cost? I mow my yard about every 1.5 weeks. I have a medium size suburban yard. Any recommendation on a Toro "Super" Recycler mower?


  • 18 years ago

    I have the Super Recycler 20037, which is no longer available. You will probably find the 2005X model range in the specialty store.

    The Super Recycler offers Personal Pace, a cast aluminum deck, and a 5 year guaranteed to start warranty. I think I paid $550.

    I would recommend it. The aluminum deck will not rust, so it will last a long time. If you take care of the engine, it should last a long time too. Last year, at the end of the year, I emptied the gas, and then ran it empty per the instructions. This year, I changed the oil, air filter, and spark plug, put new fresh gas in, and it started on the first pull!!

    If you don't plan on following the maintenence (oil, fresh gas, spark plug, air filter, and generally keeping it clean) I would not spend the extra money on the Super Recycler.

  • 18 years ago

    Never buy a front wheel drive. Stick with rear wheel. Think about it:

    -All the weight of the mower is on the rear wheels when you really need the drive to work - going up hills. With front wheel drive, you end up pushing up on the bar to go up hill, in effect pushing the sucker up anyway.

    -The rear wheel drive goes up hills by itself

    -Front wheel drive wheels wear really fast because they are always slipping, doing no work!

  • 18 years ago

    You assumptions about electric start are correct. Unless you have health problems that make pull starting difficult,
    you don't need it. I would suggest that you go to a Toro dealer and ask a salesperson to explain the differences in the other Super Recylcer models. I'm sure there's one that's right for you.

  • 18 years ago

    There have been several threads on this forum dealing with the differences between the Super Recycler and Recycler series. In nutshell the Recycler series mowers are good mowers that will cut and mulch the grass well. The Super Recycler mowers are somewhat more robust, will do a somewhat better job of mulching and bagging and they come with a 5 year warranty.

    Most Toro Dealers sell both lines and they will be happy to discuss the differences. Their prices for the Recycler series will be close to Home Depot. Additionally, realize that the dealer will give you a fully assembled and tested mower and walk through its operation. However Home Depot will not offer much if any service.

  • 18 years ago

    When I bought my 20017, HD was running a deal where I got the 5 year warranty like the SR's have. I am four years in and have yet to need it (knock on wood). Electric start is not necessary (unless you have had shoulder problems or some other physical reason that you can't pull the rope twice). You will have to weigh whether the extra cash for the aluminum deck is worth it to you. I, personally, have never had a deck rust through, so the aluminum wasn't much of a sell for me.

  • 18 years ago


    I didn't know Toto made lawn mowers, I thought they only made toilets.


  • 18 years ago

    Fageddabout Toro. Get the Lawn-Boy 10685. Capite?

  • 18 years ago

    You definately want RWD if you bag. If you mulch all the time and mow on level ground, FWD is a bit crude, but it will work.

    As far as the Recycler vs. Super Recycler:

    The Recycler is better than it was, but I prefer my Aluminum-deck SR any day of the week. Besides the better warranty, the SR also has a better-built drive mechanism, with a setup that is more easily greased. IMHO, the SR also is a better mulcher.

    Either mower will likely give you years of dependable service.


  • 18 years ago

    Believe it or not, I work at Home Depot on the weekends selling power equipment. I sell a lot of the electric start because most guys' wives don't mow because they cannot start the mower. Electric start gives women confidence in starting the mower.

    It's $30 extra, and the battery, once charged, is supposed to hold about 25 starts.

  • 18 years ago

    True but the battery has be replaced every 3 years or so for about $40+ a pop. So don't get it unless you really plan to use it.

    I used FWD and RWD mowers. RWD is way better - whether you use Personal Pace, or a 6 speed like Snapper has - they all do a better job of getting traction and actual propelling the mower.

    The Super Recycler is better than a Recycler - in particular as a mulcher, the drive unit is more robust and you get the 5 year warrenty. But it does cost more - overall a Super Recycler will likely give you a better experience and last longer (especially with the Aluminum deck). That all being said the Recycler is still a fine mower and better than any choice at it's price point IMHO.

    Lawn Boy has a similar line-up to the Recycler series but they are typically a bit more expensive ($20 or so for similar models). This is mainly due to Lawn Boy's convienence features like the adjustable handles and space saving storeage - which may be money well spent for many buyers.


  • 18 years ago

    I am also looking at buying a new mower and am questioning FWD versus RWD. I plan to use the mulcher only and my lawn is flat with one small hill. My initial though was that FWD would be easier to turn (have some trees and bushes to work around. My questions are:
    1. When you are turning the RWD mower (90 degrees usually)can you keep power to the wheels and would the wheels spin on your lawn (possibily chewing up the lawn)?
    2. Is it easier or harder to turn if the RWD mower uses the large size wheels?
    Thank you for any information you can provide me with.

  • 17 years ago

    P Nelson, with a flat lawn and one small hill..

    Like Saxman, I own a LB 10685 rear drive.
    This one I would recommend in a heartbeat..The ease of use and the handling are both excellent..

    Without your hill, I would not bother with any self-propelled mower at all....unless your lawn is huge..

    What do you mean by "large sized wheels" ?? My old POS Scott used these in the back....

    I have never had any spinning wheels do any chewing....

  • 17 years ago

    I'm looking at the Toro 20055. I would really like to hear more from folks that have used the Personal Pace Rear Wheel Drive. Like it? Don't like it? Ease of use when turning and up and down hills? I've got it all on a large lot, and my son will be mowing a few of the neighbor's yards.

    I can add to the discussion by saying that it has been explained to me that the Super Recyclers have the same mulching system as Toro's commercial mowers. Most of the crews I see are using the Toro commercial mower and I have been totally impressed when I see them cut through several inches of leaves at a harty pace and leave a clean trail behind them - and a friend noticed this on his own and was equally impressed.

