I got a nice email from "Mark" the other day, who's working on an old J.C. Higgins 3-speed. He originally asked about removing rust from spokes/rims. My response went a little something like this:
I've found that a very fine grade steel wool ("0000") and lots of patience is good for removing rust on spokes and wheels and other non-painted metal surfaces without scratching or damaging the metal. For lightly rusted surfaces with just a few spots, it should work fairly quickly by itself, but for the heavier rust, you might try a few drops of oil applied to the spot you're working on (whatever you use to lube your chain is fine, as long as it's not WD-40) . Make sure you wear gloves when working with the steel wool, however, as thousands of tiny metal splinters don't feel so nice under your fingernails. I believe Menotomy Vintage Bicycles also sells a rust removal kit with a special formula solvent, but I haven't used it so I can't personally vouch for its effectiveness.
Mark wrote back to say that the steel wool worked just fine, and sent me some photos of his J.C. Higgins:
Thanks Mark! I hope you'll keep us updated on what you're doing (and where you're going) on your bike. I'd love to hear from anyone who's working on a project, either with questions/solutions/tips or just with photos of their machines. Help make the Old Bike Blog something more than just me randomly posting bicycle-related miscellany. And for goodness sake, don't worry if your bike isn't some rare, top-notch old velocipede--any ol' bike is good enough for us!