There’s an interesting dichotomy between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to backhoe-loaders. European contractors have long favored side-shift backhoes, while North American contractors flock to center-mount designs.
Ironically, the differences between the machines are minimal. “Essentially, the tractor is identical from the rear wheel forward and from the back of the boom to the dipper and the bucket,” says Jim Blower, senior product marketing manager, JCB North America. “The only real difference is in the rear frame area.”
As the name implies, the backhoe on a center-mount, or center-pivot, machine is mounted at the center of the rear frame; the stabilizers swing out and down from the sides of the frame. With a side-shift design, the backhoe kingpost is mounted on a carrier that slides from side to side along frame rails; stabilizers mounted on either side of the rails extend vertically.
While the physical differences in the designs may be limited, there is a definite distinction in how they are perceived based on which side of the “pond” you’re on. “Preferences for side-shift and center-pivot backhoe-loaders have historically been geographic,” says Caterpillar’s Kevin Hershberger, “and are driven by a combination of application requirements and regional tradition.”
Excelling in Tight Spaces
Side-shift backhoes have been highly popular in Europe since their introduction in the early ’60s. “Many operators in Europe have always used the side-shift backhoe-loader, and that’s what they’re comfortable with,” says Katie Pullen, brand manager, Case Construction Equipment.
The opposite is true for U.S. operators. “When JCB came to the States in 1970, we came with the side-shift machine because we’d had so much success with it in the rest of the world,” Blower recalls. “It just wasn’t accepted in the market. They liked the center-mount machine — that’s what they had and that’s what they were used to.” JCB subsequently introduced a center-mount design specifically targeted to North American customers.
While steeped in tradition, there are more substantive reasons behind this geographic divide. “Side-shift backhoes are popular in Europe because of the country’s tight working spaces,” says Pullen. “A side-shift backhoe allows an operator to work closer to the edge of buildings compared to a traditional center-mounted backhoe, and it is also good when working in confined areas, which there are many of in Europe.”
“European operators need the extra maneuverability that a side-shift backhoe can provide, with the ability to move the boom to be able to dig right next to a building,” says Louann Hausner, backhoe-loaders and tractor-loaders marketing manager, John Deere Construction & Forestry. “Due to the fact that the boom can be offset to the left or right, operators can dig more precise rectangular excavations and widen trenches with less machine repositioning.” Boom position can also be adjusted to gain maximum visibility into the trench.
Narrow European streets are not conducive to the wider stabilizer base of center-mount machines. Vertical stabilizers, on the other hand, maintain the existing footprint. “The vertical stabilizers raise and lower within the width of the tires, simplifying machine setup along curbs, walls and other obstacles,” says Hausner.
“The vertical stabilizers on the side-shift machine enable it to work in narrower areas, such as against buildings or positioning the machine street side,” adds Hershberger.
Roading is simplified with side shift. According to Pullen, “The sliding swing-frame allows the boom to be tucked in closer to the machine when traveling down the street for a more compact machine envelope.”
This facilitates travel at higher speeds. “The [backhoe] is not hanging off the back causing the machine to bob — to pick the front wheels up and bounce down the road,” Blower explains. “It’s a lot easier to road it with the side-shift design.”