    I am ready to buy, but apprehensive about the PP drive.

    Thank you.

  • 17 years ago

    You'll like it, and will actually be amazed at how effortless it is to use. Think 'automatic transmission' on a lawnmower. The question of 'ease of turning' keeps coming up, and honestly I don't know what to say that isn't already repeated above. You pivot on the rear wheels just like any other mower. With PP, anytime you're not pushing on the handle to go forward, the drive is disengaged. It would certainly be difficult, if not impossible, to keep the drive engaged while pivoting the mower. The best advice I can offer on getting used to it is to not try - just start the mower and proceed to cut grass. Forget about the drive. You don't have to do anything different than a push mower - it's just easier with PP.

  • 17 years ago

    I really can't see any advantage in front-drive mowers - even though McCullough have just launched a new front-drive 21 inch 3-in-one with an impressive B&S Intek Edge 7hp engine. A front-drive will lose traction very easily on damp grass, especially when the said damp grass is being collected in the bag!

    And here's a little observation from the contractor's point of view: if you use your side-discharge machine to cut really long grass, you do that by raising the front of the mower about 9 inches to a foot. So front-drive isn't going to do you much good in that situation!

    Variable drive speed systems? Ariens have a nice one, based on rubber-edged disks pressed against each other, like in the Snapper ride-on. Honda used to make a hydrostatic 21 inch and that was a great machine, but I think they've stopped making it now.

  • 15 years ago

    After reading all the positive support for RWD mowers, I decided I had to give some counter support for FWD. I have used a FWD (Sears) mower for 30 years. Last year I bought a new Toro electric start RWD mower. It is the most difficult system for maneuvering 180-degree turns. Slightly bearable on 90 degree turns. Unfortunately, I cut my ½+ acre yard using the 180-degree method.

    I absolutely hate taking the extra 2-3 steps to "get behind" the mower to push on the handle to engage the RWD.

    My FWD drive was sooooo easy to maneuver a 180-degree turn. Saving 2-3 steps per turn when cutting ½+ acres is a major concern. I have spoken with others at work & the ones who have owned both types agree. Only the ones who never owned a FWD drive mower can ever know the difference of taking fewer steps to turn 180 degreesÂ..

    Anyway, I am giving my 1 yr old RWD Toro to my son & am now looking for a comparable FWD system which also has a blade disengaging system.

  • 13 years ago


  • 13 years ago

    Being a woman--and trying the the FWD-and then the RWD--I prefer the FWD myself--easier for twists and turns and corners in my yard/lawn! The toro PP RWD that I recently got seems to be a hassle! Much harder to push-like the self- propel isn't working the greatest! The front wheels seems to rise up while I'm trying to cut grass! I'm short-and the handles don't adjust lower-I personally don't like the Toro PP-RWD- hurts my back-takes more strength to push it!-Maybe I gotta get use to it! I want to return it to the store! They said I used it--really? How else was I suppose to see if I liked it or not? They are giving me a hard time- I thought it would be easier for me to use-that's why I bought it!-My old clunker FWD was better to maneuver around the yard for my needs! No man around to help-I'm singing the blues!If I had a choice-I'd get a front wheel drive--maybe easier for the women folks out there!

  • 12 years ago

    you see lots of these front drive mowers on the used market they either state a failure of drive, drive needs attention or they simply remove the belt and convert to push only. i see 1000's of rear drive mowers even the cheap ones, even pooly maintained examples and very rarely do you see a failure on the rear drive.
    just my experience
    been trading in used outdoor power equipment for over 20 years

  • 9 years ago

    FWD all the way. I agree with MsGoldie , Ront, Famsi et al. RWD is not good for tight quarters or pivot turns, you have to disengage/reengage the drive every time. Major hassle, slows you down. They tend to lurch around tight corners if you stay engaged. Hard to stop on a dime when driving head-on into something (your precious beds!). FWD easy, just lift front tires, which is what you naturally do anyway around tight spaces. Any kind of "vacuum" style motion, back and forth, like say under low trees, is terrible with RWD, it's dragging you around. They are also heavier to pull back once you do disengage. As for quality of bagging, I've never had an issue with my FWD. As for pulling power, I've never had an issue on hills or rough terrain, pulls right up. Unless you have a very simple lawn, stick with a good quality FWD.

  • 8 years ago

    I intend to buy either a front or rear wheel drive mower within the next few days and was leaning strongly toward a rear wheel drive until I looked at all the opinions on this forum. Now I'm undecided which way to go. I have about a 1/2 acre to mow and weed whack. About 50% is mowable but there are numerous palm trees and rock gardens to maneuver around. The ground is somewhat uneven and I'm wondering if a small wheeled mower is suitable. I have been using a 3 speed Bearcat high wheel string trimmer but it wont cut as close as I like. If a rear wheel drive is no harder to maneuver than the Bear Cat WT190S I will would go the rear drive route. Has anyone had a similar experience or suggestions?

  • 8 years ago

    dallas jackson - If the ground is uneven or you have a slope - go with the rear wheel drive. I bought a front wheel drive mower from Lowe's a couple of weeks ago, and mowing my yard twice made it very clear that FWD was a mistake. I used a Toro Personal Pace RWD mower for 15 years and did not find it difficult at all to maneuver. FWIW - The Personal Pace took about 15 minutes to get used to...since there isn't any "lever" to pull, you have a tendency to start pushing the mower. Do that and you'll be chasing it. Just start walking, and the mower will go that speed. Walk faster and it goes faster. Once you get the knack of it, you'll really like it