How To Protect Your Personal Space On The Subway: Spikes

Just throw on your Spike Away before your commute. You’ll have a lot of room (and a lot of dirty looks).

How To Protect Your Personal Space On The Subway: Spikes
[Image: Courtesy of Siew Ming Cheng]

Are you sick of being force-fed a fellow commuter’s armpit on the L train at rush hour? Did you grow up in a place with lots of open space and simply cannot tolerate the light, accidental brushing of someone’s hand against yours on BART?


Well, friends, Spike Away might be for you.

The person wearing the Spike Away in the photo above is industrial designer Siew Ming Cheng, who came up with the idea as an undergraduate during a workshop at the National University of Singapore, held by German furniture designer Werner Aisslinger. The designer instructed attendees to create a “Chindogu” solution, a Japanese term for a gadget designed to solve one mundane, everyday problem. (According to, a Chindogu object is defined as an “almost useless” invention.)

Cheng thought to take on crowding on public transit. “In Singapore, usually during peak hours, the trains get pretty crowded,” Cheng says. “Everybody will push each other to try and get onto the train, hence the solution of: What if I wear a vest that is full of spikes?” Of course!

They’ve never suggested a spike vest, but this site is collecting ideas to improve the subway.

Students had half a day to gather materials and hack their pieces together, so Cheng ran out to a hardware store, and found strips of green, spiky, flexible plastic material in the gardening section. Fittingly, it was normally used to keep birds and cats away from plants. She looped the strips together with cable ties, and voila: Spike Away.

Has she tried it out yet? “Unfortunately, no,” Cheng laughs. “That photo that you’ve seen is just a photo taken in school.”

It seems nifty, if unorthodox, and very easy to put together yourself. Cheng, meanwhile, graduated from the NUS in 2011, and now works at Stuck, a design consultancy with a focus on consumer electronics. For more of her work, including a very practical thesis project, head here.

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.