Found this fascinating report (which I took the liberty of reformatting) on how to clean a bike in the comments section of Bike-Washing Tips From the Pros at Bicycling Magazine. It's of note to me because of how harsh the weather here in Ireland is on my machines. Bear in mind that this guy used to detail Air Force One and lives in NYC:
A hobby turned profession, here's an opinion on proper bike care from someone lucky enough to detail Air Force One and someone trained properly on how best to approach the paint on some of the worlds most delicate and expensive motorsport vehicles.
First of all, cycling materials aren't much different from those we find on aircraft and motor vehicles, so the approach should be similar if you want to do it right.
- Three 32oz spray bottles
- Bike brushes and a sponge/microfiber mitt
- 3 packs of micro fiber towels (different colors)
- Pump type garden sprayer or low pressure hose
- Dawn soap/bucket
- No Rinse Wash (go to any car care vendor site - Optimum NO RINSE is great
- Detailing clay - again, any decent care care website (Autogeek)
- Paint Sealant (instead of wax) - The use of sealants on paint will do more for your bike than wax. There's a place for wax, but as the surfaces of a bike frame are minimal when compared to a car, there's no need to go after the shimmer that some people want with a wax like Swisswax Crystal Rock that absurdly reaches a price point of over $1000/jar. Sealants last longer and products like Permanon, when used correctly, can protect your frame for an entire year from salt, magnesium chloride, etc, etc. Some sealants like water and have to be applied wet.
- Leatherique - Find it online to treat the saddle - it will push out salts from the leather - the product has a 2 stage process
- 303 Aerospace Protectant - this is for the brake hoods, cable housings.
2. Dilute the Dry Wash soap in one of the bottles, following the directions on the bottle
3. Use the same solution to dilute into the next bottle, following the directions for a "clay lube" which you'll use with the detailing clay
4. In the last bottle, fill it with the degreaser like Simple Green EXTREME - Allowcowboy was correct above, but there's another product from Simple Green Called: Simple Green Extreme which is approved for aircraft and is formulated for more delicate material and is not near as toxic or corrosive as the regular Simple Green (don't EVER use this stuff - BAD) Now consider a full wash or a quick wash
1. Remove the wheels on a stand
2. Cover the saddle with a large ziplock
3. Pre-spray the bike with the dry wash solution - these solutions encapsulate the dirt, lifting it off the paint
4. At the same time, pre-spray areas of the bike that require degreasing - the degreaser will loosen and dissolve the obvious 4B. Wait 2-3 minutes
5. Using a saturated microfiber with degreaser, run the chain through the towel and brush out the pulleys - wipe off excess (At this point, use one color of the microfiber towels to gently wipe down the bike frame, brush out the brakes, forks and rear triangle with a bike brush and use gear brushes to clean out the drive train.
5B. If the bike is really cruddy, dilute Dawn into a bucket with water - Dawn will strip everything off the finish of the bike - and gently sponge down the bike, saving the dirtiest areas for last - remember that the sponge/microfiber will grab dirt and potentially drag it onto your paint finish and scratch it. KEEP WASH TOWELS and SPONGES SEPARATE FROM OTHER TOWELS - DO NOT WASH THEM TOGETHER 5C. Gently rinse off the bike with water or a pump sprayer - too much pressure is NOT a good thing. Dry the bike with your second color towel.
6. Now, use the clay lube and spray the frame and then follow with the clay in a stroke pattern that follows the air across a bike - front to back. If you drop the clay on the ground, tear off that piece and dispose of it. The clay will remove anything left on the surface - bugs, water spots, etc. Be gentle - you do not need to apply a lot of pressure here. Use the clay procedure on your wheels too to remove brake dust and other small compounds that have collected on the brake surface. Wipe down the surfaces you've clayed.
6B. Use a second color towel for drying or wipe down of the bike after its been cleaned.
7. At this point, the surfaces are bare (especially if you've used Dawn.
8. Apply the sealant to the whole bike and the wheels (not the tires - in fact remove the tires if you can)
9. Buff the frame and wheels with the third color micro fiber towel
10. Use a microfiber (from towel selection 2) to sparingly apply 303 Aerospace Protectant to the brake hoods and other plastic/rubber surfaces (not wheels)
11. Lube the drive train and the cables under the frame that are expopsed and wipe off excess.
12. Reinstall tires and check for cuts and wear at this time 13. Use the Leatherique on the saddle and you'll never wear it our You now have a protected and clean bike and there's no excuse to not ride in the rain. Go real fast and watch the rain just sheet off the frame. I'll do this for you if you're around NYC : )