Cleaning Your Bike
Okay, so you you've bought yourself a bike to be proud of, but without regular cleaning and maintenance the bike isn't going to last as long or feel as good when you're out using it so here are a few pointers to keep your bike looking and riding as if it were new.
The best way of reducing dirt build-up is to spray it off as soon as possible after use. You may find some dedicated cycle trails/parks provide a jet-spray for users (usually reasonably priced) which is a great option as it washes off grit while it's still wet or relatively loose and if you don't use a cycle rack it saves you mucking up your car (assuming you're not lucky enough to live two minutes away). Alternatively, many petrol stations have pressure washers (although they are quite pricy as they're meant for use on cars), or you could buy one for yourself - there are a number of manufacturers that supply them, however Karcher make a range of quality pressure washers for cars and the home. One thing to remember with household and petrol station jet-sprays is that they are most likely higher pressure than ones dedicated to cleaning bikes so take care not to spray too closely to the bike as it could damage plastics or even split cables (about one metre away should be fine). A big advantage for buying your own is that you can clean your car and patio areas too, and you don't have to wait to use it. Another option would be to buy a weed-killer pump spray (obviously without the weed killer), Hozelock manufactures them as well as a number of other brands that can be found at most garden centres. All you do is add warm water to the container, screw on the top, pump to the desired pressure and press the trigger - they aren't as strong as powered pressure washers of course but they loosen most of the dirt.
Tip: Only use a pressure washer if you plan on lubricating shortly after as the high pressure will wash off the remaining lube leaving your bike more susceptible to wear and rust (otherwise a standard un-motorised pressure hose will do).
Frame & Mechanics:
Muc-Off and Finish Line sell brush sets that are great for getting dirt and grime off the frame and mechs. Using a large soft bristled brush wash all the bike using a bucket of bike cleaner (LifeLine Bike Wash as an example) mixed with warm water (or a spray bottle of cleaner such as Muc-Off Nano Tech Bike Cleaner). Take care when brushing around the mech/chain areas not to catch the bristles or cable. Use smaller or bendy brushes where needed to get into hard to reach or small areas around the front and rear derailleur, in between the spokes and around the hub and pedals. Use a harder brush to clean the tyres. Then using a degreaser (such as Muc-Off Water Soluble Degreaser or Finish Line Citrus Degreaser), spray the chain, front & rear derailleur and cassettes. Leave for a few minutes to work on the grease. Spray again then wash off using a fresh bucket of bike cleaner. Rinse off with clean water. With the chain it's difficult to get into all the links so I'd recommend a dedicated chain cleaner. There are a number of companies offering these (such as Muc-Off, Park Tools, White Lightning, Finish Line and Life Line) where you spray the degreaser into a unit containing a number of cogs which helps the degreaser get to the grease more easily and more economically (saves money in the long run and does a better job). To get dirt stubborn dirt off your rubber handle grips use some slightly diluted citrus cleaner on a clean cloth/small brush and rinse off - and the same goes for cable sleeves and tyre walls.
If you have a hard-tail or full suspension bike it's a good idea to keep the shock absorbers free from dirt or prolonged contact with water as most will rust leaving a brown-coloured bubbled surface which not only looks unsightly but also has an impact on the suspensions performance. If you do get some rust appearing don't ignore it as it will spread. You need to use some metal cleaner (Autosol is a better known brand available from Halfords) which is to be used on unpainted/untreated metal and use a small amount of the cream to rub onto the surface until the brown discolouration has disappeared - then be sure to wipe all the metal surface down to remove the remaining cream. I wouldn't recommend using this technique on painted shock absorbers though as it could eat into the paint. Try not to leave any citrus based cleaners on exposed metals for prolonged periods as the acids will create rust (always wash it off using a non-citrus based bike cleaning product).
Older Steel Framed Bikes:
If your bike has a steel frame and the paint gets chipped off, I'd advise you to use some lacquer (just the stuff you get with a car touch-up kit from Halfords is fine) to cover the bare metal. If rust is formed and left to penetrate the metal, the structure of the frame weakens, shortening it's life, which results in you having to replace the frame, costing you more in the long run.
Various areas on your bike require lubricating to avoid premature wear or damage. When one metal surface rubs against another they create friction and resistance which not only makes your legs work harder but can also cause damage to the moving parts on your bike. This constant friction causes heat and strain on the parts involved which reduces the lifespan. Lubrication is used to reduce this friction and therefore reducing the heat and strain on each moving part. There are a number of different types of lube for different purposes .
Cables and Brake & Gear Pivots:
You'll need a dry and thin lube which repels water and dirt (GT85 or Finish Line Dry Lubricant)
Chain and Wheel Bearings:
Because there's a large amount of strain and movement with these areas they need something a bit thicker but depending on the weather and temperature there are different lubes. In the summer months a lube such as White Lightning Clean Ride, but in the winter months when the temperature becomes a bit cooler use a stronger synthetic lube such as Finish Line Cross Country Wet Lubricant.
Hint: It's a good idea to raise the bike off the ground (get a bike stand if you can afford it,alternatively get your mum/dad/girlfriend/wife/sister or whoever's arms are built like a body builders to lift it up) and whilst lubing the gears and derailleurs work through the gears to ensure all the moving parts are moving freely. If the front derailleur seems to be sticking try freeing it up with some pliers (or very lightly and carefully tap it using a small hammer) and it should loosen after a couple of attempts.