Fabric materials can include plastic, leather and rubber.  And each of these materials has special needs to take into consideration.  Not only do things like brake hoods, saddle covers and handlebar tape get dirty, but they also experience physical damage and, that as often as not, renders the piece ugly, if not useless.  Basically, the vintage bicycle restorer will need to know how to clean plastic, leather and rubber when fabric materials are the issue.  He or she might even run into some actual fabric in the form of vintage saddle bags, saddle covers and the like.

Many low end saddles, most cable casing covers and even some hoods are examples of plastic items that are often found on vintage road bicycles.  Plastic is a forgiving substance and does not lend itself well to staining or color fading, as a rule.  The man made material is generally easy to clean off, requiring little more than a good washing with warm soapy water.  Stubborn spots can be carefully tackled with a touch of WD40 (test on a hard to see area first just in case the plastic and solvent react) coupled with gently rubbing with a nylon scouring pad.  Ensure, however, that all traces of the WD40 are washed clean from the saddle before considering the cleaning task complete.

Plastic cable casing covers can be approached in exactly the same fashion.  With the cable removed, oil the inside.  Wipe off any lubricant that escapes onto the surface.  Then is is usually a simple matter to wash the outside of the casing with soap and water.  Once again, stubborn spots can be attacked more vigorously with a scouring pad and perhaps a bit of cleaning wax.  You can even wax the entire cable casing cover, if you wish.  Of course, if the cable casing cover is cracked or if the casing is kinked, it is time to just replace the whole works, cable, casing and ends.

Rubber and rubber based fabrics can pose a different set of problems.  In addition to become too brittle to be of much practical value, they can also melt down at what must be the molecular level.  Either situation will, more often than not, warrant replacement.  Most brake lever hoods are made of a rubber based product and most will fail utterly with the passing of time.  It would seem that rubber based materials will deteriorate whether they are exposed to the ravages of the climate or stored away out of harm and Mother Nature's way.

However, if the rubber based product is still structurally sound but just dirty, it is easy enough to clean.  Again, the soap and water treatment, coupled with scouring pad abrasion will do a pretty good job of cleaning the more common forms of contamination - road grime and maintenance grime, not to mention the biological contamination resulting from body or hand sweat.  And, while on that subject, both saddles and hoods become contaminated, at the biological level, frequently.  It is a good idea to wash these areas from time to time just for health reasons alone.  This is even more true if you have just purchased a bicycle or are about to borrow a friend's.  This is, of course, an opinion based on no defensible evidence what-so-ever.

Most handlebar tape is rubber based but there are many that are plastic, in one form or another.  That said, the vintage bicycle enthusiast will frequently encounter cotton handlebar tape.  Cleaning handlebar tape is certainly a good idea, more so when one or more people are using the bicycle.  However, I make a practice of replacing bar tape at fairly frequent intervals.  Not only can the sweat absorbing materials become biologically contaminated, perhaps presenting health issues, but the sweat, if it penetrates completely through the tape can actually attack the alloy material that most vintage drop bars are made of.  The alloy bars will actually appear to be salt corroded (pitted).  Replacing the handlebar tape frequently, coupled with a good cleaning of the handlebars will serve well to protect both you and the handlebars in question.

The last and probably most maintenance demanding fabric one will encounter is leather.  Many vintage road bicycles sported the suspended leather saddle, Brooks, Ideal and Wright's being examples most commonly encountered.  More often than not, a suspended leather saddle will have reached today in poor condition.  The leather will be dried out, cracked and even shrunk.  Leather fabric in such poor state of repair is difficult to restore.  However, the leather saddle might have survived well if it was subjected to a bit or maintenance from time to time.

A well maintained leather saddle will be one that has been treated to a leather treatment of some kind.  I personally prefer to use Brooks Proofhide but that is just me.  The way I figure it, the foremost suspended leather saddle maker in the world must know a thing or two about saddle maintenance.  With that in mind, I use their product on my leather saddles and to date have had no problems relating to saddle deterioration.

The Proofhide should be rubbed into the leather, spending a bit of extra time on contaminated spots.  That said, with use the saddle will become stained but in the most pleasing of ways.  The saddle will develop a patina of age that is just beautiful.  Oh, and though it has nothing to do with cleaning, the saddle will also develop some butt indentations as the saddle breaks in to the rider's butt shape.

There are times when fabric will be just that fabric.  Nylon saddle covers or saddle bags are examples of fabric fabrics.  From time to time the vintage enthusiast might even encounter canvas bags of one style or another.  For the most part newer fabrics are best cleaned with soap and water.  Perhaps that would work with canvas bags as well but I have never tried to clean a set.  Why?  Haven't found a set worth salvaging so far.

The final material on the list of what needs to be cleaned and polished is good old bare metal.  And there is plenty of that on the average vintage road bicycle.