There’s a certain vague kind of concept I love in so many things that’s roughly this idea: Make humble things do more than you’d expect. It’s why I love Minis winning Monte Carlo and Class 11 Baja racing Beetles and Apple IIs running Myst. It’s also why I’m so taken by these kooks who are salvaging crappy old riding mowers and turning them into little off-roading monsters. It’s scrappy and goofy and great.
They’re sort of turning these old riding mowers into ride-on four-wheel ATVs, just at a fraction of the cost. ATVs are thousands of dollars — a quick search in my area reveals a bunch of running, usable riding mowers that would be good candidates for this sort of Frankensteining for under $400, with crappier ones even less.
These guys seem to do a lot of modifications to their mowers to prep them for fun instead of a lifetime of green toil, most obviously by removing the blades and all the grass-cutting hardware.
Lots of things are toughened up and modified but mostly, it seems, with skill and brute force as opposed to anything actually expensive.
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You can get a good sense of what a nicely reworked mower is like by watching this walkaround of Musty, who seems to be sort of the mascot mower of the movement, at least for Reyley Kesslar, the man behind the OK Offroad Mowers Instagram page and YouTube channel.
Here’s Musty herself:
There are a lot of clever modifications going on there! It’s got an air compressor and a winch, a better seat, storage areas, skid plates, upgraded steering and brakes, a hydraulic system, better lighting — this thing has become a sort of a one-person miniature Jeep, really.
These guys use the crap out of their mowers, in mud and snow and sand and whatever:
They make pretty good rock crawlers! Look at this articulation:
That’s no joke.
Other channels are dedicated to pushing riding mowers hard, like the Mud Mowers, who like to take their motors in — well, guess:
This other video from the Mud Mowers contingent also has some strange unintentional camera effects that make the wheels look oddly stationary:
Also, you can see how hard they push these things, and how things break, and get fixed, and break again.
But, unlike wildly expensive custom Jeeps or other hardcore off-road vehicles, nothing that happens on one of these is going to bankrupt you. Sure, most have between 16 and 32 horsepower, but it looks to me like these things are as much fun as most rigs that are vastly more expensive — maybe more fun, because there’s so much less to worry about.
I mean, look at this guy. Look at how delighted he is:
Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
It all seems so good-natured and fun and accessible, I don’t even mind seeing the influences of grumpy Jeep faces encroaching:
On a mower, that’s just fun. On a big-ass Jeep, the angry faces just look insipid.
So, crazy off-road mower crews, I’m a big fan. Keep it up, you glorious loons.