Generally, there will be three things to clean on a bicycle - paint/art, bare metal and fabric materials.  More often than not, the simplest methods are about the best to use when cleaning is the task of the day.

I try to use a few chemicals in the cleaning process as possible for a couple of reasons.  First, I was a professional Industrial Mechanic, better known as a Millwright, for thirty years during which time I came to dislike the use of chemicals for cleaning purposes.  Not only do they contaminate Mother Earth, but they can do awful harm to the user's skin, lungs and even eyes.  With this in mind, I have found a few ways to get around the stink, sting and polluting nature of cleaning solvents - most of the time.

Paint and art need to be cleaned carefully with a minimum of abrasion.  Generally, the procedure includes the removal of all big debris such as sand particles or bug splatter or even road tar.  Initial cleaning might start with a light brushing off of the heaviest crud.  Slop some warm soapy water on the frame and try to wash away grime with a minimum of abrasion.  Perhaps even just squirting the soaked area to simply flush away any lumps of dirt or even small particles of gravel.  Rub a piece of gravel across a painted, or even alloy surface a few times and you will understand the need to flush this sort of contaminant away without rubbing.  Once the frame set is washed with soap and water, flush it with some clean H20 and let it air dry or pad dry the surface with a soft absorbent cloth.

Look closely at the results.  Are there any lumps of road tar of other foreign matter still stuck to the paint or art work.  If so, try to pick the lumps off with your fingernail.  Be gentle and the stuff just might come right off.  And sometimes the stuff is glue residue left from the removal of unwanted stickers.  Which, if one knows what to do is not all that great a problem.

Be careful when cleaning vintage paint work.  It can only be vintage once so don't destroy it by not understand some simple procedures to help preserve the cosmetics.  Be very careful with paint work, particularly near painted edges.  Painted edges are most common around the frame set's lug work.  Too much rubbing or polishing in these very delicate areas can cause the paint to disappear all together.  So be careful.  And when it comes to the art work, be ten times as careful!

There are different methods for applying art work to a bicycle.  The decal transfer is perhaps one of the oldest methods.  Decals are extremely thin and delicate.  Handled with care once installed, they will do their job just fine for just about ever.  But too much polishing will damage the thin material, actually causing the decal to experience complete wear through.

Stickers, the second and more common type of art work with later vintage bicycles are more durable.  A bit thicker and made of stronger and more sophisticated materials, they are better suited to withstand the ravages of time.  However, the sticker has one serious drawback.  The sticky stuff goes right to the edge of the sticker.  Improper cleaning and waxing will lead to undercutting the adhesion and the sticker will begin to lift.  When waxing stickers do not pull the wax towards the up edge of the sticker.  Always work away from the edge and avoid forcing any wax under the edges.

A good quality cleaning wax will do the job nicely in most cases although the wax will have to be mixed with a good portion of elbow grease.

Paint and art cleaning tools include soft rags, nylon scouring pads and soft bristle plastic brushes.  Supplies include soap and water, cleaning wax, WD40, and even a touch of lacquer thinner.

The cleaning wax will both clean and preserve the delicate painted or decaled surfaces.  And the word "cleaning" is operative with this stuff.  Many marks on an old paint job are just that, marks not paint chips or scratches.  The cleaning wax, used carefully can remove most of these marks.  Needless to say, care must be taken to avoid too much rubbing.  The wax, coupled with the mild abrasive nature of the rag used to apply the wax, will actually serve to clean some pretty stubborn spots on the frame set.  However, that same combination, will absolutely destroy the thin materials that most bicycle frame art is made from.  But only with vigorous rubbing.

In some instance and no where near the art work, a scouring pad impregnated with cleaning wax can be used with care to remove some of the more difficult spots.  Try the method in an area that is not easily viewed, such as underneath the bottom bracket.  Clean a small area and then polish with a soft clean rag.  Look at the results.  If the nylon scouring pad left little swirl marks in the paint - stop!  Do not use the method.  The paint is too soft.  Return to a less aggressive method of a soft cloth to clean the painted and decal covered surfaces.

About the only other concern when waxing a frame set is to get rid of the extra wax.  Once dry, the wax will be a bit difficult to remove from nooks and crannies.  Take your time, again with a soft cloth, to get into these nooks and clean the last traces of wax away.  And that's about all there is to cleaning off a frame set.  Of course there are other issues that one must consider.  Is the frame set straight and  is there any cavity damage?

Of course, many unique cleaning issues can present themselves.  I have encountered frame sets covered with insecticide dust or bird dung.  It is not uncommon to discover dried vines interlaced with the bicycles wheels and frame.  Though it has little to do with cosmetics, dead animals have been discovered inside frame cavities.  In other words, if presented with an unusual cleaning situation, follow a couple of simple rules.  Protect you hands and breathing first.  Eye protection might also be wise if the contamination warrants it.  Blow or lightly brush debris off first.  Soak and flush with warm water.  Focus on local spots more aggressively but still with care.  Polish with a good cleaning wax.

With paint and art work cleaning under way, the next cleaning task focuses on fabric materials.  And every bicycle I have encountered to date has at least some plastic attached somewhere.  Of course, the oldest vintage road bicycle I have owned was of late forties or early fifties vintage.  And that bike, a Rochet Paris was a mess when I got it but the plastic cable casing cover was still in good shape even though the cable itself was rust seized years before I got the bicycle.