I live in a rural area and am thinking of bicycling to work, which is 9.6 miles away. I have done quite a bit of googling for rural bicycle safety, and have really had little luck. If you think that rural cycling involves roads that always have paint or pavement on them, think again
Here's my situation: Out of the 9.6 mile commute, a minimum of 2 miles will occur on sand/dirt/gravel roads, and a minimum of 1 mile occurs within the city limits (which I am not at all concerned about).
The remainder could be on sand/dirt/gravel roads, or on paved roads, or some combination. The paved roads in question would include up to 2 miles on a 2-lane state highway (speed limit 65MPH, narrow paved shoulders, wide grass shoulders), and the remainder on a paved county road. The 2-lane county road has no shoulders whatsoever -- white stripe, 1 inch, then about a 3" drop onto grass. It also is somewhat hilly. Speed limit is 55MPH but I have frequently seen people going at least 80MPH there. Both roads are fairly well-traveled.
The country roads are 2-lane in name only. In practice, if you are meeting another car on one of those roads, you're both slowing down to 30MPH or slower and putting your right tire off the maintained area. On the other hand, I only meet another car on the unpaved roads once or twice a month. People occasionally get killed on these roads because other cars are so rare that people don't look out for them. They certainly aren't expecting a bicycle.
Cyclists are not common on any of these roads. Drivers are not really expecting to see them. I see cyclists maybe an average of once a month there, and I drive those roads every day.
So, first question: what roads are safest for me to take? The country roads certainly have fewer people traveling on them, but they're probably less likely to be alert for a bicycle. Also, I often have to ride down the middle or even the left of the road, because there are large piles of sand, gravel, or whatnot where I'd normally ride. (Cars do this too) Sometimes getting over to the right so a car can pass involves me stopping and walking the bike through the thick sand.
There are some visibility problems on all of the roads, mainly due to hills.
It is considerably easier and faster for me to take the paved roads as opposed to the country roads. Pavement is much easier to ride through than is sand or gravel (though if I can find the unmaintained dirt roads, those tend to be pretty smooth). I got passed by probably 3 cars on the country roads, and maybe 15-25 on the paved county roads.
Next question: what sort of safety accessories should I have? (Besides the obvious helmet). I'm thinking a mirror would be great. What do people suggest -- eyeglass or helmet mirror? Would I be able to tell if a driver is not going to pass with sufficient time to react? What should I do to make myself as visible as possible? I have seen some cyclists with tall flags attached to their bikes -- I imagine that they create some drag though, and the bike shop I went to didn't recommend them. Over at http://bicycling.about.com/od/howtor...uter-Gear-.htm, there is a suggestion for a reflective vest, but I don't see those readily available online or locally. The local bike shop also suggested strobe lights or reflective tape. Any thoughts?
Finally, I am really a newbie at this. I have a Mongoose Crossway 250 (a hybrid) that I bought back in 2000 when I lived in Indianapolis. I only used it on dedicated trails (the Monon rail-to-trails), so this will be the first time I'll be riding on roadways. Any other suggestions would be great.