Lawnside Classic: Troy-Bilt TB30R Neighborhood Rider – She May Not Look Like Much, But She’s Got It Where It Counts

The Troy-Bilt TB30R is essentially the least expensive riding mower you can buy new. Does that make it a poor choice for consumers? Absolutely not. Cutting grass isn’t a complicated endeavor. And smaller, flat properties don’t need a zero-turn mower that can do .5 past light speed. Sometimes the best answer is the simplest. If you can resist the temptation to buy a more expensive tractor, the TB30R can probably fulfill your needs just fine.

The path that lead to the Troy-Bilt started several weeks ago when dad finally decided to part ways with the person who had been cutting our lawn for the past five years or so. The self-propelled walk behind we used in the past no longer functioned, which meant a replacement was necessary. A quick visit to all the major retailers quickly revealed an interesting little tidbit about the current state of the lawnmower industry: while still dominated by gasoline engines, a few battery electric models have made some serious inroads. The thought of owning a cool looking, trendy, less noisy mower that didn’t require gasoline got me excited.

The apotheosis of this fever dream led me to the Tesla Model S of riding mowers. Given its price, there is no way it would ever see the inside of our garage. But one can dream.

The realistic choices seen here start at a little over $1,000 and climb fairly quickly. And these are all 42 inch tractors with at least 17 horsepower.

Our desire to spend as little money as possible on a riding mower led us to this 30 inch Troy-Bilt unit sold at Lowe’s. 30 inch tractors seem to be falling out of fashion these days, as Home Depot doesn’t sell any variants at all, likely due to many companies opting out of the small segment entirely.

It’s logical for households to spring for the 42 inch tractors since the extra cost is essentially negligible. But 30 inch mowers justify their existence not just for their value, but with their smaller dimensions and lighter weight too. Although we have a shed, storing a mower inside the garage makes its retrieval easier, and its the more secure option as well. The more compact Troy-Bilt allows us to park both our cars inside the garage with the mower and have enough room to walk around all three vehicles as well.

A 42 inch tractor wouldn’t have been able to fit in the spot I carved out for the Troy-Bilt. Obviously the other objects in our garage are the real reasons why a bigger mower wouldn’t work for us, but based on my observations, the vast majority of our neighbors don’t have enough space to fit even one car in their garage, so given that context I’d say our decision to buy the mower based on its smaller footprint is justified.

The smaller dimensions of the 30 inch also help when cutting around our numerous trees and shrubs. Before we made the decision to buy our Troy-Bilt, I borrowed my neighbors’ 42 inch Craftsman, and it hard a hard time getting between the trees and the fence. The TB30R tackles those situations just fine.

These two pictures of our property are just screenshots of Google’s Street View camera from 2012, but nothing has really changed since then, except for the new stop sign. That entire area around the rocks is where the 30 inch really shines, as its able to cut a substantial portion of the grass near the rocks and fit between them and the fence.

As far as quirks go, the Troy-Bilt has quite a few. The six speed shift-on-the-go transmission doesn’t really let you shift while in motion. Not a big deal. The real issue is the transition between shifting into gear and the initial take off after letting your foot off the combination brake/clutch. No matter how slowly you lift your foot, the mower will abruptly jump into gear, which jerks the rider around. At first this was very disorienting, but after two full rounds mowing our property I’ve learned to live with it.

The Troy-Bilt also prevents mowing in reverse unless a special ignition mode is activated. It seems all modern riding mowers come equipped with this feature, as my neighbors Craftsman also required you to do the same exact sequence if you wanted to cut some grass while backing up. If your property requires a lot of reverse mowing, you may want to avoid a riding mower because of this feature. Or supplement your riding tractor with a push mower.

With limited real estate for the PTO unit, speed selector, and cutting height lever, the forward/neutral/reverse lever had to go somewhere. That place? Right between your legs. Again, it’s just another thing to get used to, but I could see someone having to adjust the seat simply because of where this thing rests. Other than that, its pretty easy to use.

Another minor inconvenience pertains to the location of the fuel cap. Since it partially rests under the seat, filling the tank is a little awkward. The oil dipstick is on the opposite side and it is similarly annoying to use, especially because the seat is bolted to the body.

The fuel level indicator is also a joke. This isn’t a terribly big deal because the fuel efficiency of the mower has so far allowed me to mow our property in one sitting provided the tank is full. And you can see how much gas is in the 1.3 gallon tank by simply opening the fuel cap.

The mower also has some exposed wiring, at least more exposed than your average 42 inch unit. And if you don’t like the idea of a plastic body on a riding mower, the Troy-Bilt definitely isn’t for you. I did make it a point to touch the areas near the engine after a cutting session and it didn’t feel hot at all.

Minor complaints and annoyances aside, the fundamentals of this mower are strong. The 10.5 horsepower Briggs and Stratton engine runs smooth and has more than enough power to cut thick grass. You might think a 42 inch unit is automatically better at cutting grass, but all that extra heft makes a bigger engine necessary. A little research indicates the TB30R is at least one hundred pounds lighter than its bigger siblings. That obviously adds up. And another benefit of its lightness is the relative ease at which it can be pushed while the engine is off. A heavier mower would require you to drive it into storage, which wouldn’t be good for your ears. That’s not necessary with the Troy-Bilt.

Demerits? Taking a turn too fast generally locks the steering up, which means very tight turns need to be executed very slowly and with the brake. It’s also pretty easy to get one tire in the air even with relatively minor elevation changes. I chalk that last one up to the short wheelbase. These traits are easy to mitigate once you get used to how the Troy-Bilt operates, but nevertheless those characteristics might surprise new owners.

As one of the cheapest riding mowers currently on the market, the Troy-Bilt TB30R naturally invites comparisons to its automotive equivalent, the Nissan Versa. Despite its unrefined take offs, this is an insult to the Troy-Bilt, mainly due to how well the mower cuts grass. Based on my experience so far, I’d say the Troy-Bilt more closely resembles the Honda Ridgeline, because while it may not be as flashy as its competitors, it will serve the needs of the vast majority of customers who think they need a 42 inch unit. If you’ve got less than an acre of property, don’t want to spend a lot of money, and need a mower that can fit into tight spaces, look no further than Troy-Bilt’s TB30R.