Keep your bike running like new!
Very often bikes come to me to be tuned and they are totally dirty. Washing your bike is essential - to keep things working as expected.When washing your bike, this is the time to pay attention to all your components and make sure they are tight, no cracks or anything is broken or warn and needing replaced. Speaking of tight, you need to know how your bike is put together, take your time and get intimate with all your components - so that when something does start to get lose - and they will - you'll be able top catch it before any damage can occur.
No one can tune a dirty bike - so get it clean! Even if it's cold out side or you don't have your own shop/garage - you can still clean your bike. If you live in an apartment - use the tub, just make sure the wife is at work! Having an old bike workstand (find one on Craig's List) to do your washing makes things much easier.
Get you some inexpensive auto detailing brushes, old tooth brushes, a bucket and some dish washing soap. I prefer Dawn - it washing grease well, breaks down mud, rinses clean and is friendly to the environment. DO NOT use a presser washer (including the local car wash) and DO NOT use a high pressure hose of any kind. Get yourself a nozzle form the garden center that has a "shower" setting. Use the brushes to get the "hard to clean" dirt off your bike. The last thing you want to do is get water in your bearings with high pressure water!
A good chain cleaner is also essential to keeping your chain, cassette and chainrings from wearing out too soon. I like to use Orange Citrus Zep Degreaser and at $11-13 a gallon it is much less expensive than $20 bucks for 16 oz!
Note: I have been using Zep and Park Degreasers for over a decade and while both do equally a good job the one thing to remember with any degreaser you should not let it "soak" but for a minute or two. I have used it in Aluminum, CroMolly & Carbon - and the only time I have noticed any issues is on older shock legs with faded paint - it WILL leave streaks, so I highly recommend that you don't use it for them.
Keep all degreasers AWAY form your break pads, also, make sure that you rinse all the soap & degreaser off your bike and parts before drying.
Yearly Deep Cleaning
A DEEP cleaning at least once a year can make your bike and components last much longer. With a few tools you can do most of this your self.
Having a good parts cleaner is key to a fast and easy cleaning job. I use Zep Degreaser from Amazon or Home Depot for $11-13 bucks. It's an orange citrus that is environmentally friendly.
One final note, when rebuilding your bike it is best to make sure that all parts are greased properly. There are several kinds available, but once again I look to the auto parts store instead of the bike shop for grease. The best I have found is a high-temp bearing grease. Slicker than snot, inexpensive, easy to clean and getting an off color (like red) helps in knowing if it's dirty and needs to be replaced.