Cleaning Your Drive Train
This is a summary of the above linked article. The bells and whistles of narrative have been stripped off and personal additions have been made.
The point here is to clean your bicycle's drive train to get a long and efficient life from it. On top of saving you money performance will be maximized. We consider anything that moves the bike forward a drive train component, specifically the chain, cassette, cranks, chain rings, derailleurs, and pedals.
Gunk Fighting Tools
You can do a lot of this without taking any parts off the bike though I think every now and again you should at least remove the rear wheel and really clean as much slop off as you can. Riding in New Jersey in the spring can sometimes be a muddy affair. So it's a good idea to pay more attention to this stuff now so your parts don't wear prematurely. The summer dry riding allows more leeway for you to be lazy with cleaning your bike.
You can use a bike stand or lean it against a wall or tree or just flip it upside down. Really the idea is to get it clean not how many style points you score with how you do it. I lean it up against the shed or flip it upside down depending on what I'm trying to do.
"An array of stiff bristled brushes, in a variety of shapes to get into tight places is necessary. Take into consideration the finish of your bicycle when choosing brushes. Make sure that they are stiff enough to withstand some abuse, but not so stiff as to scratch the finish on your bicycle. You will also want to collect some soft, tough rags made out of a thinner material. Old t-shirts work great, terry cloth towels, not so great. An old bucket to store everything in can double as a wash bucket. Finally, you may want to include an old sponge."
That paragraph is perfect so I'll leave it as such. Personally I have a Park tool brush and some tooth brushes I use. I'm always looking for more.
The So-Called Secret Sauce
This is the worst section of the original link since it gives you basically no hard guidance on what to use. A lot of people use a citrus based cleaner which is what I use. I don't know the name of the brand and it probably doesn't matter anyway. It seems to work and that's the bottom line. They claim this is better for the environment but I have my doubts that anything which can cut the thick black oil-shit from my drive train is ecologically friendly. The author also suggests that what you're cleaning off makes a difference but all I ever seem to have is run-of-the-mill dirt and mud or the thick black gunk that covers the drive train.
Apply the Elbow Grease
When it comes down to it most of the "secret" of keeping your drive train clean is doing it frequently and attention to detail. The article calls it Elbow Grease but it's not terribly laborious work. Personally I find it rewarding to discover such shiny metal still under there. Of course, it all reeks of futility as well since it will look nice for 1 ride.
Initially you want to chip away as much of the gunk as you can. Start with the big obvious crap and get finer as you go along. I find the derailleur plates and the front derailleur to be the biggest aggregation points of big stuff. Once past that work on the chain links and cogs. I then tend to go over stuff again because I get more meticulous as I go.
After the big stuff you can get into whatever finer brushes you have or use a rag loaded with degreaser. The chain, cassette, chain rings, and pulleys are the big tasks here. You obviously want to get the grit off the cassette and chain rings but beyond that you don't need to try and make it look like new. That usually requires taking the bike apart anyway. If that's your thing, I say go for it.
For the chain I usually use a chain cleaning contraption which is difficult at first because things tend to be slopped up when I start. After a while it gets better and I pass the chain through the rag instead, constantly using a new section to get more slop off. If you want to go crazy you can even get between the links, one at a time.
At this point I dry off as best I can then relube. I will usually relube again lightly before my next ride just to make sure it's all good. But don't put too much on because too much lube just makes the black gunk come back faster.
If you're looking for a more complete cleaning then you need to pull some items off the bike. The 2 obvious ones are the rear wheel and the chain. Unless you're the luckiest rider in the world and never get a flat, you know how to pull the rear wheel off. Then you can pull off the chain as we'll. if you happen to have a quick link or whatever it's called then this step is easy. If not break the chain from the outside in towards you so that putting it back on is easier. You can also remove the rear derailleur if you feel so inclined which is really a benign venture so long as you're just unmounting it from the frame. Doing this allows you a much more comprehensive cleaning experience.
After you get the chain off put it in an old water bottle and fill it a third of the way with degreaser then shake it for 3-5 minutes. Fish it out with an old coat hanger then whip it a few times against some old cardboard box to really blast the gunk out. Take the rear wheel and a rag and clean in between the cassette cogs like you're flossing the gear-teeth. Probably not a necessity most of the time but it's good to do now and again. If you're really crazy about it you can pull the cassette apart and make each cog nice and sparkling clean. It won't last long so don't pull out this trick unless you have copious amounts of time on your hands. Same sort of flossing or removing deal pertains to the front rings. As for the derailleurs, I can't recommend taking them apart unless you're really OK with the Pandora's Box you might open.
Do We Have To Do It Again?
This section basically left as is:
"The frequency of cleaning is really going to be different for different riders. Type of conditions ridden in will also determine when you might want to clean the drive train. It is safe to say that if you ride a lot, like, all the time, then you'll need to do this at least monthly. Maybe more if it's raining, snowing, or if you venture off-road. A regular inspection of your bicycle will also help you determine when to clean things up. If a cleaning regimen is followed, you will be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, ownership, and a long lived drive train."