Even though off-road riding requires constant adjustment of your bike's position on the trail, a few simple rules can be followed to ensure riding in a group is hassle-free. When riding in larger groups, especially when that group has a large variation in rider skill, a rotating process of marking turn-offs on the track plays a huge role in keeping your day both enjoyable and safe.
Put simply, whenever the ride leader deviates from the trail onto a branching track, the rider behind him pulls up on that corner to mark the turn. From here, you can adopt one of two systems. In the first version, the rider who has marked the turn can wait until he's made eye contact with the rider after him, and when both have given the thumbs up the rider who initially stopped is free to proceed, leaving the rider behind him to mark the turn until he makes eye contact with the rider after him, changes post and so on. Alternatively, the first rider who stopped can simply wait until everyone goes through, the rider at the end signaling that he's the last.
Either way, if no one overtakes the lead rider and no one falls back behind the tail end Charlie, there's very little chance of the group getting spit up - which as we all know, can really ruin a good day out when you're in the bush. A quick briefing at the start of the ride is a good way to make sure people have a rough idea of where they're going and what they can expect, and which corner marking system they're going to adopt. The lead rider should know the lie of the land well, and should have decent maps of the area too.
Just as on the road, it's important to watch your spacing carefully on a group trail ride. When your vision is often obscured by the twists and turns of any good piece of singletrack, accidents can happen incredibly quickly, and if you're right up someone's exhaust you're not going to have any time to take evasive action.
So, ride for the conditions – that might mean you can safely ride side by side at speed on a dry outback salt lake, or it might mean with 150m between you and the bike in front on a flowing trail in the Victorian High Country – common sense needs to prevail, which isn't always easy when the adrenalin is pumping.
On transport sections or open fire trail, use a staggered file formation where possible, as this gives you extra space and an escape route should you need it in an environment where speeds are likely to be getting up. Remember to be courteous to other trail users too, especially horse riders – horses get understandably skittish around trail bikes, and ripping past them at speed isn't going to help trans-recreation relations one bit!